I’m still not sure what to make of “Return of the Caped Crusaders” even hours after it’s ended. It wants to be both a love letter to Adam West’s “Batman,” and a spoof of it, so the movie sometimes celebrates the show’s inherent absurdities. The next moment it’s not just mocking the series’ idiocy, but also most of the Batman franchise. After “The Killing Joke” we definitely need a lighter Batman with some entertainment value, but “Return of the Caped Crusaders” is so confused about its intent I was never sure whether I was supposed to laugh with it or at it.
One moment has Catwoman suggesting she and Batman run away together to Europe and drink tea at a café prompting Robin to declare “Holy Unsatisfying ending, Batman!” Another of the more clever moments has Batman being hit on the head and in a daze, he sees Catwoman in all three of her incarnations of Lee Meriwether, Julie Newmar, and Eartha Kitt. It’s this kind of imbalance that makes the movie so hard to enjoy. “Return of the Caped Crusaders” is an extension (?) of the cult classic TV series from the sixties, following Batman, Robin, their butler Alfred and aunt Harriet as they operate life as rich bachelors during the day and crime fighters at night. When the foursome of criminals the Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman break out of prison, Catwoman plans to bring Batman to the dark side by dousing him with her patented Bat Nip.
During combat she sprays Batman, and it seemingly has no affect, but much to Robin’s surprise Batman’s personality gradually begins to change. He’s more aggressive, more violent, and is hell bent on bringing Gotham under his rule with his own army of Batman clones. Now Robin and Catwoman have to team up to stop Batman, while also attempting to foil the trio of Batman rogues who have their own devious schemes in mind. In the end “Return of the Caped Crusaders” is a solid acknowledgement of the Adam West Batman series, but it doesn’t entirely re-invent the series as a whole. With the animation, the writers are allowed to introduce newer elements in to the framework of the series, including a Bat Rocket and Bat space ship that comes out of his back yard (!), but beyond that it’s fairly routine Warner Bros. fan service.
The animation for the most part is very good with the writers adhering to the campy aspects of the original series. The fights are overly choreographed with the exclamations of “POW!” and “BAM!” while there are a ton of Easter Eggs thrown in to the movie that fans will enjoy picking up. Adam West and Burt Ward return once again as Batman and Robin and do a fine job, but sadly add to the inconsistency. Here they seem to recognize the silliness of the show now, so their goofy dialogue delivery feels forced and stiff. The writers at least have a good time giving Batman new off the wall adventures and stunts to complete. Batman is never short of some device designed for him, including a Bat handkerchief and a Bat hotrod that resembles Dragula. “Return of the Caped Crusaders” is the dose of camp we needed, even if I didn’t think much of it. It’s also good to see fans of the show getting more of what they enjoyed after so many years.
The Blu-Ray release from Warner features a slew of extras. There are older “sneak peeks” at “Batman vs. Robin” and “Son of Batman,” all of which clock in at 9-11 minutes in length. There’s also a collection of trailer for various Warner Bros. properties including “LEGO Batman Movie,” and “Wonder Woman.” At almost eleven minutes, there’s “Those Dastardly Desperados” which takes a look at the voice cast, including Jeff Bergman, Wally Wingert, and William Salyers as the new voices of the Bat Rogues, and the great Julie Newman who returns as Catwoman. “A Classic Cadre of Voices” is a ten minute look at the various voices of the movie including Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie and Newmar. Creative Director of Animation Mike Carlin, Producer and Co-Writer James Tucker, and Casting Director Wes Gleason are also on hand to comment on the production.