MOVIE REVIEW: “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders”

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“BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS” — 4 STARS

In the fifty years since the 1966 “Batman” TV series, several generations of young viewers and comic book readers have identified “their” Batman through pulpy Frank Miller graphic novels, the blockbusters of Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan, the animated voice of Kevin Conroy, brawny modern video games, or even “Batfleck.” Think of the drunken Seth Rogen/Zac Efron conversation from “Neighbors.” They didn’t witness the celebrated color and camp on television that brought Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s characters to its first wide audiences.

Batman has evolved, but the long-standing love for that old TV show has only sweetened. The new WB Animation entry “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” unlocks a time capsule and reminds us why Batman can be just as fun when he’s not brooding and sulking. With the triumphant returns of original cast members Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar reassuming their Batman, Robin, and Catwoman mantles as voice actors, this new film possess audible and visual treats to behold. It received a one-night theatrical bow through Fathom Events before landing on VOD platforms.

With souped-up graphics and updated groovy musical cues by Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, and Lolita Ritmanis, “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” unearths the 60s incarnations of our heroes as they, once again, do battle against the fiendish and diabolical Catwoman, the Joker, Penguin, and the Riddler. The four supervillains have combined to plague Gotham City with a nefarious plot to use a multiplier gun to create more of them and more of other villains than our Dynamic Duo can handle. Double-crosses, triple-crosses, antidotes, anti-antidotes, and antidotes to anti-antidotes converge as hurdles to save the day.

West, Ward, and Newmar have some extra warble of age in their voices, but they don’t miss a beat sliding into their beloved characters. Try as they may, the backup villain voices of Joker, Riddler, and Penguin, provided Jeff Bergman, Wally Wingert, and William Salyers, had no chance to top the classic characterizations of Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, and Burgess Meredith. However, they capture enough of the zany quirks and memorable cackles to fit the bill.

A glaring flaw is this animated film’s hyperdrive pacing. The equally throwback “Batman: Brave and the Bold” animated series from a few years ago suffered from the same problem. The 1960s series source had a patient and deliberate charm to let each episode’s mystery breathe, evolve, and surprise. The twists and turns here are squeezed into three narrative arcs and barrel through in an awful hurry.

Once “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” soars our heroes and villains into space in the second act, we see that it’s trying way too hard to pack as many manufactured highlights of newness into 78 minutes as possible. Easy does it better. The film corrects its course and ends on a very kitschy and devilishly cleverly third act that has Robin and Catwoman teaming up to deal with evil Batman multiples taking over everything.

There are minor inaccuracies (Alfred’s lack of glasses, a directional reversal of the Batcave, Commissioner Gordon’s addition of a mustache) in the hand-drawn renewal directed by Rick Morales, but the honorable adulating spirit is there all over the place. Fresh spins on the classic fight scene pops, askew camera angles, cheesy puns, dated virtues, and upright moral fibers play well to still entertain in cartoon form.

Observing these homages through advanced modern animation (far better in quality to the recent “Batman: The Killing Joke”) takes some getting used to compared to the high style and colorful panache of the original source. The film puts more story segments at night, dimming, to a fair degree, the vibrant light levels were remember. By the end, the blends feel normalized.

Far and away, this is a light, easy, harmless, and amusing love letter to squeaky clean family-friendly entertainment of a bygone era. Sit the kids down in front of this one and tell them tales about “The Bright Knight” that came long before “The Dark Knight.” If they like what they see, take them to the local comic shop and grab them some issues of the ongoing “Batman ‘66” comic series. Here’s to another fifty years!

LESSON #1: ALWAYS BE ONE STEP AHEAD OF YOUR ADVERSARIES — Not enough fans give the 1966 version of Batman and Robin credit as being “thinking men” as well as superheroes. The weekly puzzlements of the show and this film still surround well-conceived clues and a vast range of discovered knowledge that urge education in the viewer.

LESSON #2: BE PREPARED FOR ANY OBSTACLE — Without fail, this Caped Crusader is equipped with as many gadgets, backup plans, and fixes as he is brain cells and muscles. His preparedness and quick-thinking pragmatism are off-the-charts.

LESSON #3: THERE IS A PLACE FOR CAMP IN ENTERTAINMENT — Things that are edgy, dark, and dangerous will always provoke the greatest attention. Nonetheless, as extolled in the opening and closing paragraphs, not all entertainment has to skew that way. Light-hearted camp is, and has always been, a welcome and joyous genre flavor fit for easy entertainment and lasting memories. The writer is rooting hard for “The LEGO Batman Movie,” coming this February, to bring a new big dose of camp back to today’s audiences.

LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED