I’ve been very much on record as being an enormous fan of the 60’s Batman show. I’ve ranted and raved on this site time and time again about how much I prefer a more light-hearted and heroic Batman to the more brooding and violent version that most people seem to prefer. And ever since they cleared up the rights to the TV series, things have been pretty great. We’ve gotten the original series put out in a home release, we’ve gotten toys and merchandise for the first time in decades, and we even got a pretty spectacular comic series that steeped itself in the mythology and aesthetic of the show. So of course it was only a matter of time before they decided to make some adaptation of the show. And since DC seems deadset on releasing an onslaught of terrible direct to DVD animated movies year after year, that seemed like the most likely scenario. Which was a bit of a bummer. Because when they announced this movie, it was right after they released that abysmal Killing Joke animated film which somehow managed to be more creepy and disgusting than the original comic that it’s based on. So my hopes for this animated flick were pretty low, even though the premise seemed pretty ridiculous. I mean, they were even bringing back Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar. It just felt like it was going to be a lot of pandering, with now real passion behind it.
And boy was I wrong. I recently checked out the movie, and I have to tell you, I loved it. The plot is pretty straightforward, and felt like what a sequel to the amazing Batman the Movie would have been like. It opens up with Bruce and Dick hanging around Wayne Manor when some sort of music show like American Bandstand comes on. They’re eager to watch a new rock and roll band, but it turns out Riddler, Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman have kidnapped the band, and are going to hold the audience hostage. So Bruce and Dick suit up and go to fight the criminals, eventually finding themselves in a giant TV dinner factory where they fight the evil criminals. And during the fight, Catwoman scratches Batman with some sort of toxin that’s supposed to make him evil. But it doesn’t work, so the villains tie Batman and Robin up and attempt to kill the Dynamic Duo by sending them into a giant oven. But the Caped Crusaders obviously get out of that, and keep hunting down the villains, while Batman starts to act a little weird. He starts to get moodier, and even fires Alfred after Aunt Harriet almost stumbles upon the Batcave, all of which starts to make Dick suspicious.
But they don’t have time to worry about Batman’s mood, because they’re realized that the villains are in a space station with a duplicator gun, planning on duplicating Earth. So Batman and Robin blast up into space to fight the villains, and things get weird. Joker, Riddler, and Penguin double-cross Catwoman, and start fighting Batman, who starts to get violent. He puts on some brass knuckles and starts beating the bajesus out of the villains, much to everyone’s shock. And once he’s defeated the villains, Batman returns them to Earth, and takes the duplicator gun, deciding that Gotham needs a change. Namely, more Batmen. He uses the ray on himself, and ends up creating an army of Batmen, who take over Gotham and start running it like a dictatorship. Which really starts to worry Robin, who finally realizes that Batman’s under the effects of that toxin Catwoman tried to slip him. So Robin and Catwoman begin to work together, trying to stop Batman, who is becoming increasingly like a supervillain. And after finally getting Batman to his right mind, with the help of all the ridiculous other villains that weren’t included in the main group, The Dynamic Duo and Catwoman go to stop Riddler, Joker, and Penguin, saving the day once more.
I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. It was swimming in the aesthetic of the old show, and really took a lot of pride in honoring it. The movie wasn’t making fun of the show, it was embracing the campiness and goofiness that it embodied, and it was a pretty faithful adaptation. But there were some issues. Like all of these DC animated films, the animation is pretty sub par. My wife and I recently went through the old Animated Series from the 90’s, and it’s kind of mind-blowing seeing how terrible the animation in these movies are compared to that of this show from 20-some years ago. It just looks so lazy. And then there’s some of the voice acting. A couple of the villains, namely Joker, feel like the voice actors were just trying way too hard to impersonate the original actors, and it was to the films detriment. And, not to be mean, but you really can tell that the returning actors are in their 70’s and 80’s.
But none of that distracted me too much from the absolutely spectacular time I had with this film. Really, this movie didn’t need to do much to win me over. Just seeing these Silver Age goofballs being themselves again would have been enough. But the movie took things a step further, and ended up becoming a fascinating indictment of modern takes on Batman, creating a weird satire on the type of Batman that we would eventually see in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Batman becomes moody, angry, and violent. But it’s not even that, things get crazier. He starts driving around in a Batmobile that looks like the one from the Dark Knight series and he starts sneaking out of windows to avoid talking to Commissioner Gordon. Hell, that’s not even the craziest part! Because when he starts really snapping aboard the space station, he begins straight up quoting Dark Knight Returns! It’s insane! Catwoman basically drugged Batman, and made him become a post-Frank Miller Batman. And everyone hated him! He ended up becoming a dictatorial monster who had to be brought back to reality through the power of friendship! That’s amazing. The thesis of this movie ended up being: Adam West Batman is the only thing that can conquer Angry Batman, which basically boils down to only joy can defeat hate, which is spectacular. So take a page from this film’s book, and enjoy yourself some happy Batman.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was written by Michael Jelenic & James Tucker, directed by Rick Morales, and released by Warner Bros. Pictures, 2016.