When the first episode of the 1966 Batman television series aired, it had a higher audience percentage than the Super Bowl. Batmania swept pop culture. At the end of the first season, a big budget film allowed them to create new vehicles, new sets, and new weapons. And more importantly, it brought together the four top villains in the now-familiar lineup: the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman.
50 years later, these miscreants of mayhem have been reunited to once more wreak havoc on Gotham City. The problem is they now have some competition that they didn’t count on when Catwoman’s “batnip” backfires, turning our hero from Caped Crusader to Machiavellian overlord.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a love letter to every generation of fans who have embraced the kitsch of the 60s. All of the garish color, all of the absurd deliveries, all of the social commentary, all of the into-camera public service announcements, all of the double entendre… the glory days are back, albeit with two noticeable exceptions. You see, time stops for none of us, and it is a sad reality that few of that original cast are still with us. Those who are, well, to put this delicately, none of us are getting any younger. So in acknowledgement of, and perhaps in as much defiance of time as is possible, this is an animated film. What’s interesting about this is that the animation is the same top-drawer animation WB has been offering since it’s more modern classic, Batman: The Animated Series. So if you can imagine the animation quality of the modern era with the look and feel of 1966, you have this movie. And because animation can do so much that our actors perhaps cannot, our characters are able to move the way we expect Batman and Robin to move… in any era. Stunts, acrobatics… everything is possible. The only thing that cannot be disguised is the age apparent in the voices. Even then, that’s hardly much of an issue. The enthusiasm is still there, and after 50 years, they still have the patterns down. The energy put forth into the performances comes shining through. Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar reprise their screen personas to absolute purr-fection, while modern voice talent steps in for the late greats with performances that will stun even the most ardent of fans who know the original portrayals backwards and forwards. More than just copying what the old guard did, everything lined up in a way that’s more than a little spooky to think about. It’s the tone, the cadence… everything. Consider Karl Urban’s otherworldly ability to channel the spirit of DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy in 2009’s Star Trek, and you’ve got an idea of what I’m talking about. It’s that good. The end result is that we have a film that’s about as close to an authentic realization of the original series as is possible to achieve, but with just enough modernization to impress every single generation of Bat-fan from ages 3 to 103.
I won’t go into enough detail to spoil it, but for the fans like myself who’ve grown up with a variety of Batman portrayals across multimedia, prepared to be stunned. Not only does this have an Easter egg of some kind every few seconds if you know what to look for, but there is some excellent commentary about the characteristics that define each version of Batman. The first time you hear Adam West deliver an iconic Michael Keaton line, it’s so out of the blue that it’s a bit of a jaw dropper. I know it messed with me a bit. And yet, for all of this, the emphasis is all about recapturing lightning in a bottle, which they’ve somehow managed to do. Every little detail is in place, and all of it winks at the audience just as it did back in the day.
To set the stage and give the audience the instant feel, even the music nails it. The original music by Neal Hefti has been lovingly recreated by longtime WB animation composers Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuiston, and Lolita Romanis, and as with the animation style, it’s been modernized just enough to instantly appeal to a modern audience. I’ll go so far as to say it feels like Henry Mancini got to put his personal touches on this.
If you’ve ever loved the 60s Batman on any level, see this. I guarantee you it will overload your sense of nostalgia in the best ways possible. It’s a can’t-miss.