In the year 2016, a lot of beloved franchises struggle with what it means to stay relevant. Many stories seem quaint and out of context, too campy for our more cynical times, and insecurity over presenting a story that isn’t serious enough seems to be a driving factor behind the push for uber-serious adaptations of classics. Thank heavens, then, that the Bright Knight and Boy Wonder are here to rescue us with a bit of gosh-darned fun.
Right from the get-go, Return of the Caped Crusader establishes its tone as a mixture of fan service-heavy nostalgia and self-aware commentary on the state of comic book movies. We get to grin fondly at Adam West and Burt Ward sharing familiarly goofy sentiment on the importance of proper ballet posture, while also getting to hear friendly jabs at contemporary Bat-adaptations, like when Julie Newmar’s Catwoman implores Batman to run away with her to Europe and sip tea in a café (a reference to an oft-mocked scene in The Dark Knight Rises). Whatever the flavour, this film is all about fun.
Joining returning legends in this animated spectacle’s brilliant cast are Wally Wingert as The Riddler, Jeff Bergman as The Joker, William Salyers as The Penguin, and Steven Weber as Alfred Pennyworth. The cast bring the buoyant dialogue to life in jubilant fashion, making it perfectly clear that they’re enjoying themselves just as much as the viewers are. In the theatre showing I attended, the whole audience was laughing and cheering throughout the movie, along with the playful banter and deadpan humour, written and delivered in refreshingly unpretentious manner. For anyone worried a “Gee whiz!” coming from a 71-year-old man might sound overly corny – it does, and that’s why it works so well.
Many who watched this year’s animated version of The Killing Joke noted a seemingly reduced budget and lacklustre animation, but Return of the Caped Crusaders feels every bit as marquee a production as its namesake deserves. From the first scene pondering the streets of Gotham to the curtain call/dance party of the end credits, this film is visually stunning, with a moonlit fight scene atop a zeppelin marking one of the particularly high points. The care and love put into each stitch certainly shows as the vibrant panels spring to life before you.
Among a stable of highly-praised, adult-oriented stories in WB’s series of animated features, this gleeful return to simpler, more openly lighthearted adventures is one that feels perfectly timed, and is sure to delight fans of the classic series as well as newcomers with a penchant for quirky comedy. There was a certain charm that has helped the original series endure in the hearts of viewers all this time, and it is captured here in such pure form, a rare embodiment of lightning in a bottle.