Friday, September 23, 2016

There's Plenty Of (GASP!) Fun To Be Had In Batman: The Movie

Before Ben Affleck, before Christian Bale, before Michael Keaton, before all of that...there was Adam West. West was the man who portrayed Batman in the 1960's Batman TV show and ended up becoming the first actor to portray Batman in a theatrical film (aside from Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowrey, who played the caped crusader in two different 15-chapter serial films in the 1940's) once that TV show got a film adaptation promptly titled Batman: The Movie. The feature film carries over the heavily stylized and campy aesthetic of the show with aplomb, there's really no limit to how absurd how this movie can get.

Such an approach sounds like it might be ill-suited to a 101-minute long motion picture, but instead, Batman: The Movie is honestly just kind of awesome. It so clearly relishes every chance to be as farcical as it can be while also making said ludicrous content surprisingly well-made. The premise of the movie doesn't feel it's an episode of the show stretched out to feature-length nor does it feel an episodic series of random gags. It feels like, well, a movie, much more so than other far more expensive Batman features like Batman Forever and Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

Four of Batman's biggest foes, The Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and The Joker (Caesar Romero), have teamed up to pull of a diabolical plot involving various world leaders and Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) are the only ones who can stop the gaggle of antagonists. The movie follows their various attempts to subdue the group of villains, including a legitimately clever subplot wherein the four adversaries kidnap Bruce Wayne in an attempt to lure out Batman.

It cannot be stressed enough how much the actors bring to this movie, most of them being more than down to play in the films exaggerated landscape. Lee Meriwether is frequently seen in the background just licking her palms while any chance Caesar Romero has to let out a hearty cackle, he does so with all of the energy he can muster. As our lead hero, Adam West delivers 99% of the dialogue in the same over-dramatic manner (he always seem to trail off mid-thought before noticeably regaining himself), making him the perfect heightened leading man for this project. I wish Burt Ward got more to do though, since he's always stuck on the sidelines with his frequent exclamations of"Holy [object relevant to the current situation]" and his constant verbose expository dialogue is some of the few slices of this movies cheese that has gotten more than a tad rotten.

It also must be noted that this a mighty polished looking production, especially in the sets, which not only have a very professional quality to them but are a source of many of the films best and most subtle gags. For instance, a fridge at the bad guys hide-out just has a big sticker with the words "Cat Food" plastered on it while an image of various penguins just chilling (no pun intended) in the arctic adorns the walls of the evil lair and manages to show up again in The Penguin's submarine. That may actually be the crucial aspect of Batman: The Movie that keeps it from feeling tedious, there's a surprising level of variety in the kind of jokes it trots out to its audience. There's plenty of overt camp but more subdued background details offer an amusing contrast to the more stylized gags that populate the feature.

Batman: The Movie turns 50 years old this year, an impressive achievement that shows the pop culture stamina Batman has had over the decades. Over the years, Batman's made numerous appearances on the silver screen, some of which have managed to overshadow Batman: The Movie, which is truly a shame considering just how much fun this motion picture is. It's a goofy blast of clearly 1960's camp that's fully committed to fully realizing what it wants to be and is also pretty darn well-constructed to boot. Get out your Bat-Shark Repellant and give this one a look if you haven't.

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