Return of the Caped Crusaders is a hilarious look back at the 1960s Batman show through the lens of modern sensibilities. Adam West and Burt Ward, the original Batman and Robin, are joined by Julie Newmar (Catwoman) and a host of younger voice actors for one last Bat-pun-filled adventure.
This review has spoilers. If you’d like to go in completely fresh, you should stop reading here.
The 70-minute feature isn’t just an excuse to giggle at a lot of corny one-liners and KEPOW’s and BLAM’s plastered across the screen. It’s also way more thoughtful and thought-provoking than it has any right to be. Rather than simply ignoring the nearly 50 years of Batman since Adam West donned the tights on screen, Return revels in the evolution of the characters and their many, many interpretations.
Although it drags a bit at times, Return mostly keeps viewers riveted by alternately making fun of and celebrating the old show. It’s topped off with some genuinely impressive action scenes, and plenty of fun references to the rest of the Bat-verse.
An Updated Look and Feel
The voice acting is spot-on, for the most part. Burt Ward has an amazing ability to slip right back into his old character. Adam West and Julie Newmar sound, well, older, but in many ways, that supports the plot. West mostly avoids sounding like his other big animated role, Mayor Adam West of Family Guy, and he is able to inject a suitable amount of menace when needed.
This is the coolest 60s Batman has ever looked and sounded. While the character and prop designs are very faithful to the live-action series, the explosions and stunts are not. There’s more going on in any of the film’s numerous chase and fight sequences than could ever be dreamt of by a low-budget show that relied more on camp than spectacle. This is Batman as the original directors dreamed it could be.
Everything is accompanied by a live orchestra that can only be described as friggin’ sweet. The filmmakers resisted the temptation to ever have a vocalist utter a single “Na na BATMAN!”, but it is more than implied by the instrumental score.
Too Many Batmen
After an appropriately silly opening that dredges up just about every element of the 60s show you forgot you loved (Aunt Harriet? Ballet?!), the movie gets right down to business as Batman and Robin fight a quartet of villains on the set of a good old fashioned variety show. Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, and the Riddler have teamed up for this round, and there is more than enough punny banter to go around.
Return starts to take an odd turn, though, when Catwoman doses Batman with her special “batnip”, which is intended to turn him into a bad guy. Although this does eventually occur, what happens first is far more interesting.
For about a third of the movie, Batman isn’t 60s Batman. He’s DCAU Batman. He might even be Dark Knight Rises Batman. He ceases to participate in the incessant banter. Batman stops caring about the jokes, and he starts breaking limbs.
The filmmakers throw in several subtle references to support the transformation. Characters are cowed into submission when Batman’s shadow looms over them in a wide shot. Commissioner Gordon comments that disappearing into thin air after a conversation is “not like Batman at all”. The reality, of course, is that’s exactly like every incarnation of the character since the 60s.
Before long, Batman soon becomes the cartoonish bad guy that Catwoman desired, and the plot becomes appropriately silly again. He takes over Gotham, there are some gags, a big fight, and everything is aces again.
Holy Worth Watching, Batman
Return of the Caped Crusaders is more ambitious than it needed to be, but that ambition pays off. The film is a little longer than it needed to be even at a modest 70 minutes, and many viewers might be looking at the clock during the last sequence. Even so, it’s a wonderful ode to a bygone era of superheroes. This gentle, funny, sparkly clean boy scout style of hero may be less and less relevant to our modern culture, but he’ll always be worth the occasional visit.
Return of the Caped Crusaders is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Digital Video.