The fourth film in 2016 to feature Batman; Return of the Caped Crusaders brings us back to the 60s to revel in the campy Batman TV series. Lee caught it in cinemas, and it’s a Bat-barrel of fun in his review.
Not all movies cater to all people, and nor should they. As best we can as critics, attempting to isolate the vision of the work and assess according to how best a movie attains that vision should be the modus operandi. Die Hard need not be compared to Citizen Kane directly, as they cater to two separate modes of cinema; dramatic quasi-biopic drama and crowd-pleasing action adventure rarely correlate to the same audience, if an audience is even what they wish to correlate towards.
Return of the Caped Crusaders does not attempt to draw in an audience, or please cinemagoers with necessary information to enjoy its bizarre recapturing of the 1960s iteration of pop culture icon Batman; it simply aims to send-up an iconic television show with a slew of identifiable tropes, references, in-jokes and even semi-inversions of the old formulas to tell a brand-new story as if the world of Batman never ceased with the encroaching dawn of the 70s.
Still as camp and introverted as it was at the time, to those not ‘in on it’, there might still be something to enjoy in the surreal nature of the narrative, so alien to how stories are told today and filled with jokes that are either too smart for their own good or too silly to be taken seriously; offense to the senses is more likely the take-home from your average cinemagoer. Bare bones animation, a plot that goes around in circles and repetitive action isn’t likely to lure any but the most adventurous new fans to the fold.
For fans of even modest stature however, Return of the Caped Crusaders offers one of the purest forms of idolatry imaginable. Loaded with care and attention to assure authenticity (including voice acting by surviving cast members Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar), the movie captures what made the original adaptation so enjoyable and continues to up the stakes, scale and novelty to new heights, truly revelling in the wonder for all things Bat-related.
Of importance here is the lack of cynicism or eye-rolling; the filmmakers are just as passionate about the original series as its fans, refraining from parody and criticism and revelling in the obscene goofiness of the tone instead. When the fourth wall is broken, it’s done with the same tongue-in-cheek nudging that characterised the original format, and only makes for one pop-shot at the brooding cinematic Batman that has dominated pop culture since, making the sting all the more enjoyable with its scarcity.
Above all, the status quo is maintained: the adventures continue, never ending. Fans aren’t told to pack up and leave, but rather invited to carry the torch onwards. This little microcosm has survived this long, why call it a day now? The characters of Gotham wonder what a world would be without Batman, the answer mercifully is they’ll never need to know.
Downside, of course, come inherent in the form. These stories often lost a little of their sparkle after the second fight, suiting the serial 25 minutes much more succinctly. And while arguably it’s more important (not to mention hilarious) to keep the ol’ racism and sexism intact, it does unfortunately rob young kids a chance to get involved in the lunacy a little for some more hesitant parents. The movie might not be searching for new fans, but kids should always be the true judge of that.
Everyone else should know roughly where they land with this one beforehand: if you were a fan of the series, or even the idea of the series, you’re bound to have fun with this. If you weren’t, you might still have fun despite yourself, but consider this an acquired taste and save yourself some time while the kids have their fun.