Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (Blu-Ray)
The original dynamic duo are back for more hijinks, this time in animated form. With Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their iconic roles, DC is hoping to give fans a taste of the past. Does the new adventure hit all the right notes, or get bogged down in its own nostalgia? Come inside to check out my full review!
Despite being far younger than the original audience, Adam West's Batman series is the version of the crime-fighters I grew up with. I fondly remember rushing home from school to watch re-runs with my father every weekday, and the campy show is something I've enjoyed watching again with my own son. It's a drastically different take on the character, and most audiences these days are more accustomed to the brooding crime-fighter since the Tim Burton era (which I've also loved).
When they first announced a new animated Adam West Batman adventure, I was beyond ecstatic. It's a neat idea that can appeal to a wider audience, but I've wondered how audiences would respond to the campy return. I'm still not sure how newcomers who didn't grow up with this version will react to Return of the Caped Crusaders, as I can only bring you my thoughts as someone who's enjoyed these type of stories before.
The story this time isn't at all what I was expecting, and in doing so turned out to be far more engaging than I initially thought it would be. Things start off simply as Batman and Robin's biggest villains (Riddler, Penguin, the Joker, and Catwoman) band together to bring Gotham to its knees. The dynamic duo have to stop them, but in so doing, Batman is infected by a new toxin from Catwoman that slowly turns him into everything he hates.
Turning Batman into the villain of the new adventure is an interesting tactic and made for an interesting story that kept me hooked as much as any other recent DC animated film. While the story doesn't end there, I don't want to go too far into spoilers for this review. Suffice it to say, the writers managed to craft a story that feels both in line with the zaniness of the original series and modern in some of its plot elements.
I was really glad for the change of pace in the story, as I was initially kind of off put by the movie. It has a slower build in getting to the meat of the plot, wherein Batman begins making the change into a darker, more sinister version of himself. The first 15 minutes felt like nothing more than homage after homage to the original series, lining up one gag after another.
After what felt like the 30th "inside" joke, I was beginning to fear the entire movie would be nothing more than an over-the-top self-parody. While the original was campy, and why so many continue to think fondly of it, the Batman series was a product of its time. So much of the initial setup of Return of the Caped Crusaders felt deliberate and forced. Thankfully, once the story hit its stride and got into the heart of the plot, this faded significantly, and viewers are given a unique new adventure.
Seriously, if you can get past the first few minutes and into the heart of the plot, you're treated to a surprisingly great story with action that feels familiar and unique. Quite a few of the action sequences do things that would have never been possible in the original series and the technology/stunt work available to them at the time. That said, even these scenes felt like something you would typically see from the show. In this way (along with some other neat tidbits I'll let you discover), Return of the Caped Crusaders delivers on the concept of giving modern audiences a genuine 60s Batman experience.
The story is quite a bit of fun, once it gets rolling, and having surviving members of the original cast make a return only adds to the fun. That said, it was initially tough to get past as the voices sound noticeably older than the animation depicts them. I mean, it's hard to take Robin's teenage appearance seriously when he sounds like a 70 year old man! I had the same issue for the sultry Catwoman. I adjusted fairly quickly, but it made for some funny moments early on.
The other voices filling in for the rest of the cast did a really great job of emulating the voices of the original cast. Seriously, I doubt unless you go directly from watching an episode of the original series, straight into this, you'd notice any difference at all. More so, they act the same as well, a testament to both the voice cast and the writing staff.
Return of the Caped Crusaders, on top of featuring great nods to its own past, manages to pack in a bunch of other Easter eggs from the various other incarnations of the Batman character. Everything from the Tim Burton films and even a couple jabs Christopher Nolan's iteration come into play and made for some hilarious moments. While they didn't beat you over the head with them as much as they did their own self-parody stuff, long-time fans of Batman will have plenty of things to look out for on top of a fun new story.
The animation is solid as well, managing to fully capture the feel of the 60s show/characters while still looking sleek and crisp. The blu-ray quality is top notch, giving fine detail to the visuals and cartoony escapades. In terms of special features, the pickings are a little slim. The only things included are two featurettes. One examines the classic Batman villains and how they turned into icons, while the other talks about the returning voice cast and newcomers. They're decent behind the scenes looks, but nothing Batman fans wouldn't have already known about or care to see again.
In some ways the bonus features are a bummer and feel like a letdown. Considering how much hype there's been over getting a brand new 60s Batman 'movie' and all that went into it, there's not much extra material to dive into. Long time fans of the old series likely got their fill of extra content with the massive complete series blu-ray release, but still...It feels like a missed opportunity of bonus goodies for those who weren't able to pick up that set.