Why do they always try to revamp Batman when they got it so right almost 40 years ago? The legendary character, which was created in the thirties by comic book genius Bob Kane, had already been the star of a few serials when some clever TV execs put together an intentionally campy, self-derisory, ultra-hip series starring the hilariously deadpan Adam West as the Not-So-Dark Knight. And between the first two seasons, they made this full-length movie, which is simply the best super-hero movie ever made. What’s so great about the 1966 picture is that it’s aware of how ridiculous it would be for grown men to dress up in costumes to fight crime. Hence, they don’t try to actually make Batman dark or cool but just have fun with the idea of a quirky billionaire who puts on colorful spandex. I love Frank Miller and Tim Burton, but their dark view of the Batman myth asks for you to dismiss the stupidity of the idea.
On the other hand, “Batman: the Movie” knows that and therefore, it prefers to be ironic about it and downplay the darker themes. In the old series, Bruce Wayne isn’t a tortured man who devoted his life to fighting crime after his parents’ murder. He’s just a guy who doesn’t wanna grow up, a geek who happens to billionaire. His fortune allows him to fulfill his childhood fantasies: dress up, drive a super sharp car, play with a lot of nifty gadgets and have fun beating up bad guys. Because after all, when you think of it, Bruce Wayne couldn’t possibly think that he would scare off criminals with his little bat suit. He must just have thought, hey, I’ll just look cool! First, you’ve got a super-villain who brings terror to Gotham City. In the movie, you got all four of Batman’s worse enemies united to take over the world: the playful Joker (Caesar Romero), the sultry Catwoman (Julie Newmar), the sneaky Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and the arrogant Riddler (Frank Gorshin). Their evil plan: to dehydrate the members of the United Nations and ask for a hefty ransom!
When things get this bad, Commissioner Gordon takes his special red phone and calls Batman, who is really the rich Bruce Wayne, an ambiguously gay philanthropist who lives in his huge mansion with his effete buddy Dick Grayson, who also dresses up as Batman’s side-kick Robin. The two heroes are absolutely hilarious together. As portrayed by Adam West, Batman is a mild-mannered gentleman who’s all about values, and it’s very funny how he teaches life lessons to Robin (Burt Ward), who tends to get too excited, hitting his fist and uttering stupidities like “Holy Corpuscle!”. The movie puts the Dynamic Duo in one hell of a ride. The screenplay is extremely inventive; it’s one good idea after another. Batman solves riddles, makes witty remarks, romances a reporter, fights crime… Granted, a lot of what happens is as dumb as it gets, but the attitude of the movie makes it all work. When a shark bites Batman’s leg and our hero defends himself with Bat-Shark Repellent, the filmmakers are obviously doing it tongue-in-cheek. The film is always highly entertaining, and some sequences (like the scene in which Batman tries to get rid of a bomb) reach comic perfection. And then there’s the whole ’60s thing, from the brightly colored sets and costumes to the cheeky double entendres, the pop art “Bam”, “Pow!” effects and the extremely groovy Neal Hefti score. “Batman: the Movie” is to super-hero movies what “Austin Powers” is to espionage films or what “Scream” is to slasher flicks. It’s one of the most refreshing films ever made.