Holy belated reunion, bat-fans! The stars of Batman ’66 return in this hilarious love letter to the days before Batman became the Dark Knight…
In a world where the current iteration of Batman is more bloodthirsty than ever, the new animated movie Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a welcome step back in time to a point where the character had a sunnier outlook. To complete the nostalgia, the movie reunites original stars Adam West and Burt Ward and sets them against their old nemeses Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman (having once again formed a team, just like in Batman: The Movie).
It would have been easy for Return of the Caped Crusaders to just reheat the enjoyable hokeyness of the show and leave it at that. Actually, it’s a lot smarter than that. The Joker, Penguin and Riddler actually disappear for a big portion of the movie and the main villain becomes… Batman himself! It’s true – after being infected with Catwoman’s concoction, Batman gradually loses his morals until he goes full-on Injustice Superman and rules Gotham with an iron fist. It’s a brilliantly meta idea – Batman gets darker over time, just like he has in the various movies over the years, geddit?. It also deserves a lot of credit for actually managing to make Adam West’s Batman scary. No, really. He even quotes The Dark Knight Returns.
Yes, as this is basically solely for long-term Batman fans, Return is stuffed full of spot-on easter eggs and references. Some of my favourites were Batman seeing three Catwomen (Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether), the whole host of villain cameos (King Tut! Archer! Bookworm!) and the Golden Age comic book covers in the opening credits. There were also some great nods to other incarnations of Batman. Like West quoting Michael Keaton – “you want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” – and a much-needed dig at the “underwhelming ending” of The Dark Knight Rises. And was Batman’s final plea to Catwoman a callback to a similar scene in Batman Returns?
Apart from that, it’s wonderful to hear the dynamic duo back in action again, and an extra bonus to have the show’s most charismatic villain as well in Julie Newmar’s Catwoman. Sure, they are audibly quite a bit older than last time they played these roles, but they return to their old characters with gusto. Adam West, specifically, sounds like he is having a blast with both reprising and sending up his take on Batman. The replacements for the rest of the cast are all solid, with William Salyers (Penguin) and Wally Wingert (Riddler) nailing Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith’s distinctive laughs. Of particular note is Jeff Bergman, who does a great turn as Cesar Romero’s Joker and gives an uncanny impression of original narrator William Dozier.
Overall, this is a real treat for anyone with a fondness for what is nowadays called Batman ’66. There’s Chief O’Hara, Aunt Harriet, the Bat-poles, the “Thwack!” captions, the ridiculous traps, even the Batusi… Everything that makes that version of Batman so distinctive. More importantly, unlike Batman v Superman, Return of the Caped Crusaders remembers to celebrate the different shades of Batman’s ever-changing character. Is this the most enjoyable Batman movie of the year? Holy West for the win, guys, I think it might be.