Sunday, June 11, 2017

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

I, along with many other people, am still processing the news that the great Adam West has died.  He had a large influence on me and the Batman show helped shape my love of the zany and ridiculous which would later fuel my love for B-movies.  To honor the legacy of this iconic actor I have decided to review Adam West’s latest appearance in his most famous role in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and dedicate it to him. The film came out in 2016 and had Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar all reprise their roles in an animated movie based on the classic Batman series. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a very interesting film because it has had decades to look at the character of Batman, analyze why exactly people love the 1966 show and how it fits into the overall modern Batman mythos.  From repeated viewings it became increasingly clear that the creators of the movie are not just fans of the ’66 show but big fans of Batman in general and relished the opportunity to pay homage to both new incarnations of the character and the characters history and roots.  The film looks at the sharp contrast between the sunny, silly and idealistic Batman compared with the dark, broody and more disillusioned version.  Ultimately, it concludes they are both wings on the same bat and you need both to fly.

The into to the movie is superb because it features recreations of classic Detective Comics covers featuring Batman as well as comic panels.  It is a nice touch considering critics of Batman ’66 have for years have called it unfaithful to its source material.  Considering one of the biggest criticisms of the shows was it used onomatopoeia pop ups, which are used in comics because they lack sound, I always found most of these criticisms hypocritical.  The show was a parody with a light-hearted tone but it tried extremely hard to get the visual elements of the comic right and was very affectionate to its source.  Comic movies like the X-men had been trying to make movies based on comics but give them a more realistic feel which meant cutting out a lot of the costumes and other iconic comic elements.  You would think this would lead to anger at deviating from the source material but many people never even address it.  What people really want is comic movies taken seriously, which I can completely understand even though I think their vendetta against Batman ’66 is pointless.  George Reeves is believed to have hated playing Superman and considering playing a comic character beneath that of a serious actor.  Adam West, in contrast, after he was typecast fully embraced the role of Batman and considered it an honor to play such an iconic role.  People need to understand that while Batman ’66 was intentionally ridiculous it ironically was one of the first instances of comic book roles being taken seriously and respected by the cast.  There is a reason that even actors like Mark Hamill who have played much darker roles in the Batman universe love and revere the show.

The dynamic duo turns in to the show Gotham Palace to watch the band Victor and the Hodaddies.  The band was replaced by Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler and Catwoman.  As the crime fighters rush out Aunt Harriet stops them and says by the way they are running places you would think they were Batman and Robin.  They give the normal excuse that they were going fishing before they run off.  Aunt Harriet lets Alfred know that she knows they have a secret even though Alfred denies knowing what she is talking about.

The four thieves steal a replication ray gun which can multiply items.  This leads to a classic Batman fight complete with all the “pows” and “whams” we have come to expect.  Catwoman attempts convince Batman to join their criminal gang during the fight.  A distracted Robin tries to tell Batman not to listen but is knocked down by Joker.  Batman turns down Catwoman’s offer but is then struck over the head by Penguin and temporarily sees three Catwomen.  Catwoman jokes that he will now have a hard time choosing just one of them.  The others Catwomen which Batman sees are modeled after Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt who were the second and third actresses to play Catwoman on the tv show.  It is a clever joke and callback alluding to how fans have discussed who was their favorite actress to play Catwoman for years.  While Batman is dazed the criminals escape.

Batman uses the Batcomputer to determine that a piece of tinfoil the villains dropped came from the abandoned tv dinner factory. They go there to confront the dastardy crooks.  Catwoman knocks Batman and Robin out with gas and when they wake up are tied up on a giant tv dinner.  Catwoman tries a mysterious substance she calls Batnip which she says will turn Batman into her evil ally.  Batman says that his principles and willpower are no match for her drug.  The four villains then decide that since their foe won’t join them to kill him and the boy wonder.  The criminals depart while the conveyor belt the tv dinner is on begins to move towards a fiery furnace.  The classic deathtrap has returned!  Batman thinks quickly and realizes that the TV dinner they are on has a lemon tart for desert.  Since lemons are acidic he places his bond hands in the lemon tart and allows its acidity to weaken the ropes so that he can free himself.  Batman breaks free and grabs Robin and throws a roped batarang so that he can grab his sidekick and swing to safety at the last second.

Aunt Harriet begins snooping around in Bruce Wayne’s room trying to find clues for why they are acting so strangely.  She is just about to touch the iconic bust of Shakespeare which contains the button that reveals the Batcave when Bruce walks in the room.  Aunt Harriet lies and says that she must have gotten lost and wandered into the room by mistake because she knows she is not allowed in Bruce’s personal quarters.  She leaves abruptly.  Dick tells Bruce that that was close and she almost discovered their secret alter egos.  Alfred walks in the room and apologizes for allowing Aunt Harriet in the room and assures Bruce it will not happen again.  Bruce angrily fires him, saying he is sure of that.  Dick is astonished at the harsh firing of Alfred, who had been such a loyal servant for so many years.

The dynamic duo searches for the four criminals through land, sea, and sky but find nothing.  They decide that the people that they are looking for must not be on Earth.  They take the newly revealed Bat-rocket and Bat-spaceship (given the colors and bat motifs of the 1955 Lincoln Futura car which became the Batmobile).  Batman reveals that the U.S. had made a space-station with a secret deal with Belgrade and that the villains are likely there.  Meanwhile, the four fiends are in the space-station when Penguin says that they can’t trust Catwoman because of her not-so-secret love of Batman.  The three thieves force Catwoman out the airlock but Batman, while wearing a spacesuit, catches her and gets her to safety. The villains reveal to the caped crusaders that they intended to use the replication ray to create multiple Earths’s which they each rule.  Batman and Robin then confronts Joker, Riddler and Penguin in a fight which takes place in zero gravity.  It ends after a batarang hits the switch turning gravity back on.

Batman then decides that he has had enough of these games.  He takes out a pair of iron knuckles (shaped like a bat) and begins severely hurting his foes.  The onomatopoeia’s in this section are more brutal like “pulverize” and “fracture” instead of the normal sillier ones like “oomph”.  Batman also begins to use lines he said in more recent incarnations such as, “This is the operating table and I’m the surgeon” from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  Both Robin and Catwoman are shocked by the sudden brutality shown by Batman. Catwoman takes advantage of the distraction and escapes to a shuttle and gets away.  After the other criminals are badly beaten Batman prepares them to turn over to the authorities.

Back at Wayne manor, Dick finally gets home to find Bruce insulting Aunt Harriet to the point where she is in tears.  Dick tries to explain to Bruce that he is behaving cruelly but Bruce angrily kicks Dick out of the house.  We are then shown a homeless Alfred rummaging through garbage.

Gotham develops a crime wave as Batman stops answering calls from Commissioner Gordon.  While the city is in chaos Gordon and O’Hara struggle to quell the problem to no avail.  Suddenly a shadowy outline of a jagged cape appears, it’s Batman!  While the two police officers think their prayers have been answered it turns out Batman has a different idea.  He declares Gordon and O’Hara too inept for the job.  Gordon says that the city cannot function without a commissioner and chief of police. Batman reveals his plan by shooting himself with the replication ray and having the replicas take the jobs.  Batman clones begin to take over all the jobs in town such as mayor (a joke about Adam West’s role on Family Guy), judge, chef, and even street sweeper. 

Robin realizes that Catwoman’s Batnip did indeed turn Batman evil but that it worked much slower than expected.  He goes to the hideout of Catwoman and asks her if she has an antidote.  Catwoman agrees to help Robin deliver the antidote because the evil Batman thing wasn’t working out as she had hoped.  Robin agrees to drive her to the Batcave if she agrees to temporarily be put to sleep with Bat-sleep spray so that she doesn’t learn the secret location of the cave.  She agrees and allows him to drive her using her special cat themed car.

At the Batcave, Robin and Catwoman come face to face with Batman.  Robin explains to Batman the situation but the new evil Batman is glad to be freed of his moral code.  Catwoman gives Batman the antidote but it is revealed that it had no effect because evil Batman preemptively took the anti-antidote.  Batman and Robin engage in a utility belt duel where both counters the gadgets of the other using their endless supply of amazingly situationally specific gadgets.  Catwoman eventually gets fed up with them going back and forth countering each other and tries to whip Batman. Batman retaliates by knocking them both out with gas.  When they come they find that Batman plans to lower them into the nuclear silo in the Batcave right at the exact moment it releases nuclear steam.  Batman leaves to continue his plans to rule Gotham.  The two only survive because it is revealed Robin foresaw this and sprayed both of them with  Bat-anti-isotope spray while Catwoman was asleep in the car.

To get more help against the city full of Batmen, Robin and Catwoman pose as prison inspectors and help the less popular ensemble of villains break free.  This includes the likes of Egghead, King Tut, Mr. Freeze and more.  It is a nice touch and allows the lesser appearing villains in the tv show to make cameo appearances.  Joker, Riddler and Penguin are not released and the guards at the prison are baffled to find they have turned into sand.

Batman takes over the show Gotham Palace.  He says he has realized that he doesn’t dress as a bat to scare criminals but instead because he craves attention and that Gotham Palace is the best place to get it.  Catwoman, Robin and the b-gallery of supervillains show up to stop him.  This begins a big fight against the Batman clones.  While the smaller villains try their best and fight hard they are simply unable to deal with a team of Batmen and get knocked out.  Catwoman also does a good job in the fight considering she never actually fought Batman in the show.  Batman had a “never hit women rule” which would result in him forfeiting to female henchmen and letting them capture them so that he wouldn’t have to fight them.  Always made me wonder as a kid why all of the supervillains didn’t just hire only women as henchmen. However, evil Batman does not have this stipulation and is just fine with hitting women.

Ultimately, evil Batman is about to prevail and dance the Batusi in victory.  Then a mysterious man appears and offers the original Batman a drink to celebrate his new career as a tv star.  Batman drinks the drink only to revert back to normal.  The mysterious man is revealed to be Alfred who concocted an anti-anti-batnip antidote curing the caped crusader.  Robin is amazed but Batman reveals that he told Alfred if he ever fired him it would be because of mind control and that he would need him to create a drug made to Batman’s specifications capable of counteracting what the evil Batman would take to try to stay evil. It is a sweet scene that showcases the bond between him and Alfred; as well as how crazy prepared Batman is to all possible situations.  The Batman clones all turn to sand and it is revealed that the Batmen created were molecularly unstable and wouldn’t last.  This is a nod to the 1966 Batman film with the dehydrator which would turn people into essentially colored sand by removing all water from their bodies.

Batman realizes that for once he was not always one step ahead of the villains.  He deduces that the Joker, Penguin and Riddler he threw in jail were replicas and that they knew Catwoman’s batnip would work and distract everyone while they pulled off their ultimate crime caper stealing the priceless artifacts and artwork of Gotham.  Catwoman agrees to help the duo so she could get even with the three supervillains for attempting to kill her.

It ends with a climactic fight on top of Penguin’s penguin shaped blimp.  Eventually all three villains are thrown from the blimp but have their fall softened by objects and are arrested.  Catwoman tells Batman that they can be together and drink tea in café in Europe if only he agrees that they can kill Robin.  “Holy unsatisfying ending!” says Robin.  This is a joke on the widely criticized ending of The Dark Knight Rises. Batman refuses and Catwoman jumps from the blimp.  It is left ambiguous if she survives the fall but let’s face it, she pulled this stunt in the show as well.  As a truism if you don’t see the body to verify generally they are alive.

The final scene has Bruce and Dick throw Aunt Harriet a surprise Birthday party.  She is overjoyed and tells them she knew they were hiding something from her but she had no idea it was this.  She also says that they no longer have to make up ruses such as going fishing and the like.  Bruce notices the bat symbol in the sky and the two make up a bad excuse and leave.  Aunt Harriet looks at Alfred in confusion.    

The film is excellent.  One of the best things about it is that it brings back all of the best elements of the old Batman show while still telling a story that feels both nostalgic and new. It isn’t just a recycled plot with no originality but it has everything you want and expect in a Batman ’66 movie. Batman still, on principle, has to cross at the crosswalk and Batman and Robin still climb up buildings in the classic style. Even small touches like the Batcomputer not having screen (GUI) and having to print out any info if Batman is to read it just like in the show. But then it has unexpected things we have never seen such as Adam West’s Batman going bad and everyone going into space.  The writing is very tight and feels like the original show.

The music is also fantastic.  You have the classic theme and motifs that you have come to expect.  I do have one minor gripe though.  They have the main Batman theme song but it is not the original version.  I want to say it is an instrumental but, in truth, so was the original.  I hope you aren’t stoned reading that because it will probably blow your mind.  Anyway, however they made those synthetic sounds sound like women’s voices saying “Batman” you will not hear that in the film.  Kind of a shame.  But not too big of deal.

The voice acting is for the most part superb. Adam West and Burt Ward may not sound the exact same as they did in their youth but they still sound great and did a fantastic job and were full of energy.  Julie Newmar returning to the role is also a treat and something that many never expected.  Jeff Bergman (Joker) and Wally Wingert (Riddler), in particular, did a great job replacing the voice of Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin.  William Sayers (Penguin) is probably the weaker casting as he sounds less like Burgess Meredith but he still did an admirable job filling into titanic (waddling) shoes.  Overall, no real complaints.

Rest in peace, Adam West.  You will forever be remembered as the classic Batman. To me and many others you will also always be the true Batman.    

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