Batman: The Movie or Holy Onomatopoeia, Batman!

Batman 1966Forget The Dark Knight. Forget Batman. Forget Batman and Robin. Seriously, do try and forget the last one if you can. Go back. To a simpler time, a more innocent time, when men were men and chose Lycra over Kevlar and the Joker was a misunderstood and mostly harmless miscreant who dabbled in crime to supplement the income from his day job as a children’s party entertainer. It’s 1966. John Lennon has just met Yoko Ono. Rick Astley has just been born. And, most worryingly of all, evil is raising its bulbous head over the fair city of Gotham.

The four most heinous arch-criminals of the modern age have joined forces to form a super-villain coalition with the role of David Cameron going to the Joker, the Penguin filling in as George Osbourne, the Riddler as Theresa May and Catwoman doubling up as Nick Clegg . Their aim? Nothing short of total global domination similar to that of aforementioned politicians. The only thing standing in their way? No, not Ed Miliband… the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin! Adam West, known mainly now for his oddball mayor in Family Guy, gives an oddball performance as the Caped Crusader dedicated to ridding Gotham of crime in the most groovy and psychedelic way possible, man.

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Crammed into almost two hours worth of lurid entertainment, we have Bat-boats, Bat-copters, Bat-ladders, a Penguin submarine, giant flying umbrellas, exploding sharks, heroic porpoises, gypsies, tramps and thieves. Ok, I made the last three up. Everything else is an essential part of the plot. No joke.

The ‘plot’, if I can refer to it as such, revolves around the super-villains kidnapping Commodore Schmidlapp, the inventor of a revolutionary ‘dehydrater’ that can turn people into dust by forcibly removing all the water in the human body. Naturally enough, all these piles of dust can be turned back into people just by re-adding water (rather like making cup-a-soup).

Highlights include Batman’s attempt at a maritime rescue. By using the Bat-copter to lower himself down onto the yacht where Schmidlapp is being held, Batman hopes to bust the case wide open. But Gadzooks! What’s this? A specially trained shark surfaces from the murky depths to engulf Batman in its jaws. Thankfully the Caped Crusader never travels anywhere without his trusty Shark Repellent Bat-spray. One quick blast into the shark’s face and he releases our hero before tumbling back into the sea. And then exploding. Throughout the course of the film we also see a Bat-centrifuge and Bat-anti-Penguin-gas pill. One can only assume the US patent office has a department dedicated solely to assessing the merits of Bat-paraphernalia.

Batman and Robin continue trawling the high seas for clues. The coalition takes advantage of their position lurking under the waves in the Penguin submarine by firing three torpedoes at our intrepid heroes. Batman is able to destroy two of them by using a gadget that looks suspiciously like a handheld radio, but this runs out of charge as the third missile heads towards them! Then… for some completely, wildly, totally inexplicable reason, a passing porpoise nobly hurls itself into the path of the torpedo and makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the Dynamic Duo. The real tragedy, of course, is that that particular porpoise had just one day left until retirement from Wayne Industries (marine division).

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There’s also a glorious scene where Batman is running round the pier to the docks holding a giant bomb in his hands and frantically trying to find a safe place to throw it before it explodes. Every time he thinks he can let go of the bomb, something gets in the way: a pair of nuns, a woman pushing a pram, a couple in a rowing boat, a full-on brass band, a man wheeling a pallet of butane canisters, a family of ducks. ‘Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb,’’ Batman remarks. And how!

You can’t accuse a film where one of the main characters is called Commodore Schmidlapp of taking itself too seriously. In fact, the sheer camp, high kitsch, tongue-in-cheek action is all part of the charm. Not so much Dark Knight as Daft Knight, but at least no-one dies (that isn’t an aquatic life-form; an octopus also explodes later on).

It’s the kind of film where the final scene should involve the hero standing on top of a skyscraper, chest and codpiece proudly thrust out, cape billowing gently in the wind, watching the sun set on the gleaming urban utopia of his city, content in the knowledge that evil has been defeated and the good people of Gotham (and, by extension, the world) can once again rest easy. Obviously in the ‘real’ Gotham, at the bottom of that very skyscraper there would probably be several felonies and misdemeanours taking place, but why let reality intrude on a campy ending?