Holy returning heroes, Batman! Adam West and Burt Ward return to bring their unique brand of heroism to the screen. Before Affleck, before Bale, before Keaton, there was the hero sixties Gotham needed and his trusty young ward. Celebrating their 50th anniversary (in the same year as Star Trek) the caped crusaders return to bring order and justice to the streets of an animated Gotham.
Every hero needs their villains, and also returning to pit herself against the dynamic duo is the original Catwoman with the purr-fect voice, Julie Newmar, who played the part in the first two seasons, though neither the third season’s Eartha Kitt nor the film’s Lee Meriwether are forgotten.
Recreating the exuberant, colourful and iconic style of the William Dozier produced show, the dynamic duo are drawn into the schemes of their classic enemies, the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin and Catwoman, but despite their apparent victory Batman is infected with Catwoman’s feline poison and begins to turn to the dark side of justice.
Frustrated with endlessly saving the citizens of Gotham, Batman begins to believe the best way to maintain order is to replace key figures with duplicates of himself, of course using the duplication ray recovered from the supervillains, and soon there is a whole evil Bat army taking over the once protected city.
Directed by Rick Morales, the humor is excellent, classically camp, tongue in cheek and so very knowing, littered with self-referential jokes from Aunt Harriet’s suggestive comments that she knows what Bruce and Dick get up to on their “late night fishing trips” to the film camera tilting sideways as it goes into “fight scene mode.”
There is a lot of love in the screenplay by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker, with references to the whole Batman franchise such as West doing Michael Keaton’s “You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!” line, and even a dig at the ending of Bale’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Clearly written by those with great affection for the series and the wider franchise, it is a wonderful treat for fans of all incarnations while remaining accessible for those less intimately familiar with the history of the character in his televised adventures and the over-the-top performances of the rotating cast of guest villains, the majority of them now long departed.
The supporting cast do a excellent job of matching the vocal styles of the actors who made the roles their own with The Looney Toons Show‘s Jeff Bergman replacing Cesar Romero as the Joker, Regular Show‘s William Salyers replacing Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Batman: Arkham Knight‘s Wally Wingert replacing Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, while The Odd Couple‘s Thomas Lennon does a great over the top Irish accent as Chief Miles O’Hara.
The animation of the exterior Gotham has a strong 3D look similar to Warner Bros. Animation’s previous Batman release from earlier this year the excellent Batman: The Killing Joke, but despite having the look of the scenery in common this is a very different film. The facial animation is mostly good but strangely not as consistent in quality with Batman and Robin as on the support characters.
The only chink in Return of the Caped Crusaders‘ Bat Armour is stretching the format to a feature length when the madcap style of humour works best in short bursts, as demonstrated by the running time of the original episodes, and by the third act the momentum is starting to wane and the extended fight scenes become a little tired despite attempts to create a varied selection of locales.
Similar to Futurama‘s switch in format when that show returned it just feels a little too much of a good thing, stretching the joke too far and lessening the experience when a sharp “pow” would be more effective. With rumors of a sequel already in the works there are likely to be more animated adventures for the dynamic duo, but in an ideal world it would be as an ongoing series of twenty five minute episodes.
Despite the slight sagging towards the finale, Return of the Caped Crusaders is thoroughly entertaining with a classic style of comedy that is still able to make audiences laugh fifty years later. Hearing the deep tones of Adam West and the enthusiastic Burt Ward as his boy wonder return is a thrill for any fans of the classic series.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is scheduled for release on DVD & Blu Ray on 7th November