The following was commissioned by Culture Fly
There is no denying that Batman has become political. The Dark Knight is a parable for the war on terror and Batfleck has so far been some sort of fascistic knight-mare. So, it’s nice to see a Batman film that is about Batman. That’s not to say Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is shallow, it’s a story about Batman’s legacy and how he has evolved in the 50 years since he sprang onto screen wearing tight spandex and stitched on Bat-brows.
It’s funny that the camp thing Batman adaptations have shied away from is the very thing that talks about the character’s legacy. The farcical storylines of the ’66 TV show is the perfect template to point out the ridiculousness of Batman and the superhero genre in general. Return of the Caped Crusaders is inspired by the show’s popular plots and it crams in as many Bat-gadgets and daring escapes as possible. Each becomes increasingly ridiculous but never surpasses the escape via a giant lemon tart seen early on. It may contain multiple leaps in logic and not be intelligently plotted, but it is what it’s meant to be: bonkers.
It is by being so out there that Return of the Caped Crusaders offers a running commentary not only on Batman but on how violent mainstream entertainment has come. The iconic “POWS!” accompany every punch and transition into “BLUDGEONS” when Batman becomes more violent because of, well, reasons. It is a smart way of using the story’s light tone to talk about how brutal onscreen violence has become.
The film also mocks the self-seriousness of Nolan’s trilogy, getting in a couple of gentle ribs and calling out the ending of The Dark Knight Rises. The film doesn’t pretend that a man dressing up as a bat to fight crime with his bird-inspired teenage ward is anything other than ridiculous.
It is out of love that it throws a couple of cartoon punches at the modern Batman adaptations. This is a love letter to the character and his enduring appeal. The opening credits, set to the “nan-nan-nan-na” theme tune, have the ’66 Batman and Robin replicate famous comic book covers, and hearing Adam West recite Frank Miller dialogue is a delicious delight that proves there are multiple ways to adapt a character.
This adoration is also in the modern animation style, referencing the sublime ‘90s Batman: The Animated Series. If there is a fault, it feels like stock animation, lacking the art-deco flair of the ‘90s series. The original shows identity isn’t threaded into the style and it’s a shame they didn’t fully commit to the ‘60s vibe by replicating the style of the Hanna-Barbara cartoon.
However, these are minor quibbles because creating an animated adaptation allows for inventive and bizarre action scenes. It also allows West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar to reprise their roles. They all fit into their spandex purr-fectly and it’s a treat to watch them deliver puntastic alliterative dialogue — “that dominatrix of devilry” and “plunder of pearls” stand out.
This may be a Batman of a different era but he turns out to be the hero we need right now. As onscreen Batman gets darker, it’s nice to have some kitschy lightness appear like a Bat-symbol of hope in the sky.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 7 November