Who is the villain of Return of the Caped Crusaders? Who are all those voiceless villains in the background? Which issues of Detective Comics appear in the opening title sequence? And where is there a Pinky and the Brain reference in this film? Below is the spoiler-heavy discussion of the new Adam West Batman animated film!
Fathom has additional screenings nationwide today for Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders at 7:30 PM and 10:00 PM, with the film receiving digital release tomorrow, October 11, and a Blu-Ray and DVD release on November 1.
For the spoiler-minimal review, click here.
Who is the film’s villain?
It’s hinted at the image above. Notice how Batman is in the shadows? Following an injection of Joker Venom-laced Bat-Nip from Catwoman (…just go with it), Batman becomes egomaniacal, thinking only his method of the law can save Gotham. From this point forward, every scene of him is always in shadows, even when, as shown above, other characters like Robin are in the light.
The difficulty with a superhero film centers around the villain, the motivator for the plot. They either overshadow the hero (Loki, Dr. Octopus), are forgettable (Malekith), or killed off before more can be done with them.
The solution that Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders comes upon is to make Batman the villain–and it works. In a more serious film, this would be a warning to us about how Batman’s tactics are unethical, as demonstrated by recent film adaptations such as Nolan’s trilogy and Batman v Superman. As this is Batman ‘66, however, the tone is far cornier, taking the idea to a logical conclusion to show how ridiculous it is to imagine a Batman who controls every aspect of life. That does not change the menacing quality of Batman, especially as that darkness comes to take over Bruce as well.
As hinted in interviews, the plot to Return of the Caped Crusaders is itself a response to how much darker Batman has become since that TV series, and this film does some work to show how such a dark Batman would work. It is taken to absurd levels, of course, involving a Bat-Nip formula that corrupts Batman, followed by Batman then duplicating himself repeatedly to be the police, courts, even bakery chefs, parents, and TV hosts throughout Gotham. This film’s climax involves villainous Batmen installing bombs on people’s antenna so that the only channel they get is his, so that they must keep watching, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel–and if there is anything that really infuriates me about this film, it’s that Batman doesn’t actually say “Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel” when he threatens everyone on Gotham television!
Adam West has usually played innocent characters, as pure as this version of Batman, such as the Grey Ghost in Batman: The Animated Series or PROTO in The Brave and the Bold. As with his performance in The Boondocks, West gets to chew the scenery, adding a darkness to Batman but still so over-the-top in maniacal laughs that it fits the silliness of this film.
The film includes numerous references to the original Adam West TV series, as well as other Batman series and Warner Bros series.
- The opening features Batman clobbering villains, as he does in the Adam West opening, but here the shots are taken from later fights in the film.
- The opening also shows Batman, Robin, Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and the Penguin in situations that are exactly the same as some of their earliest comic book appearances.
- The first shot of Gotham is so dark that it almost looks like something out of The Animated Series.
- When we first arrive at Wayne Manor, Dick is practicing ballet–and complaining about these tights. Bruce practically looks at the screen to acknowledge, yes, that is the joke. While Robin wears tights in the comics, in the Adam West series, Robin instead ran with his legs exposed.
- Aunt Harriet throughout the film hints that she suspects something about Bruce and Dick’s coziness, as they always have to venture away elsewhere. This alludes to the interpretation of Batman and Robin as lovers, whether used for homophobic purposes such as by Fredric Wertham in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, or as allusion, parody, or increased representation of same-sex couples, ranging from Robert Smigel’s The Ambiguously Gay Duo to WildStorm’s Apollo and Midnighter.
- The villains are robbing from an Acme laboratory. Acme is itself an allusion to Looney Tunes, produced by Warner Bros, and Acme Labs may allude to the same laboratory in another Warner Bros animated series, Pinky and the Brain.
- One of the villain’s lackeys wears a shirt labeled “GOON,” which actually does appear in the Batman ’66 ongoing comic from DC–although I don’t remember whether that shirt appears in the TV series.
- The Joker’s face is obviously makeup here, as the smile remains painted on even when he is frowning. This is just as in the TV series, in which Cesar Romero refused to shave his mustache and had makeup plastered over to hide it.
- In almost every fight scene, Catwoman stands off to the side, posing against the wall for the camera, as she did in the TV series to avoid having a man-on-woman fight scene. This changes just slightly in the two final battles of this film, although even Catwoman looks confused as to why she is not getting involved in the battle.
- Catwoman’s mask comes and goes in this film, similar to how her costume design in the TV show included and excluded the mask. In the film, this signifies her shifting loyalties: mask-on means she’s a villain, mask-off means she’s an ally. For the TV show, this depended on the actor and season. As well, when Batman is knocked on the head, he ends up seeing three Catwoman: not only the Julie Newmar one, but also the Catwomen played by Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether.
- The villains escape in a thoroughly modified version of the Jokermobile. While pursuing in the Batmobile, Robin fires at them with a Bat-Zooka. While Batman in the comics is usually anti-gun, in the 1966 film, Batman also had Robin use a Bat-Zooka to fire at the Joker’s escaping submarine.
- The Batcave features a Bat Analyzer, also from the 1966 TV series, which Robin in this film brags has the power of two whole entire encyclopedias–oh, 1960’s computer humor!
- Batman escapes the TV Dinner Flaming Oven–a comically over-the-top death trap like those from the 1966 TV series–through a cheat similar to those in the TV series as well: the lemon tart on the TV dinner has enough citric acid to dissolve the ropes binding his wrists, yet somehow not his clothes or skin. TV dinners were also just becoming popular in the 1960s when the television series premiered.
- It wouldn’t be an Adam West film without sound effects on screen! When Batman gets more villainous, the sound effects change to “RIP,” “Fracture,” and other injuries. Before that, one sound effect, “Sprang!” is likely an allusion to Dick Sprang, one of the illustrators of the Batman comic at the same time as the TV series.
- Bruce avoids superheroing to instead lounge around and watch TV. This alludes to a cover of the original comic, in which Batman is himself watching the Adam West TV series.
- When partnering with Catwoman, Robin drives her Catmobile, also featured in the TV series. Before stepping into the car, Robin shouts, “Holy Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill!” which refers to the 1965 Russ Meyer film about murderous go-go dancers.
- Before taking Catwoman to the Batcave, Robin knocks her out with Bat-Spray, as was done repeatedly in the series, including to Penguin in the 1966 film.
- Robin and Catwoman recruit supervillains to help them defeat Batman. These include a version of Mr. Freeze (there were three in the TV series; the one in the film looks like the Eli Wallach version), Egghead (played in the TV series by Vincent Price), the Mad Hatter Jervis Tetch, King Tut, Archer, Bookworm, Louie the Lilac, and Minstrel.
- Before the fight scene, a Batman operating the camera switches the camera’s mode from “Talking Scene” to “Fight Scene,” causing the camera to tip slightly for a dutch angle, a reference to the shift in perspective in the TV series whenever a battle started.
- Mr. Freeze’s ray sounds less like the sound effect from a DC show and more like something from Space Ghost, a Hanna-Barbera action cartoon. Hanna-Barbera, now a subsidiary of Warner Bros, did the animation for numerous DC Comics animated series, such as Superfriends, which did feature Adam West as Batman. Space Ghost himself also did a brief crossover with Batman in The Brave and the Bold.
- When the duplicates dissolve into unstable molecule, the sand piles of their remains resemble those of humans after being hit by the dehydrator ray in the 1966 Adam West film.
- The Joker is defeated when he lands in a circus, and one acrobat is dressed less like the Flying Graysons (Dick’s family, killed off or injured before Bruce adopts him) and more like Captain Marvel, Billy Batson, now known in the DC Comics as Shazam.
- At the end of the film, Catwoman offers a deal to Batman: she will return the stolen items, if he agrees to take her to Europe where they may live happily ever after, perhaps sipping on a cafe. Robin mocks this ending as stupid, a reaction many viewers had when this was the exact same ending to Nolan’s Dark Knight film trilogy.
- The closing credits feature Batman trying to get rid of a cartoonishly sized bomb, as he did in the 1966 film–only Batman has more than one, which he dribbles like a basketball and juggles.
- Batman performs the Batusi on both television and with Catwoman in the credits, culminating in him pulling his cape over them to kiss her, the cape pulling resembling some of his poses from the comics.
Kevin Smith on Bat-Guilt and Robin saving puppies!
The Fathom screening starts with an introduction from Kevin Smith and co-hosts from his AMC show Geeking Out, allowing Smith to plug some interviews he has done before with Adam West and Burt Ward. Interesting details are about Ward’s philanthropy in working with dogs (Smith: “Robin saving puppies!” You also can hear more about Ward’s charity on Stephanie Miller’s Happy Hour Podcast). Smith also describes how, as a child, he felt intimidated by West’s version of Batman because it felt like the parent shaming a misbehaving child. So, I guess it’s “Bat-Guilt”?
We’re not paying Fox!
The film and its supplemental material at Fathom goes out of its way to avoid showing clips from the original TV series, likely because the show’s rights are still co-owned with 20th Century Fox. Instead, Fathom shows images from the ongoing DC Comics Batman ’66 comics. I spotted no reference to Fox in the credits’ legal clearance, either.