The Return of the Caped Crusaders
Written by Michael Jelenic & James Tucker
Directed by Rick Morales
Original release date: November 1, 2016
The Bat-signal: At stately Wayne Manor, Dick is practicing his ballet steps, though Dick thinks he looks ridiculous in tights, apparently blissfully unaware of what he looks like in the Robin costume. Bruce points out the need for things like balance and flexibility in crimefighting.
They take a break to watch Gotham Palace, a variety show hosted by Miranda Monroe. The first act is a band called Hector and the Ho-Daddies, but they’ve been replaced by Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman. Several of the teens in the audience charge the stage to hold them for the cops, but Joker fires streamers from his guitar that bind the intrepid teens. Riddler leaves a bomb behind that “explodes” with a riddle.
The Bat-signal shines in the night sky and Gordon calls on the bat-phone. Bruce and Dick assure Gordon that they’re on the case, and slide down the bat-poles. Thanks to the unlimited FX budget in animation, we get to see the costumes get put on them, as well as the entire drive down the cavern to the exit with several gates that open before they reach the open road.
The riddle left by the Riddler is: “Poor people have it, rich people need it, if you eat it, you die.” The answer is “nothing,” a common idiom of which is “goose egg,” and a prize goose egg was delivered to the Gotham City market last Tuesday, the same day as a lab dedicated to studying lunar eclipses opened. That must be their target. Of course.
Dr. Nichols displays his new replica ray, which can create a perfect copy of anything. Our four fiends try to steal it, Joker using laughing gas to keep the scientists from resisting. However, Batman and Robin show up, and fisticuffs ensue.
Catwoman, though, stays out of the violence, instead trying to convince Batman to renounce do-gooding and be a criminal with her. He rejects the notion, but her distraction allows Penguin to club Bats on the head and they get away in the Jokermobile. A car chase ensues down the streets of Gotham. Joker fires exploding bouncing balls and then the Riddler uses the replica ray to duplicate a pothole several times over. Robin uses the Bat-zooka to take out a Jokermobile tire, but Riddler retaliates with several potholes that make a big trench in the street that the Batmobile can’t drive over. The villains get away on foot, but they leave a taunt behind: tin foil, because our heroes were foiled.
Luckily, the Bat-analyzer finds starch on the tin foil, so it’s probably from the Fitzsimmons Frozen Foods factory, which made TV dinners, and is now abandoned. To confirm that, there’s a sign outside the factory that says, “ABANDONED FROZEN FOOD FACTORY.” Inside, Catwoman convinces the others that their only hope of being able to use the ray for their nefarious gain is to get Batman on their side. She’s got “bat-nip,” which she guarantees will turn Batman bad.
The Dynamic Duo arrive at the factory and bat-climb up the side wall. The bad guys ambush them—Joker telling a joke and Riddler telling him to get new material—and then fisticuffs ensue. Our heroes beat the men-folk, but Catwoman is able to trick Batman into letting her fix her hair so she can look good for the judge, but instead of hairspray, she hits our heroes with gas.
They wake up tied to a gigunda TV dinner, and Catwoman scratches Batman with her bat-nip—however, it winds up having no effect, as his moral fiber is stronger than her magic potion. So they go with plan B, which is Joker sending the conveyer belt toward the giant oven (conveniently labelled, “GIANT OVEN”).
Once the villains bugger off, Batman shoves his hands into the giant lemon tart, hoping the acidity of the lemon will burn through the bonds. It does, of course, and they’re free. They head to GCPD HQ, and are shocked to be informed that there’s been nary a peep from the four villains. Batman is also particularly snotty toward Gordon and O’Hara, and when they return to Wayne Manor, Bruce fires Alfred for allowing Harriet to go into the study, the one room in the mansion she’s forbidden to enter.
Batman and Robin search Gotham City for a clue as to what the quartet of bad guys are up to, but they find nothing, neither on land, nor at sea, nor in the air. Dejected, they return to the Batcave, where they deduce that, since they’re not anywhere to be found in Gotham, they must be on the Soviet—sorry, Belgravian rocket that just launched. So the Dynamic Duo follow in the bat-rocket. (He has a bat-rocket? That’s just been sitting there this entire time? Of course they do!)
The bad guys arrive at an abandoned space station that was a joint operation between us and the Belgravians, but it was abandoned because the two sides couldn’t work together. Joker, Riddler, and Penguin announce to Catwoman that they’re kicking her out of the gang, as her soft spot for Batman is a liability. They try to physically restrain her, which proves more difficult than expected, but they eventually nab her. They toss her out an airlock—but Batman and Robin have arrived, and they rescue her.
Batman, Robin, and Catwoman confront Joker, Riddler, and Penguin, where an angry Batman wants to toss the three bad guys out of the airlock. Joker turns off the gravity on the space station, and gravity-free fisticuffs ensue. Batman manages to use the batarang to switch the gravity back on, and then he puts on his bat-brass knuckles, says, “Let’s do this,” and starts brutalizing the three of them. Robin looks on in horror while Catwoman takes advantage of the distraction to get back to Earth in an escape pod.
At GCPD HQ, Batman confiscates the replica ray, as it’s too dangerous, and then he disappears out the window and drives off—without Robin! Eventually, Dick finds his way home to find Bruce watching Gotham Palace, and grumbling that he just couldn’t bear to listen to Gordon prattle on. He yells at Harriet and when Dick finally starts complaining about how weird he’s acting, Bruce kicks him out, too.
Time passes. Alfred is on skid row, rooting through garbage cans for food. Gordon has tried the bat-phone every twenty minutes, but there’s no answer. (Bruce eventually rips the phone out of the wall.)
A crime wave hits Gotham, with no sign of Batman or Robin. Eventually Batman shows up at Gordon’s office and fires Gordon and O’Hara as disgraces to their job. He uses the replica ray to create two more of himself, and the two duplicates take over as police commissioner and chief of police. Batman then puts another replica of himself in as mayor of Gotham, and another as a judge, and another as a chef, and so on, as he slowly takes over the town, giving himself a more bad-ass Batmobile.
Dick, now living in a tiny apartment in the bad part of town, figures out that it’s Catwoman’s bat-nip that’s responsible, and he heads to the Kitkat Kave, a cat-themed club, where Catwoman captures him easily. But she doesn’t like Batman being this bad, and she agrees to work with Robin to cure him. She even promises not to kill Robin—at least not yet.
Robin gasses Catwoman and then takes the Catmobile to the Batcave. Batman confronts them, and offers to have Catwoman join him in taking over the world and killing Robin. Catwoman, though, honors her deal with Robin and hits Batman with the bat-nip antidote—but it doesn’t work, as Batman took bat-anti-antidote.
And so hero and sidekick have a utility belt-off. Batman tosses bat-knockout gas, but Robin counters with bat-wakeup gas. Robin throws bat-cuffs onto Batman’s wrists, but Batman gets out of it with bat-lockpicks. Batman’s bat-bomb is stopped by Robin’s bat-shield. Catwoman gets fed up and attacks Batman with her whip, but Batman manages to subdue both of them and hit them with knockout gas.
Catwoman and Robin awaken tied up over the nuclear silo. Batman leaves them to be hit by radioactive steam and goes off to rule the city some more, but Robin thought ahead and had sprayed them both with bat-anti-isotope spray to protect them in case Batman put them in a deathtrap. It’s almost like he does this regularly…
Robin and Catwoman disguise themselves as prison inspectors and head to Gotham State Pen, where they deem the pickaxes and balls-and-chains to be not up to code, handing over replacements, and they also provide care packages. The balls-and chains are actually helium balloons and the pickaxes are mini-helicopters that allow several of Batman and Robin’s rogues’ gallery to escape. (Pointedly, Joker, Riddler, and Penguin are left behind. However, they shortly thereafter disintegrate.) The care packages are their costumes and equipment. Catwoman and Robin gather them up in a van and they head off.
Batman has taken over Gotham Palace, having tied Miranda Monroe up, and has put VHF detonators on all the antennas in town (easy to do when you have an army of duplicates) so if anyone changes the channel or turns their TV off, their sets will explode.
Robin, Catwoman, and the gaggle of villains show up, so Batman sics his duplicates on them. Fisticuffs ensue, but there are too many Batmen. One of them is even dancing the Batusi, while others play music for him to dance to as the band. Eventually, Robin and the various villians are overwhelmed.
Batman announces to Catwoman and Robin that he won’t concoct a deathtrap and he won’t step conveniently away. This time, he’s going to kill them with his bare hands.
But before he can choke the life out of his sidekick and his would-be paramour, a man delivers a bottle of champagne, sent as a token of appreciation of his newfound stardom. He drinks it—and it reverts him to his natural self. The delivery was made by Alfred, who whipped up an antidote that would burn through the anti-antidote based on long-ago instructions given to Alfred by Batman should he ever become mind-controlled.
Then all the Batmen disintegrate just like Joker, Riddler, and Penguin did in jail. Batman realizes that anything created by the replica ray is unstable and will eventually go to pieces.
Catwoman goes away with O’Hara and Gordon, giving Batman a kiss for the road to keep her warm during those cold prison nights.
Batman and Robin figure out that Joker, Riddler, and Penguin set this all up as a distraction so they could commit a great crime spree that no one would notice with all the chaos Batman was creating. They knew the replica ray’s creations were unstable, so they let their duplicates be captured, and have stolen some priceless artifacts (the world’s oldest puzzle for the Riddler, a Fabergé egg for Penguin, and a painting of a clown for Joker that will be much more valuable once he kills the artist).
The Dynamic Duo head off to stop them—joined by Catwoman, who insists on revenge. The trio head off in the Batmobile and confront the bad guys, but they get away on Penguin’s giant flying jet-powered umbrella.
They whip out the bat-whirlybirds and track them to a penguin blimp. They use exploding batarangs to damage the blimp’s engines. They board the blimp and fisticuffs ensue. Catwoman even saves Robin’s life. Riddler and Penguin are captured, but Joker (after actually farting in their general direction), leaps to a circus, only to be trampled by elephants and taken in by the Keystone Kops under the Big Top.
Catwoman then tries to get away with the stuff the other three stole. Batman tries and talk her into going straight, but she refuses and leaps off the blimp into a smokestack, though not before they get the stolen property back, at least.
Back at Wayne Manor, there’s a birthday party for Harriet, which she now thinks is why they’ve been so weird and secretive, because they were planning it—but then they bugger off as soon as the bat-signal hits the sky…
Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Among the old standbys in use: the bat-zooka, the bat-analyzer, the bat-noculars, the bat-cycle, and the bat-helicopter. In addition to the old Batmobile, we get a more nasty version for when Batman goes bad.
We get tons of new gadgets, too: the bat-scuba gear they use to check underwater for the bad guys, the bat-brass knuckles, the bat-anti-antidote, a bat-heat-shield, bat-anti-isotope spray, the bat-whirtlybirds, and, of course, the bat-rocket, complete with space suits—in Batman’s case, the helmet comes complete with bat ears! Also the space suits have bat-gravity boots…
Holy #@!%$, Batman! Dick cries, “Holy unholy alliance,” when they discover that their four primary villains have once again teamed up. Robin yells, “Holy crumbling infrastructure” when the number of potholes in Gotham increases tenfold thanks to Riddler’s use of the replica ray. When he creates a series of potholes that makes a large gap in the street, Robin grumbles, “Holy trench warfare.” He says, “Holy Einstein!” when reminded of how powerful the Bat-analyzer is. When they deduce that the bad guys are hiding out at a TV dinner factory, Robin utters, “Holy Salisbury steak!” When Catwoman hits them with noxious gas, Robin’s final words before succumbing to unconsciousness are the rather on-the-nose, “Holy noxious gas!” When reminded that there’s a lemon tart on the giant TV dinner tray, Robin says, “Holy citric enzymes!” and when they escape, he mutters, “Holy entrée.” After their fruitless search for the criminals, Robin laments, “Holy dragnet.” When they use the bat-gravity boots, Robin says, “Holy helium” and when the space station loses gravity, he grumbles, “Holy zero gees!” After being abandoned by Batman at GCPD HQ, Robin laments, “Holy hitchhiker” when realizing he needs to find his own way home. Unable to focus on ballet lessons while living in a dump, Dick mutters, “Holy pliet.” Upon seeing the Catmobile, he Russ Meyers, “Holy faster pussycat, kill, kill!” When he and Catwoman wake up over the nuclear silo, Robin whimpers, “Holy hydrogen!” When Batman announces that he’ll blow up everyone’s TV if they change the channel, Robin cries, “Holy shrapnel!” When Batman drinks the counteracting potion, Robin says, “Holy counteracting potions!” and when the Batmen spontaneously combust, he says, “Holy spontaneous combustion!” and when they discover that Joker, Penguin, and Riddler triple-crossed them, he says, “Holy triple cross!” When Batman urges them to use exploding batarangs on Penguin’s blimp, Robin cautions, “Holy Hindenburg!” When Catwoman suggests that she and Batman run away to Europe together and drink tea in a café (sounds like the ending of a movie, doesn’t it?) Robin critiques, “Holy unsatisfying ending.”
Gotham City’s finest. While under the influence of bat-nip, Batman says what viewers have been thinking for five decades now: Gordon and O’Hara are spectacularly incompetent and should be fired. So Batman fires them—though they’re back on the job once Alfred gives Batman the cure. They also let Catwoman escape from custody within minutes of Batman sending her off with them.
Also, O’Hara at one points mentions having prayed several rosaries, the first time O’Hara’s (inevitable) Catholicism is ever referenced.
No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Catwoman still wants Batman to be her lover, but Batman only responds positively when under the influence of bat-nip. However, they do get an actual honest-to-goodness kiss (while a nauseated Robin looks on) before O’Hara takes her away—temporarily, as she escapes custody shortly thereafter and jumps to her seeming doom into a smokestack (though she’s survived worse…).
Special Guest Villains. As the only surviving actor among the regulars besides the two leads, Julie Newmar is the only person to return to voice a bad guy, making her first appearance as Catwoman since the second season’s “Batman Displays His Knowledge.” Jeff Bergman plays the Joker (he does the laugh and Cesar Romero’s deep, gruff disgusted voice best), William Salyers plays the Penguin (doing, sadly, a very poor Burgess Meredith), and Wally Wingert plays the Riddler (doing a near-perfect Frank Gorshin).
We also get dialogue-less cameos by the Archer, the Black Widow, Bookworm, Clock King, Egghead, False Face, King Tut, Louie the Lilac, the Mad Hatter, the Minstrel, Mr. Freeze, the Sandman, Shame, and Siren.
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na. “Can you believe the lengths those two go to keep their little secret.”
“Why Alfred, you really don’t see it?”
“No, I do not. Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe the upstairs doorknobs need polishing.”
Harriet proving that she both is and isn’t as stupid as we think, and Alfred proving that he’s no snitch.
Trivial matters: This film has been discussed on several “From the Files of the Bat-Computer” special episodes of The Batcave Podcast by John S. Drew, along with Dan Greenfield of 13th Dimension, in anticipation of its release, with a full review scheduled to appear this week.
Batman is hit on the head by Penguin while facing Catwoman, and he sees triple—but the other two Catwomen he sees are very obviously meant to be the Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt versions.
The Batcave combines the design from the TV series with the design from the comics, incorporating the giant dinosaur and the big joker card. The cave entrance is also partly underground rather than at street level. And we never see the “GOTHAM CITY, 14 MILES” sign.
In addition, Alfred and Gordon look more like their comics versions, the former without glasses and the latter with glasses and a mustache. And GCPD HQ is a much shorter building here, with the Batmobile making a spectacularly illegal U-turn to park rather than driving straight into the spot in front. (Also Robin opens the door to get out rather than leaping over the closed door.)
When replacing a judge, Batman cites the court case of Semple v. Dozier, a reference to Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote several episodes of the show, including the very first one, and William Dozier, the developer and executive producer.
Scene transitions are done with the traditional moving bat-symbol mostly, but when Batman goes bad, it becomes an upside-down bat-symbol, and when Catwoman and Robin are working together, we get both a moving cat logo and Robin’s “R” symbol as scene transitions as well.
Each villain has one henchman, Joker’s dressed in the vest and peaked hat (seen in his very first appearance), Riddler’s wearing a crossword-puzzle shirt (used in John Astin’s one appearance as the Riddler, a nice tribute to his failed attempt to take over the role), Penguin’s wearing a G.O.O.N. shirt (from his attempt to run for mayor), and Catwoman’s wearing the iconic cat outfit (as seen in her very first appearance).
Gotham Palace host Miranda Monroe is an obvious play on Marilyn Monroe, while Belgravia is a substitute for the Soviet Union, joining New Gurnsey and Londinium……
The only regular cast member who doesn’t appear in the movie is Batgirl. While this is unconfirmed, Yvonne Craig‘s death in 2015 is likely the cause of it, as they probably didn’t feel comfortable recasting one of the starring roles the way they did the villains.
Pow! Biff! Zowie! “My moral fiber is stronger than any substance this she-devil might concoct.” This almost works perfectly as a nice 50th anniversary tribute to the TV show. It has all the requisite elements, along with some entertaining variations on them, some due to the unlimited effects budget afforded by animation (like the bat-whirlybirds and the entire outer-space sequence), some due to the nature of the plot (one of the cliffhanger deathtraps being Robin and Catwoman, e.g.), and some due to the passage of time making it impossible to resist (like the bat-nipped Batman finally telling Gordon and O’Hara what incompetent clods they are, or Harriet hinting that she knows what Bruce and Dick are really up to, wah-HEY!).
As is often the case with any Batman 66 production, it’s the villains that make it shine. Julie Newmar is a revelation, and it feels like no time has passed since 1967. Her voice slinks just as well as it always has, and her banter with both Batman and the other villains is as strong as ever. And both Jeff Bergman and especially Wally Wingert channel Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin, respectively, quite well. (William Salyers, not so much. He does the “waugh waugh” just fine, but there’s nothing of Burgess Meredith in his performance, and he doesn’t do anything to make it stand out beyond that.)
Unfortunately, it has some problems that keep it from being absolute perfection. One is the unavoidable fact that Adam West sounds like he’s 88 years old, and the tremors in his voice make his Batman less than convincing, though he does have his moments. Burt Ward’s 71-year-old self actually sounds okay, but the tone doesn’t always come across quite right—though, tellingly, Ward’s best voiceover work is in the third act or so when he has to work with Catwoman to save Batman from himself. (And, as seen above, the “holies” are a bit overdone and weak.) Plus, while Lynne Marie Stewart does a delightful job as Harriet, I wish the script had actually committed to the lampshading early on, with Harriet hinting to Alfred that she knows full well what the boys are doing when they “go fishing”—they’re having lots of awesome gay sex! It’s a lovely inversion of the reason why the Harriet character was created in the first place (to make Bruce and Dick seem less gay), and I love the notion that Harriet—who was canny enough to take on Chandell’s evil brother Harry—got both the right and wrong idea at the same time, but they wimp out at the end by having her fall for the surprise-party cover and she’s back to being an idiot again. Le sigh.
But the biggest issue with the whole production is that it just takes too flipping long. I was constantly checking the time as we got into the second act, and the whole thing just seems to drag. One of the virtues of the TV series was that it was only half an hour, so the gag never collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity. This film is an hour and a quarter long, and it feels about twice that—ironically, the 1966 live-action film zipped by, even though its run-time was thirty minutes longer. Part of that was because that film did one thing this didn’t do enough of: villain banter. There wasn’t nearly enough of the back-and-forth among the four bad guys—which is frustrating, because when they did set them on each other, it was glorious. (One of the film’s best moments is when Joker, Riddler, and Penguin are comparing their heists at the climax, with Penguin singularly unimpressed with Joker’s clown painting.)
The movie has the right tone, the right sense of the absurd, the right collection of bat-gadgets, tons of alliterative wordplay, plus the usual moralizing, ridiculous deductions, and stuff. I especially like the cheap shot taken at the ending to The Dark Knight Rises (a film that deserves all the cheap shots anyone can lobby at it, to be honest). It’s a fun watch, one that almost, but doesn’t quite, live up to the source material. Then again, the source material didn’t always live up to itself, either. Just as the 1966 film was a perfect capper to the strong first season, this feels more like the movie they might have made between seasons two and three (which conveniently covers the lack of Batgirl, who didn’t debut until the third season) that has all of season’s two’s inconsistencies and flaws.
Keith R.A. DeCandido hopes he still sounds as awesome as Julie Newmar does when he’s 83.