On-screen Batman hasn’t had a great year. Can this animated movie save it?
Let’s face it: if you’re a Batman fan in 2016, you’re also a sad Batman fan. You have Ben Affleck playing a man dressed like Batman and Jared Leto playing a man dressed like the Joker. I mean, even The Killing Joke film adaptation sucked, which was hard to imagine in the realm of possibilities before its release.
And yet, just as I was hammering down the last nail in Batman’s coffin, still marveling that the minds at DC were able to suck the life out of perhaps the most famous and referenced Batman graphic novel ever, the pebbles started to float.
After Dawn of Justice, I penned an article about how I’m jumping ship to Daredevil until a serviceable Batman portrayal graces the screen once again, and, dare I say it, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders might be that portrayal.
It’s also the perfect time to release a Batman movie in the style of the original TV series, once again starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, respectively. As much as I love Frank Miller, he undoubtedly started a chain reaction that lead to the Batman we have today by drastically changing the tone of the Caped Crusader into something much darker. This led to the tone of the Tim Burton Batman films, which was then given the middle finger by Joel Schumacher but revived once again with Christopher Nolan.
But it was really Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy that changed the landscape of the World’s Greatest Detective’s on-screen portrayals because it was extremely profitable. Suddenly, big-budget superhero films were seen as too-big-to-fail, as long as you closely follow the formula and give the people what they want.
And now, everyone is looking for the darkest, grittiest, most realistic Batman portrayals with all edge and zero camp. That’s why we have a Batman who unabashedly murders people and a Joker who is a pimp of both women and goth merchandise.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the trailer is that Batman makes a joke! *gasp* Robin has always been the more wise-cracking one of the duo, a trait still kept throughout the comic books’ tour of Gloomyville, but Batman still cracked a joke or two in his campier days, sporting a much drier sense of humor.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the dark side of Batman, and I think his character has grown more complex, and comic book fans are better for it. But the superficial elements of his character – the brooding, the tortured past – have become the only elements of his character in his modern portrayals. Yes, you Zack Snyder. A thousand times you. While most of the changes to Batman can be seen as a thousand tiny micro-evolutions, Snyder’s version took a giant leap when he made him forget his one rule, brand his victims and plot to kill someone who he thinks could maybe one day turn evil (and don’t even get me started on Superman).
Of course, David Ayer didn’t help either, reducing the tragic relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn to a vague side plot where Harley Quinn just wants to be normal. And all of this to serve DC’s lust for darkness, as if someone trapped in an abusive relationship isn’t dour enough.
And then there’s The Killing Joke animated film. Even discounting the cringe-worthy Batgirl backstory, they were somehow able to suck the life out of Alan Moore’s tale, making it stiffer than the pages of his famous novel. That’s where Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders comes in: campy, fun and, most importantly, lively, taking us back before DC adopted the dark and became obsessed with it.
Even the general humor and ridiculousness on display in the trailer (Batman and Robin slowly moving on a conveyor belt toward what is aptly labeled “Giant Oven”) promises to refresh the beleaguered minds of Batman fans by having a little fun and throwing back to a time where Batman didn’t have to be a whiny, paranoid asshole. Come to think of it, that trailer is a pretty accurate description of what is happening to Batman right now. If it is good, and more movies follow suit or at least think about slightly altering their course, the Return of the Caped Crusaders may actually save Batman.
And so, I pray. I pray to whatever higher power is out there, or even just to the creative team at DC behind Return of the Caped Crusaders: please make this good. In the world we live in today, this is the Batman movie we need to not suck. As Jim Gordon put it: I think you’re trying to help … but I’ve been wrong before.