This is the movie I’ve only been waiting about 35-40 years to see.
I grew up on the 1960s Batman television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Watching their adventures in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they seemed timeless—I couldn’t even conceive of the fact that the show itself was filmed in the Sixties and that Ward was on the verge of hitting middle-age.
Now I’m on the verge of middle-age, and it’s a very odd feeling to be holding the Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders DVD in my hand. Setting aside the actual content of the animated movie for a second, this sort of “awe” over seeing your heroes “back in action” is a big factor in its favor. They are indeed the voices of West, Ward, and “Catwoman” Julie Newmar in animated bodies that look like dead ringers for their original incarnations.
Uncanny imitations of the other classic villains’ voices (especially The Joker, as if Cesar Romero indeed came back from the dead via perhaps another Romero’s machinations), plus the those of the rest of the “Batman ’66” cast, make you feel as if you’ve traveled back through time. Your childhood (assuming said childhood was back when phones were rotary) has been restored to you more or less intact, via those folks at Warner Bros Animation.
Great. Mission accomplished.
Now, to the content.
It’s…like a superior version of those Hanna Barbara action cartoons you might have watched from the same time period. The animation designs are “on model,” as they say—but a little stiff. The combination of obvious 3D computer modeled animation (vehicles and backgrounds) plus the more traditional looking stuff (figures) is a style that’s been used with a lot of more “budget” cartoons and movies lately…and it just doesn’t work for me. I feel it should be all 3D, or all traditional (pick a side, people!!!). I “get” that such a technique saves a lot of time and $—and that without it, WB Animation couldn’t produce as many original movies as they do. There just needs to be a more “seamless” process here.
The story, featuring a ray that produces “multiple Batmen” and a potion that makes Batman Prime a complete jerk, is visually fun and gives West a chance to act like the heel for once.
And the “Bad Batman” stuff is pretty creepy. It’s like when Harrison Ford turned bad in What Lies Beneath level creepy. And that’s cool! That’s stuff you never normally see.
You also get a bunch of cool in-jokes (such as when Batman, hit in the head, sees Catwoman in “triple”…I’ll just let you discover the rest!), and cameos by a bunch of highly obscure Batman TV villains (Louie the Lilac, anyone?). West quotes Michael Keaton. I mean, crazy stuff happening!
But the movie itself is a little on the long side, and I feel Catwoman’s “arc” was kind of shoe-horned in. An in-joke regarding the Dynamic Duo possibly doing something “secret” with each other, via a nosy Aunt Harriet, seems a bit dated in today’s climate. And then there is the Joker farting (why? Why is this the “hip” thing to do with every animated movie now?). There is this whole pointless slapstick sequence where the Joker ends up in a circus for seemingly no apparent reason…and the only reason I can think of is that somebody up high in the WB said “we need more Joker.” And I have no problem with “more Joker,” but what transpired felt out-of-character for him (I did like the nod to the 70’s-era Joker design on his car, however).
The sum balance of it all is, I liked Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders, though a lot of that hinged on the fact that I waited 35-40 years to see it happen. I mean, there was no way I would not have seen this movie! Now, how would it “play” to a person not familiar with the concept of “Batman ’66?” That’s debatable. But I believe certain “products” have certain audiences. The sequel to this movie is going to have William Shatner as Two-Face, so it is highly likely I will see that one as well.
My last thought is: too made they didn’t start doing Man From U.N.C.L.E. movies like this. It would have been great to see Robert Vaughn as Solo one more time.