When The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Riddler return to Gotham to threaten world domination once again, Batman and Robin are forced into action to thwart the meddling quartet and save the day. However, when a new, surprising villain comes to the forefront, new alliances are formed to once again ensure that good defeats evil.
Director: Rick Morales
Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert, Jim Ward, Steven Weber, Thomas Lennon
Run Time: 78 Minutes
Release Date: On DVD November 1
Stuck for so long in purgatory due to a years-long legal dispute between Warner Bros. and Fox, the license for the original 60’s Batman finally became free and thus followed all the merchandise you can think of. Marketed under the blanket branding of Batman ’66, we have seen a new comic book series, a new range of action figures, Pop! figures from Funko, and, probably the biggest thing for most fans, the long-awaited DVD and Blu-ray release of the original series. Now a brand-new Bat adventure has come, this time in animated form, in the latest of DC’s direct-to-DVD animated Batman series.
Return of the Caped Crusaders continues on from the TV show and follows the tried and trusted formula all fans of a certain age group watching every week growing up are used to. The humour is unchanged, and indeed the first 20 minutes or so act as somewhat of a ‘greatest hits’ of the original series and film, with original theme music intact and full-screen “POW” and “WHACK” graphics during battles. Of course, the look of the show is one thing, but a Batman ’66 story needs its stars, and this does not disappoint. Bringing back the vocal talents of original stars Adam West and Burt Ward was a necessity for this project, of course, and it is an absolute joy to hear the two together again. This Bat-fan widely smiled at every Robin “Holy…” moment and the first use of West’s classic “Old chum” line. West doesn’t miss a beat here, and his performance is the standout of the cast. Easily slipping back into his most famous role as if he had never been away, he clearly benefits from essentially voicing a parody of himself on Family Guy for so long.
Ward also does well, though his advancing age definitely shows in his voice. At the end of the day, though, he is Robin and he works here. Let’s face it, those ‘Holy…” lines will never not be funny in a Batman ’66 show or comic book. The other surviving member of the original show, Julie Newmar, returns as Catwoman, though unfortunately, she is the weakest of the three main stars. Her voice has changed significantly over the years compared to her co-stars, and therefore sounds very little like the Catwoman we grew up watching. Furthermore, she was actually one of three women to play the role, so to those familiar more with the 60s movie – in which Lee Meriwether donned the catsuit – she will sound very different indeed. Quick nod as well for the easter egg here (and more on those later) that actually references the different Cat-actresses over the years.
Elsewhere, we get other actors taking on the iconic roles of Joker, Penguin, and Riddler, previously voiced so memorably by Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin. Jeff Bergman steps in as Joker, while William Salyers tackles Penguin with Wally Wingert taking on the puzzling Riddler, and while all three are superb, the highlight is undoubtedly Bergman. If you didn’t know better, you would think that it really was Romero back as The Joker, that is how good Bergman is. Every actor involved here throws everything into this, and you can sense the determination to honour the original series. Without a doubt, they succeed. Outside of the main cast, we also get trusty Butler Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara and Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriett, as well as great cameos in the final act from a whole host of classic Batman villains.
Going back to the easter eggs, there are some great ones on display here. From Bats quoting lines from The Dark Knight Returns and Tim Burton’s Batman, to a great one-liner about the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, Michael Jelenic and James Tucker have done some great work with the screenplay. Once the nostalgia-fueled opening act subsides, the plot begins to take shape. It does take some time to get there, though at no point does the movie drag. An intriguing shift in the story halfway through takes the feature off in a direction I didn’t expect, but it’s here where things really take off. I’m not going to say anything more, not just because I don’t do spoilers, but mainly because there is so much to enjoy here and it’s best to just experience it.
One criticism I do have to make is regarding the general animation, while the characters are all perfectly recreated, the overall look of the movie is too much like the other DC direct-to-DVD offerings. There appears to be little-to-no attempt to capture the campy appearance of the original series and movie, and while it doesn’t hamper the overall experience too much, it is a little disappointing that, given so much good work that has clearly gone into recreating West, Ward and others, their surroundings weren’t given the same treatment.
All in all, though, this is a superb trip down memory lane and a pretty darn good Batman movie to boot. Adam West may still be the best Batman of them all (sorry Ben and Michael), and to have him doing this again, even if it just in voice, is amazing. I don’t believe it is hyperbole for me to say that every Batman fan will love this, and it encourages me all the more that it appears this is getting a sequel. Tellingly, the one Bat-villain who doesn’t appear here is Two-Face, and rumour has it that he will be taking the lead against Bats, with none other than William Shatner providing the voice. If DC and Warner can do with that what they have done with Return of the Caped Crusaders, the nostalgic buzz that Batman ’66 brings isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.