When I think of Batman, I think of Adam West. For us old folks, he’s arguably (understatement!) the most iconic version of the Caped Crusader. From the 1960s through the 80s, West’s interpretation of Batman was the high standard for superheroes in film and television until Richard Donner’s Superman came along, which started the slow descent to the ground for the superhero genre.
What made Batman (the show) work was its self-aware attitude and comedic timing. The writing also leaned heavily into the fact that their hero was merely a “man in tights,” and his comic-strip-themed stories were intentionally over-the-top and kitschy. Not only was the show the high water mark for superheroes in entertainment, but it is cinematic spin-off is probably one of the best examples of bringing a television show to the big screen, a feat that Star Trek could only do with the even-numbered films. Batman: The Movie does everything right and captures what audiences loved about the television program while expanding the hero’s world enough for fans to buy a ticket.
The plot is pretty silly, lacking any plausibility or credible characterization, just like the show. A ship is headed to Gotham City with a device that can dehydrate people into dust and later re-hydrate them. Unfortunately, the ship and its cargo are captured by the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman, thanks to a ploy to divert the attention of Batman with an exploding shark.
“…the ship and its cargo are captured by the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman…”
Before the villainous quartet can enact their plan for global domination, they have to take out the Caped Crusader. Their first attempt doesn’t work because they can’t work together. So, Catwoman disguises herself as a Russian reporter, Kitka, and successfully seduces and kidnaps Bruce Wayne in hopes of luring Batman into a trap as he attempts to rescue the philanthropic millionaire. But for some reason, Batman never shows up.
The story just gets more insane and is not worth getting into further. Batman: The Movie exists for one reason and one reason only — to serve fans of the show, which is what I really want to talk about. I have two criteria for a successful cinematic adaptation of a television show. The first is to transfer everything we love from the series to the film. A lot is carried over here, from Robin’s catchphrase “Holly [fill in the blank], Batman” to the utility belt that has every convenient solution to escape a villain’s trap. It also teams up four of the most iconic villains from the series and all our favorite supporting characters, except, sadly, Batgirl.
The second element of a good adaptation is to expand the world enough to warrant a movie. I don’t want to merely see a two-hour episode of a free television show. The world opens up here by getting us away from the sound stage and into the open air. We are introduced to a working Batcopter and Batspeedboat. Also, the criminals are not trying to take over Gotham City but instead take over the world. We see how they use their various evil gimmicks in tandem to capture Batman (in a very loose and lame way). Even Bruce Wayne takes on a much more significant role from the series. Here Bruce is vulnerable and falls for Kitka. Brude soon finds himself at the mercy of his archenemies and struggles to escape without revealing he is the Caped Crusader.
For fans of the television series, Batman: The Movie is the perfect swan song. It has all the elements of the show, which be richer and (slightly) more complex. The film serves as the actual last episode, allowing Batman to go out with the big Bat-bang that he and his fans deserved.
"…transfer[s] everything we love from the series to the film."