The Caped Crusaders, those mighty foes of crime Batman (voiced by Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) may spend their time righting wrongs and making the streets of Gotham City safe for its citizens, but even that tremendous duo need to relax, and so it is tonight Robin practices his ballet moves and Batman, aka millionaire Bruce Wayne, watches on television a popular variety show. However, as the next band are introduced, there's something awry: the music they are playing is absolutely, ear-splittingly terrible, and the reason for that quickly becomes apparent for the four musicians are in fact a quartet of the most formidable enemies the heroes have ever faced. To the Batmobile!
What with Batman all over the place in 2016, some bright spark took a notion to make yet another of Warner Bros.' animated features, but this one had a difference. Unlike the other big cartoon released from this department, the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland adaptation The Killing Joke, this was considerably more light hearted for they had brought back three of the stars of the original nineteen-sixties television version, West, Ward and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. The strong pull of nostalgia was the impetus for the production, and as it turned out was enough to bring it quite a lot of attention, with even a cinematic showing for it just as its fellow production of that year had enjoyed before it launched on home video.
Was this a tired replication of past glories, or was there worth to it? That depended on how you viewed its inspiration, as there were those who did not believe Batman should have a sense of humour, and he certainly should not be camp, so they were unlikely to get along with this cartoon, but they were wrong, as that TV series had been one of the most enjoyable efforts of its decade, defining what pop culture should look like on television as far as comic strips would be the basis of, and with a collection of witty jokes that were laugh out loud funny more often than not. That was unmistakably the spirit of the feature here, and its careful replication of the gags and their style was surprisingly well delivered, if not slavishly so.
Maybe that was because they increased the innuendo quotient, as for instance Bruce and Robin (who was actually called Dick Grayson, but his alias goes unmentioned) are keeping their alter egos a secret from Aunt Harriet (Lynne Marie Stewart), which leads to winking references to their veiled homosexuality, itself a knowing nod to the reason she was introduced as a character on the show in the first place. Not that Batman really was having an affair with Robin, it was more the way they were unaware of any misconception that was the joke, and besides there was a certain Catwoman to tempt him romantically, if only they had been fighting on the same side. Well, if you wished they would team up, then your dreams would come true after a fashion as she decides to act for the forces of good for a change.
She still has her own self-interest to take care of, naturally, but the plot saw Batman infected with Catwoman's poison which clouds his mind and turns him evil! He gets up to all sorts of un-Batmanly things, and is assisted by the ray gun that the four criminals were trying to steal, a gadget that creates duplicates (because it would not be a science fiction show without an evil double plotline, even this late in the day), for soon Gotham City is awash with wicked Bat-clones all getting up to no good. This was a bit of fun mostly, yet interestingly toyed with darker material the latter day crusader was all too familiar with, and director Rick Morales and his team managed to set such scenes where Batman really does beat up the villains (with a Bat-knuckle duster!) much to Robin's horror at using underhand tactics of violence to create a mood of peril, even if we knew it would all turn out fine. Better than it needed to be, West did sound his eighty-something age though was enthusiastic, but Ward's tones were as youthful as ever and Newmar's coquettish cadences were still present; it was more accomplished than the last time West and Ward had voiced the characters, the Filmation series of the seventies, because it did more with the history of the work. Oh, and the theme tune was present and correct.
Nice to know this is not just a cynical cash-grab preying on nostalgists. Sounds like they recaptured the spirit of fun of the original Bill Dozier show. For many of us that was our introduction to Batman. Julie Newmar penned a scathing review of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight which you can find on her website!
21 Dec 2016
If there was anything they missed out it was Dozier himself, as there is no narration whatsoever. They've already announced the sequel which has William Shatner as Two-Face (!).