Before reviewing BATMAN BEGINS, I figured the Bat-movies were due a bit of a retrospective. That way, you’ll know where I stand, and what kind of Bat-nitpicker I can be. You may be surprised at what I’ve liked and haven’t in the previous flicks.
BATMAN! THE MOVIE starring Adam West and Burt Ward.
The campy ’60s stylings of West and Ward took a real beating from fans in the 80s and 90s, when it was all about Frank Miller, the death of Robin, and Bruce Wayne’s back being broken while the more violent Jean-Paul Valley filled in a hi-tech Batsuit. What many of them didn’t take into account was that the Batman comics of the 60s were equally campy, with multi-colored costumes and villains being fought atop giant typewriters and the like. The TV show was an accurate reflection in many ways, though it winked at the grown-up audience in ways that the comics didn’t. Given that comics were mainly for kids at that point, this was a good strategy.
So anyway: BATMAN! THE MOVIE is your daddy’s Batman. It also still holds the record for number of major villains: Joker (Cesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Merriweather). Of these, Romero’s Joker is the most disposable — if you sanitize Batman to kiddie levels, he’s just a clown who robs banks, which isn’t especially threatening. Gorshin and Meredith, however, were transcendent, and it’s hard to even think of those actors without picturing their Bat-villain guises.
Easily the most memorable moment in the movie for me is a scene in which Batman has to dispose of a large cartoon-style bomb with a lit fuse, but every time he tries to throw it away, he encounters innocent nuns, children, and even baby ducks who would be harmed by any detonation. After several run-ins with these groups, West exasperatedly yells to camera “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” Classic stuff. It doesn’t hold up to contemporary interpretations of Batman, but viewed on its own terms, the movie is quite entertaining. And don’t forget the shark-repellent Batspray that just happens to be handy at all times.
It really isn’t the fault of the show that some people haven’t kept up with the times, and still expect the “Biff! Pow! Zap!” version of Batman when they go to the movies. But that mindset is responsible for some of Warner Bros’ decisions over the years. We’ll come back to that.
But can we at least all agree that “Da na na na na na na na…BAT MAN!” is one of the greatest superhero themes ever?
(next: Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN)