Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) / Animation-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for action, suggestive material and rude humor
Running Time: 78 min.
Cast (voices): Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Jeff Bergman, Thomas Lennon, William Salyers, Wally Wingert, Lynne Marie Stewart, Steven Weber
Director: Rick Morales
Screenplay: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Review published October 24, 2016
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a feature-length straight-to-VOD film from DC Comics/Warner Bros. that differentiates itself from the rest of the DC Animated Universe releases by going back to the live-action "Batman" TV show from the 1960s for its tongue-in-cheek take on the not-so-Dark Knight.
The plot involves the Dynamic Duo trying to take down their main four nemeses -- Joker (voice of Jeff Bergman, "The Looney Tunes Show"), Riddler (Wingert, "Family Guy"), Penguin (Salyers, "Regular Show in Space") and Catwoman (Newmar, Mackenna's Gold) -- who've joined forces to capture a Replicator Ray. which is a laser-gun of sorts that can make an exact replica of anything it targets. Despite falling into the right hands, those with wrong hands still manage to manipulate matters to their benefit, resulting in a major upheaval in the city of Gotham that could have long-ranging consequences if the good guys can't figure out how to reverse the Ray's duplicative properties.
Many of the jokes come from the self-awareness that those who are watching this rehash will be intimately familiar with the classic TV show from which it draws inspiration. It's not entirely the same, as there is an extra metatextual layer that will likely only make sense to those who are intimately familiar with the original series, such as the fact that there were three actresses who played Catwoman (in addition to Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether also donned the cat whiskers), that the villains often were shot with a view askew (aka, the "Dutch tilt"), that Robin (Ward, Moving Targets) always makes exclamations with the word "Holy" preceding them, the "BAM!"s and "POW!"s for all of the fisticuffs, the absurd means of escape from seemingly impossible situations, and that Batman's (West, Meet the Robinsons) dance is known as the Batusi. There are some anachronistic references (especially in sly nods to the more recent Batman films), and there's also a subtle gay subtext implied in the so-called secret that Bruce Wayne and his ward, Dick Grayson, are keeping from those around them, such as the suspicious and nosey Aunt Harriet (Stewart, Pee-wee's Big Holiday).
While the animated likenesses are spot-on, and the fact that West, Ward and Newmar are quite a coup to pull together for the vocal talent, it's a bit unfortunate that their age is reflected in their voices, which can be a bit disconcerting for those expecting a pitch-perfect performance in this respect. Nevertheless, the rest of the vocal talent does well in their lively interpretations of the original cast who are no longer alive to recreate their iconic roles.
The film does play like an animated long version of the jazzy TV show, which, given the frivolous nature of the original series, may make it less meaty for those hoping for more than surface nostalgia in their full-length features. Despite a short 78 minutes, it does feel a bit long in the tooth after a bit with only one somewhat slack storyline to follow. While the jokes are amusing when they hit, the film could have used more of them, or, at least, more zany diversions from the straightforward plot. This is something that also hampered the live-action theatrical Batman the Movie film that came out during its heyday in 1966. This is very much a fan-service kind of movie that will be more rewarding the more you're familiar with the original property. Those who've never seen it might still find it interesting enough as a diversion, but will likely find many aspects of the film to be amusing enough to keep a casual interest in how it plays out.
Return of the Caped Crusaders is a fun, nostalgic ride for fans of the original series from the 1960s, especially those who regularly partake of the current animated offerings put out by DC on VOD/DVD/Blu-Ray. If you've been bemoaning the dark and grim way that Batman has been portrayed in more recent years and have been hoping for a return to the campier and more jovial days, this should fit the bill. It may be a love-letter kind of homage film, but that also means that those who love the 1960s effort will find plenty to love, as they get the bonus episode to the much beloved series they never thought they'd ever get to see revived.
©2016 Vince Leo