"Holy unsatisfying ending, Batman!"
--Robin's pop-historically aware response to Catwoman's suggestion that she and Batman retire to Europe and drink tea at a café.
Return of the Caped Crusaders saw limited release in October 2016 and quickly found its way to home viewing. A tribute to the campy, cult Batman of the 1960s, featuring the voices of series originals Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar, it uses animation and an awareness of the Dark Knight's history to take Batman '66 where period TV could never go.
Sometime in the Swinging Sixties, The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman join forces in the most ludicrously convoluted plot imaginable. How will Batman and Robin stop them—especially once Batman turns heel?
The movie captures the essence of the series, with painful puns, anguished alliteration, goofy gimmicks, poker-faced platitudes, subversive suggestions, stupendous sound effects, and implausible illations. The celebrated theme song receives a smart, jazzy update that respects and improves on the original. The voice actors use deadpan delivery to good effect. Ward and Newmar remain remarkably unchanged, while new actors effectively replicate other familiar characters. Adam West, alas, sounds noticeably like a man just shy of ninety.
Although it never takes itself seriously, the film nevertheless comments on the various incarnations of the Batman. As a plot device slowly turns Batman evil, he first becomes something akin to the Frank Miller version, even directly quoting that Dark Knight.
Other references are mostly just fan service Easter Eggs, but they're entertaining: Batman, dazed after a head strike, sees Catwoman in triplicate: as Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriweather.
I enjoy the 1960s series (which I watched in original broadcast, though at too young an age to recognize its camp qualities), but I find its humor wears thin after a short while. The same is true of this film, which ramps up the camp, throws in numerous gay subtext gags (including references to Brokeback Mountain), and amps up the silly techno-gimmickry. Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusader runs only 78 minutes; I found myself growing weary two-thirds of the way through. And while the animation is serviceable, the traditional and computer-generated material prove an inconsistent match.
In the end, Return of the Caped Crusaders is a funny and occasionally clever romp that suitably celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of a memorable TV show. It won't appeal to everyone, but its intended audience should enjoy it.
Director: Rick Morales
Writers: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Adam West as Bruce Wayne / Batman
Burt Ward as Dick Grayson / Robin
Julie Newmar as Catwoman
Jeff Bergman as Announcer / The Joker
Thomas Lennon as Chief O'Hara / Prison Warden
William Salyers as The Penguin
Wally Wingert as The Riddler
Lynne Marie Stewart as Aunt Harriet
Jim Ward as Commissioner Gordon
Steven Weber as Alfred Pennyworth
Sirena Irwin as Miranda Moore / The other Catwomen