BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action, Suggestive Material and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Rick Morales

Written by: Michael Jelenic & James Tucker

Voices of: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert, Jim Ward, Steven Weber & Thomas Lennon

2016 has been a year of underwhelming Batman movies. BATMAN V SUPERMAN was disappointing for many reasons, despite Ben Affleck’s great portrayal of the Dark Knight. BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE was stellar for the last 40 minutes, but dragged beyond belief during its unnecessary first half. SUICIDE SQUAD was entertaining, but not nearly as good as it could/should have been. In the wake of three very dark stories in the DC Comics Universe, BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS comes as an unexpected surprise. This far more light-hearted take on Batman is a throwback to the campy 60’s TV series, complete with spinning logos, words that pop up during the fight scenes, bad puns, and three returning cast members vocally reprising their roles.

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After a long day of crime-fighting, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West) and Dick Grayson/Robin (Burt Ward) are winding down with a TV show called “Gotham Palace.” However, their evening of mindless entertainment is cut short by four supervillains who are up to no good. Batman and Robin are off to take down alluring temptress Catwoman (Julie Newmar), the wise-cracking Joker (Jeff Bergman), the umbrella-wielding Penguin (William Salyers), and the intellectual Riddler (Wally Wingert). A TV show hijacking was just the beginning of an even more diabolical plan from the villainous team of baddies. Things become more complicated as a strange duplicating device comes into play, the dynamic duo take giant leaps into new frontiers, and Batman begins to experience a darker change in his usual do-gooder personality.

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When taken as a homage to the cheesy 60’s show, CAPED CRUSADERS is damn near perfect. This animated movie is filled with words popping up in front of the action, scene transitions through various spinning logos, the unforgettable BATMAN theme that will surely be stuck in your head for hours, and ridiculous plot developments. CAPED CRUSADERS expands upon the 60’s BATMAN world by going into territory that the show never could, mostly for lack of budget and special effects. In this way, the homage is a loving addition to that universe too and never once plays things purely for laughs. The straight-faced way in which the plot progresses, despite being extremely silly, makes for a ton of fun and plenty of comic relief without an obvious wink or nudge.

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Two actors and one actress from the original series return for this animated feature. Adam West sounds exactly like he did back in the day and seems to be having a blast reprising his iconic role as Batman. His jovial line delivery and upbeat attitude kept a grin plastered on my face for the entire film. Arguably even more impressive is 71-year-old Burt Ward, who doesn’t sound like he’s aged since the show, slips into cartoon tights as Robin the boy wonder. Julie Newmar (who starred in two seasons) returns as the diabolical dominatrix Catwoman!

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Though many cast members have passed away since the 60’s series ended, CAPED CRUSADERS brought in great substitute voice talent to capture the unique vocals of those supporting actors. Jim Ward stars as Commissioner Gordon, while Thomas Lennon (of RENO 911 fame) gets lots of laughs in his dead-on impersonation of over-the-top accented Chief O’Hara. William Salyers fills in for Burgess Meredith’s smarmy Penguin, while Wally Wingert turns his dark Riddler from the ARKHAM video games into a wacky imitation of the 60’s version. My only complaint is that Jeff Bergman sort of sounds like the 60’s Joker, but it feels like more effort could have been put into making him resemble Cesar Romero (complete with painted-over moustache).

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Unlike the hotly anticipated KILLING JOKE from earlier this year, RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS has vibrant, detailed animation that looks like it was made to be seen on the big screen. There isn’t a single wasted second of the 78-minute running time as the plot moves by quickly and you’ll never have a chance to get bored. I won’t spoil the ludicrous surprises and plot twists, but I will say that CAPED CRUSADERS is far smarter than I expected it to be. This light-hearted romp frequently pokes fun at the later, darker versions of BATMAN, while never going into full-blown spoof territory and paying respect to them the whole time.

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Adam West once referred to his version of The Dark Knight as the polar opposite “Bright Knight.” There’s a lot of accuracy to that statement and plenty of fun to be had with his campy iteration of the character. In a time where superhero movies are so concerned with keeping things serious, constructing cinematic universes, and paying more attention to doom and gloom over entertainment, RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS is a refreshing treat! Not every joke works and a little more could have been done with the Joker, but the rest of this film is spot-on in being hilarious, unexpectedly clever, and absolutely ridiculous. I never thought that this would be the best DC Comics movie of 2016, but the undeniably charming RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS certainly holds that position!

Grade: A-

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