The animated movie, based on the 1960s Batman TV series—and featuring Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar in the roles they played on that show—is full of every joke imaginable. It’s also a meta-commentary on the darkness in Batman that is downright brilliant.
No spoilers here, but Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is way smarter and deeper than it needs to be. Is it packed full of alliteration, puns, and holy bat-things? Yes. Full to the brim. It’s got labels all over the place, too, just like the show did. “Abandoned Frozen Food Factory” stands out as just one of many.
There are many callbacks to the ‘60s show, and they’re played for humor. Batman makes absurd logical leaps and everyone acts like they can’t believe they didn’t see it themselves. Batman has a gadget for every. Single. Eventuality. They are, obviously, also labeled. They’ve even drawn the animated movie so that it looks like the Dynamic Duo are doing the old “walking up the side of the building by turning the camera on its side” trick. And if that was all it was, it would still be a delightful way to spend 80 minutes.
But the plot is much richer than the official “Gotham City is threatened by a quartet of Batman’s most fiendish foes–Penguin, The Joker, Riddler, and Catwoman” synopsis would suggest. Writers James Tucker and Michael Jelenic have obviously done a lot of thinking about what made the lighter version of Batman popular, how the darker version that’s been most prevalent in recent decades was a response to that, and how every interpretation of Batman is a valid one.
More than that, they’ve drawn a line between Adam West’s Batman to the more recent movie versions in a way that makes it clear how both the “campy” Batman and the “grim” one can be the same character. And, in fact, how one could easily become the other. And how much closer a dark Batman is to tipping into being a villain, especially in the brighter world of the ‘60s-style Gotham. There are also a few vicious jabs at other Batman stories—a reminder that no Batman story is perfect.
That analysis of Batman, exhibiting a true understanding of the character that, say, The Killing Joke animation was lacking, is really an undercurrent in what is, at its core, a fun movie. There are so many twists, some great visual moments that the show could never pull off, and enough jokes that no one can really come away from it upset that they saw it. Of all the Batman movies that came out this year, it’s the only one actually worth seeing.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is playing in select theaters for one day, October 10. It goes on sale digitally on October 11 and on DVD and Blu-ray on November 1.