Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is the first piece of new cinematic content based on the iconic TV series of the 1960s in almost 50 years (unless you count the New Adventures of Batman in 1977 which utilised the voice talents of Adam West and Burt Ward but was not explicitly linked to the show).
The decades since the classic show’s original syndication have not been kind to its fans, with seemingly endless legal disputes between Twentieth Century Fox (who originally produced the series) and Warner Bros (parent company of DC Comics and owners of the Batman property), prohibiting home video releases for decades.
Last year saw not only the home video release of the series (complete with a beautiful remaster), but an explosion of new merchandise featuring the authentic likenesses of Adam West, Burt Ward et al.
The Caped Crusaders were also lovingly returned to life in monthly comics, drawing celebrated talent like Jeff Parker, Kevin Smith and Alex Ross and crossing over with The Green Hornet, The Man from U.N.CL.E and even (next year) Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman.
Despite this deluge of generosity, surely not even the most optimistic of fanboys could have anticipated that the Dynamic Duo would be returning to the big screen for the first time since 1966? And featuring the returning voice talents of Adam West. Burt Ward and Julie Newmar?
I was lucky to catch the film on a limited theatrical release and sharing the experience with a modest but sizeable cohort of Batmaniacs really enhanced my enjoyment of the film.
From its clever and inventive opening credits sequence, the film bleeds not only a love of the TV series but of the characters entire publication and cinematic history. The Easter Eggs are plentiful and satisfying, with numerous references to the show and the Batman franchise in general, some subtle… most not-so-subtle. Yes, there are Dutch tilts aplenty, moments of alliteration worthy of Stan Lee and more BIFFs, POWs and ZONKs than you could lob a batarang at.
While the film retains a sense of reverence for the source material that’s becoming of its ridiculousness, those who treasured the original show’s good-natured innocence may find the tone a little too knowing in places. While never descending into Family Guy levels of vulgarity, there are a good few nudges and winks amidst the high camp derring-do.
As an animated feature, the film is free to present action set-pieces that practical and budgetary constraints would have rendered impossible in the series and even the 1966 feature film. Indeed, the sometimes trippy nature of the animated visuals adds to the sense of 60s authenticity and there’s a sense of scale to the superheroic hi-jinx that’s reminiscent of the early Bond films. It’s no mean feat that the film is able to combine a fidelity to the look and feel of the show while extrapolating it outward, beyond the constraints of the practical (and, in many instances, the physically possible).
For example, if you’ve ever wanted to know what happens to Bruce and Dick when they slide down the bat-poles the film (sort of) furnishes us with the transition that sees them descend into the Batcave as Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.
The production design, similarly, not only meticulously captures the look of the world of the TV show, the costumes, the locations and the myriad bat-gadgets but creates new props and locations that feel absolutely part of this universe.
As for the voice cast, West and Ward reprise their roles with characteristic gusto. The years have been very kind to Adam West and as great as he still looks, the slight rasp that age (hey, he is pushing 90) has added to his pleasant baritone suits the charmingly square nature of this version of Batman. Burt Ward, somehow, still sounds 21 and his Robin sounds much the same as it did fifty years ago. The still beautiful Julie Newmar still sounds about as youthful as she did in 1966, her slight vocal huskiness playing into the feline vocal delivery that’s expected of Catwoman.
As for the Joker, Penguin and Riddler Jeff Bergman, William Salyers and Wally Wingert sound fantastic in their respective roles, capturing the essences of the characters as performed by Caesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin without falling into the trap of lifeless impersonation.
There’s a joyous quality to this charming animated feature. As a celebration of the iconic TV show and of Batman as a multimedia phenomenon it accomplishes its task admirably.
A sequel has already been greenlit and will feature none other than William Shatner himself playing the nefarious Two Face, a character who was considered for the series, but never quite made it.
Will the Dynamic Duo triumph over the Dastardly Diva of Duality?
We’ll only find out by tuning in…