Cult Film Review: Batman: The Movie

It was tempting enough when Batman: The Movie (1966) landed on Netflix one cursory evening. When Adam West happened to pop up on an episode of Murder, She Wrote later that week, I was convinced it was fate. My mission? Not anything too high and mighty. Just… reviewing it for Cult Film Reviews. Well, what else did you expect?

Christopher Nolan’s juggernaut Batman trilogy may be ‘art’ or whatever else you want to call it – ‘dark and gritty’ is a particularly annoying term used to denote ‘better’ in some quarters – but let’s wake up a little here: it was seriously lacking in fun.

Sure, the battles and the chases and the oohs and the aahs were exciting, but for a film about a billionaire strutting about the place in a LEATHER BATSUIT the whole series of films took itself waaaay too seriously. Christian Bale’s caped crusader sounded like a sex pest making dirty calls. The plot of the third film was heinous and just stopped making sense in the final hour. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachel Dawes chooses Harvey Dent over Batman. BATMAN! I’ll have a go if nobody else wants to. What is wrong with some people?

So thank the universe that Adam West and Burt Ward found the time to turn up as Batman and Robin for a few years for some episodes and this movie otherwise the whole thing would have lost its anchoring long ago.

Besides, what’s not to love about the whole enterprise? West is the thinking man’s Shatner (face it) and his unerringly calm, bespoke performance overrides the inherent insanity of what’s actually going on.

Consider the opening scene: Batman and Robin flying the Batcopter in pursuit of a ‘yacht’ (more of a liner if you ask me but sure) that a) just vanishes (???) and b) Batman is attacked by a shark – or a very inaccurate rubber representation of one – and uses SHARK REPELLENT SPRAY to divert danger. The shark explodes of course.

Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, Chris Nolan: you had so much more time and money to top this ONE SCENE and you never made it. Pfft, that’s Hollywood for you. They didn’t have the cogliones to come up intense stuff like this, when Batman, Robin, Commissioner Gordon and an Irish Cop who’s about as Irish as a drunken Dick Van Dyke yelling the Slovenian national anthem, are trying to piece together what’s just happened:

Batman: “Something was fishy about that shark. Fishy like… The Penguin… “

Robin: “… and it happened at sea. C – for Catwoman!”

Batman: “… and the shark was pulling my leg… “

Gordon: “The Joker!”

Irish Cop: “… and it all adds up to a sinister riddle… “

*Group all come to same realization*

Sometimes reality is far better than satire. And sure enough, this film’s pulled out all the stops and has the baddies banding together to finish Batman once and for all. The villains and the strong way in which they’re portrayed and maintained is what makes the film. Cesar Romero is a underlined note in the pop culture textbook with his performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. Although, with that pungent-looking yellow hair, pale face and the beginnings of a dark moustache underneath, he looks like an aged-disgracefully Southern Belle in need of hormone replacement therapy.

Burgess Meredith, as the Popeye-meets-drill-sergeant mish-mash Penguin, was a well-celebrated and revered actor who hovered up a number of awards. Frank Gorshin as The Riddler played to his strengths as a comedian and impressionist. Lee Meriwether as Catwoman is the lithe femme-fatale who switches between characters in the film like a pre-CGI Mystique. It’s the perfect storm of talent.

The interplay between all involved rides the wave of ridiculousness this film whips up (sharks also included). Russians slipping on bananas, oversized bombs… and everything Batman owns is the Bat-something. Batmobile, Batcave, Batcopter, Batboat… but then his rope climbing ladder from the first scene is called the Batcarrier for God’s sake. One wonders whether or not Bruce Wayne keeps a neglected animal in his loft – his Batbat. Poor thing.

Cult Film Review: Batman: The Movie
Batman’s late-night infomercial shopping spree was finally paying off

Maybe you haven’t seen this one before. Or maybe you have but it’s long forgotten in the memory. It would be remiss of me to give too much away in any event, it’s too enjoyable to cast aside. Everything you know and remember about the ‘old’ Batman – based on the weird and wild 1940s serials – is here: the KAPOW and BLAM graphics, the spinning symbol, Batman and Robin’s uncanny knack for escaping from any situation no matter how stacked the odds are against them and a joyful abandon that carries the whole thing off.

With Batman – the character, the image, the franchise – locked on a course of ‘realistic’ films there’s no way something so extreme as the 1966 vibe will ever be recaptured. The comics and animated series make for more versatile landscapes and we don’t want a return to the dark days of… *looks around and whispers*… Batman & Robin, do we?

Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel? Scratch that… Any Bat Time, Any Bat Channel!

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