Batman: The Movie

Certificate: U
Running time: 105 mins
Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriweather, Cesar Romero
Genre: Comic Book, Action, Adventure, Comedy
Country: USA

Batman: The Movie saw Adam West don the duel personality of Billionaire philanthropist and "Dark" Knight in a playful adaptation that would see a return to television and a legacy that would shape the childhoods of many a generation.  When Batman and Robin are called out to the middle of a distress call the rescue is revealed as an attempt on his life, the plot of four criminal masterminds at large and prepared for mayhem via the formation of their United Underworld Organisation and the control of a weapon that can dehydrate a human body instantly.  

The immediate impression from Batman: The Movie regardless of when you first watch it, is how colourful, playful and to an extent superficial the film is.  The vast majority of time the cinematic naivety of the film is brushed aside because of it’s production year but this is an argument that does not hold water.  Only the previous year, 1965 saw For A Few Dollar More release, 66 would see The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and two years later would see not just the release of Planet of the Apes but also the seminal science fiction opus 2001: A Space Odyssey and that's before you even consider comparing it to the darkly wonderfulness of Robert Lowery's serial depiction of Batman.  Cinema had a level of sophistication that was reaching the full blossom of the 1970’s.  Critiques of the films style, and to a lesser extent Martinson’s direction, don’t seem to get it.  Batman: The Movie is, at least until the release of Batman Begins forty years later, the most loyal rendering of the DC comic that fans have been offered.  Where the Burton films played with the legend of the Bat narrative for the sake of narration, which we’ll come to in its own time, Batman: The Movie lays out it’s stall as a faithful rendering of the Batman with Robin – The Boy Wonder illustrated Bob Kane narratives before the days of Frank Miller (Batman Year One, The Dark Knight Returns), Brian Azzarello (Joker) or even Doug Moench (Batman & Dracula – Red Rain) and is incredibly successful and highly entertaining.

Adam West (as Batman/Bruce Wayne) give a light and careful portrayal as Wayne and an entertaining, if slightly camp, representation of the Bat.  His performance is synonymous with the role, even some forty six years later he is instantly the first name to spring to mind when Batman is thought of.  So much of his personality to tided into the role and vice versa that it’s almost impossible to critique him.  Burt Ward (Dick Grayson/Robin) unfortunately doesn’t have the same comic book immunity for my liking.  Even as a child I was never a fan of Robin, nor could I see the point in having a junior partner especially one who seemingly has less to offer than the level of annoyance that he generates.  Ward, to his credit, does his best and delivers even the most ridiculous lines (and there are a bundle of ridiculous lines – the lions share belonging to Robin) with a commitment, dedication and a straightness that allows the lines to be funny and not the character which is incredibly selfless.  That coupled with that fact that Adam West once called him "the horniest man alive" all leads you to the understanding that the Burt Ward you don't know is infinitely more entertaining that the one that you do.  He's still the best Robin, sorry Chris!

Lee Meriweather (Kitka/Catwoman) is a strong, seductive and believable performer.  At times her Russian accent is somewhere terrible between Sean Connery’s effort (The Hunt for Red October) and some unconvincing Cold War propaganda.  My personal proclivities lean towards Julie Newmar who was feminine, feline and fantastically seductive and all in her implication but that’s just me.  Burgess Meredith (Penguin) and Frank Groshin (The Riddler) never quite grabbed the screen offering up adequate performances in the face of Cesar Romero and his absolutely perfect Joker.  Romero, who would reprise his career defining role 22 times in the TV shows 3 seasons, is pitch perfect.  His gesturality, laugh and on screen presence are of a standard that all renderings of The Joker, whether it be on screen in live action, animation, or in comic books or graphic novels lead back to Romero and that face, that laugh.  He is truly remarkable, the greatest thing in the 105 minutes and worth any shortcomings the film has.

The main problems with Batman: The Movie are that of the direction and the script.  It’s clear that the producers of the film wanted to create a live action version of the comic book, a film for the fans and “pure entertainment” as the opening dedication indicates but where the comic books could get away with relatively simplistic narratives over the course of some 30 pages it’s a large expectation for the cinematic audience, especially one being offered such great cinema in the 60’s, to accept a two dimensional narrative that could play out in 30 minutes or less.  The narrative short comings are, subsequently, less noticeable in the television series.  Leslie H. Martinson’s (The Roy Rogers Show, The Bionic Woman) direction lacks any depth of field or significant camera movement.  It’s been a quarter of a century since Citizen Kane you can’t tell me that nobody has learned how to use a camera to tell a story.  Martinson, to his credit, is responsible for some truly iconic moments in the Batman history, the vertical climb and Kapow fights two examples of why regardless of complaints his work on the film and the show will always be remembered fondly.

Though far from perfect Batman: The Movie is the first proper attempt since Batman & Robin [1949] to bring the Caped Crusader to the audiences of story telling and it’s most remarkable medium.  An incredibly entertaining outing that’s as enjoyable as it is superficial, even if it is too long... and you’re right Batman some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.

Movie Bar HEROES! featuring a foursome of fantastic yet forgotten Superheroes including The Champions of Justice and 3 Supermen Against Godfather can be booked by clicking [here].


Ty said...

"Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!" Haha, classic line.

Judka said...

It must be awsome! Thank U for this post! :))

John Baxter said...

My pleasure, thanks for checking it out.

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