Batman’s not had the best received year of his life. In fact, it’s quite telling and appropriate that the first trailer shown before night’s one-off screening of Return of the Caped Crusaders was for the upcoming Lego Batman Movie which seems to be a confident and affectionate parody of the series. After the utter failure of any confidence in D.C of both Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad for the movie-going public, it’s nice to see Batman on the big screen and being fun again. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is often described as ‘gritty’, but that doesn’t mean it stops being fun.
Return of the Caped Crusaders follows on from the adventures we last saw this iteration of Batman having in the 1960s. Gordon has a direct line to Bruce Wayne’s manner, young Dick Grayson is practising athletics and tightrope skills whilst Bruce watches variety shows like Gotham Palace on his old fashioned TV. They live with Aunt Harriet, and pretend to be going on a lot of fishing trips whenever they’re flying off into action, which they need to do, sharpish! The band due to open has been replaced by Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman, who are up to no good again! Robbing banks and science labs, so Batman and Robin chase them to try and solve the mystery of why they have stolen a particle-copying gun.
The plot is literally as ludicrous as it sounds, but this is played out perfectly. The reason it gets away with the plot it dares to tangle itself up into is that it is half-parody, half-affectionate tribute, half-sequel. I know that you can’t have three halves, but you can have a Bat Rocket in this movie and no-one questions it, so who cares?! The plot’s ludicrous pales in comparison to the dialogue and intentionally bad editing. Often after Batman has pontificated on a problem, the shot will stay on him for too long afterwards and is in moments like these when the film’s parody and tribute approach work so well together.Repeatedly, brawls are followed by ludicrous escapes and it builds up quite nicely to
Repeatedly, brawls are followed by ludicrous escapes and it builds up quite nicely to an unusual but brilliant climax that I’m sure the makers of Batman only dream that they could have made back in the day. Oddly, they never get boring, and every sticker exclaiming ‘Blam!’ and ‘smok’ are consistently entertaining. The animation is solid, blending its 3D and 2D elements seamlessly, as D.C movies usually do. The film’s set pieces are colourful and give the feel of the 1960s perfectly, with highlights including escaping a giant oven and an anti-gravity fight.
It’s not without flaws. The main selling point and the gimmick of the film is that it is revelling in its silliness and fun, and reunites Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar to voice their old roles. Ward is convincing, but West lacking his youthful speed leans more towards parody than straight-playing. Newmar is effective, but also consistently slowing scenes down when the rest of the imitating cast playing Joker, Riddler and Penguin (Jeff Bergman, Wally Wingert and William Salyers) blend into action flick that Newmar is a little bit slower to join in on.
So much fun is to be had that it doesn’t even matter when so many of the jokes either miss or confuse you instead. It’s far from perfect, perhaps about 15 minutes too long for its own good, but I would more than welcome a DC universe with these beloved characters rather than the ones being dragged through marketing and writing teams that simply don’t care anymore. This is loving and fun hour and a half with Batman, something that you won’t find being made anywhere else at the moment.
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Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is on DVD and Blu-Ray November 1st