BATMAN May 19, 2016
The evolution of Batman in the media has been a disjointed one. Some fifty years ago, when the Caped Crusader had his very own TV show, he was a straight-laced comic book hero surrounded by colorful, humorous shlock. After a two decade break from our screens, silver or small, the vigilante was given new life in the 1980s and ‘90s with rocky success. But in the mid-2000s, with the aid of the visionary Christopher Nolan, he was suddenly metamorphosed into an action hero of astounding strength, his surroundings as gritty and *real* as things could be portrayed in the scope of superheroism.
His latest big screen undertaking, the critically spat upon Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (unseen by me since theaters are expensive and life is too short to sit through a panned three hour actioner), continues the trend of the Batman flick more bleak than playful — the DC side of things seems to be doomed to an existence of cynical, operatic fervor, Marvel a better alternate because it recognizes that tagging alongside superheroes should be joyful, not self-serious and dark.
So while I’m not saying 1966’s Batman is my preferred take on the eponymous hero (Nolan’s trilogy is a majestic collected masterpiece), I do treasure its tongue-in-cheek goofiness, the way it recognizes its inherent lunacy. As it was released following the first season of the TV series, it is, in essence, a prolonged episode. But at its best moments, the show was a celebration of camp and comic book staginess enhanced by vivacious performances, and the transfer from television to film feels natural. On par with Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella, it’s mod chintz mindful of its limitations but nevertheless prosperous in its style and comicality.
In Batman, Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin are presented with a task more irksome than anything they’ve ever faced before: supervillains Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) have all banded together in hopes to — wait for it — take over the world. The fiends are all decently clever, but are no match for our Dynamic Duo, who know a thing or two about crime fighting and defeating egomaniacal do-badders.
If you know what the TV series looked, acted, and sounded like, you can’t walk into Batman with the idea that you’ll be presented with a cinematic masterpiece; it’s a camp masterpiece. Jump in with a smile and an open mind — you have to take it for what it is, which is light-hearted, amicable frowziness.
Maybe the sets look like sets; maybe the plot is more interested in one-liners and garish gags; maybe continuity isn’t a pressing characteristic. But look at how seriously its performers take their roles (West and Ward are wonderfully grave), how its misadventures are laughable, how camp becomes an art form. Making a convincing superhero movie is difficult, sure, but making one so kitschy and tacky is harder — to persuade an audience to go along with over-the-top cheekiness is akin to begging an introvert of a friend to go out partying for a night; you might get them out of the house, but will an agreeable attitude stick?
Fortunately, Batman has enough candy-colored charisma to keep us plenty nostalgic, its zippiness lovesome rather than maudlin. But I’m also a pretty easygoing viewer, as I’m a lover of camp and the film knows what it’s doing. Affability depends on the consumer, and to some, it might seem grating. B