Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Holy 'Return of the Caped Crusaders'!

"Quick, Robin -- to the crosswalk!" -- Batman, "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders"

The latest animated Batman film going to direct to Blu-ray and DVD -- and the first based on what's now known as the "Batman '66" continuity -- indeed lives up to the subtitle "Return of the Caped Crusaders."

Unless you've been living in the Phantom Zone (sorry to mix my comic-book metaphors!), you know actors Adam West and Burt Ward have reprised their roles as Batman and Robin. And TV's Dynamic Duo is joined by none other than Catwoman herself, Julie Newmar.

The opening minutes of "Return of the Caped Crusaders" feel like the opening sequences of the iconic, live-action TV series. The only thing missing is executive producer William Dozier's voice-over. Just like Merle Haggard's on "The Dukes of Hazzard," it adds such a nice touch and really helps nail the tone of each show.

Ward and Newmar haven't missed a step; they sound particularly good with Ward sounding just as he did as Robin the Boy Wonder in the late '60s. West at times sounds like the elderly man he is, but in general he is in good voice. There's just not one quite like West at the top of his game.

The rest of the cast is more than adequate. The actors voicing the Joker and Riddler do an especially good job of nailing the unique laughter of Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin.

I had a flashback when I saw in the credits that Jim Ward voices Commissioner Gordon.
A word of explanation: You see, when I started covering the "cops and courts"/"badge beat" for the NORWALK REFLECTOR newspaper, Jim Ward was the Milan, Ohio police chief. Now happily retired, Jim was a tough nut to crack and known for not playing nice with reporters. But he and I established a great working relationship, able to talk more off the record than we did on and I even got Jim "trained" to call me with news. Once he learned I was a diehard Batman fan, he occasionally would sign off an email to me as -- you guessed it -- "Commissioner Gordon."

"Return of the Caped Crusaders" has one of the finest soundtracks I've heard in an animated film. The saxophone work is killer. Over the credits -- featuring none other than West's infamous "Batsui" (also performed by Catwoman) -- the saxophonist, trombonist and drummer play great solos over an even jazzier version of Neil Hefti's ultra-catchy "Batman" theme. It's appropriate since the TV series featured some fantastic scores and characters themes, all of which are extremely underrated.

Also much like the series, the "Return" storyline is unimportant. Who cares when you're having so much fun? Honestly, the middle portion of the movie feels a bit long at 80-plus minutes (the equivalent of almost four "Batman" episodes" without commercials).

All you need to know about the story is that the Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman combine forces.
"Return" has all the elements you'd expect.

Batman is sincerely earnest, still hoping for redemption for Catwoman. Robin still punches his fist into his hand with his "Holy (fill in the blank)!" expressions. There is a ridiculous escape sequence, the Batmobile looks as killer as ever (the greatest set of wheels on the planet!) and the sound effects accentuate each fight scene. And of course, Catwoman wants to freshen up before Batman takes her into custody -- and naturally, the Caped Crusader falls for her femme-fatale ruse.

The only part that doesn't quite feel right is when Batman goes a bit dark, having fallen under Catwoman's spell -- albeit only gradually. This allows Batman's temporarily not-so "Bright Knight" (as West has taken to calling his take on the superhero) to deliver two classic lines: Michael Keaton's "you wanna get nuts?" line as Bruce Wayne from the 1989 live-action "Batman" film and the Frank Miller Dark Knight's "surgeon" quote to the mutant leader. Perfectly done, Adam West!

The pseudo-dark "Batman '66" also gives the writers an opportunity to address something audience members have thought while watching the series -- how ineffective Gordon and Chief O'Hara are at being police officers.

(Unrelated to that, there's no doubt Aunt Harriett knows Wayne and Dick Grayson are the Dynamic Duo. Who knew? Well, she does apparently!)

"Return" truly resonates with the spirit of "Batman '66," down to the character designs that look like the 36-issue comic book series of the same name jumped from the pages. And if you've ever wanted to finally see Bats lock lips with Catwoman ... well, minor spoiler alert.

There are two extras on the Blu-ray. The phoned-in 10-minute segments feature talking-head interviews with West, Ward, Newmar, the actors voicing the villains and Warner Bros. animation officials. There's not enough behind-the-scenes material for my taste. Adequate, but only somewhat interesting.

Honestly, the best extras are the killer trailers for next year's "Wonder Woman" film and the animated "Wonder Woman" movie.

In all, "Return" is an impressive way to get fans like me pumped for more animated films and goofiness like this. William "The Shat" Shatner as Two-Face in the recently announced "Batman vs. Two-Face" -- which also hopefully will include Batgirl, here we come!

Grades -- Movie: A-; Music: A+; Extras: B-

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