“Gotham City. Maybe it’s all I deserve now. Maybe it’s my time in hell.” This is the opening line from Frank Miller’s graphic novel Batman: Year One, one of the most influential volumes in the character’s history. This line is imposed over dark, grey illustrations of Gotham City, and is preceded by an image of young Bruce Wayne and his dead parents. As I said on my first post on The Batman Singularity, Frank Miller’s darker, grittier take on the Caped Crusader is responsible for the darker, grittier superhero we know today. This volume paved the way for Tim Burton’s Batman (’89), Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight, which in turn, paved the way for shows like Daredevil and Arrow, as well as the film portrayal of various superheroes. Frank Miller, Tim Burton, and Christopher Nolan, have all helped establish what we know of the character today, namely that he is dark, brooding, and traumatized, sending him on a quest to bring justice to a world that is in constant chaos.
But it wasn’t always this way.
“Acknowledgement – We wish to express our gratitude to the enemies of crime and the crusaders against crime throughout the world, for their inspirational example. To them, and lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous, lovers of the bizarre – to funlovers everywhere, this picture is respectfully dedicated. If we have overlooked any sizable group of lovers, we apologize. – The Producers.”
That is the start of Batman: The Movie, from 1966 (which I will refer to as Batman ’66).
Dark and gritty was not the standard for the character in the year 1966, when Adam West took to the big screen to star as Bruce Wayne and the Batman. Analyzing this film from the modern perspective of the Batman character, it makes Adam West’s portrayal look… more than a little campy. It’s all tied together by a bunch of hokey action sequences and weird writing.
There is a climactic action sequence which is just the duo running across town.
Even if he can’t access his Batmobile, Bat-helicopter, or what have you, there’s probably a faster way to get there. Does Gotham not have a taxi service? There’s no need to constantly cut back to them running, we know the circumstances are dire. Whatever, it was the 60’s, things were weird, I guess.
I’ve lifted some quotes from IMDb; I would have quoted them myself but I worried it would not be believable.
An absurd amount of laughter that erupted from me when I heard robin say “A Sparrow With A Machine Gun.” I understand that this silly writing probably came from a time when Superhero movies were viewed as silly, or immature, but even still, there’s no logic here, there’s no reason. Even if the genre is viewed as silly or surreal, there should be logic behind the writing, and reality behind the characters.
Pictured above is a filmmaking technique called a dutch angle – notice that the camera is tilted slightly to create an uneasy feeling, as though things are a tad askew. Well, this is a useful technique, and indicates when things are wrong. But Batman ’66 uses it excessively. Every time we see our four villains gathered in this location, the camera is off-kilter as seen in the shot above. Using it this much just seems forceful, and heavy-handed.
And why does everything need to be called “Bat-something?” There’s no need for this. It just sounds hokey. (Of course, this system of naming things has had a lasting impact on the character: there’s the Batmobile and the Bat Cave. But Bat Cave makes sense because bats actually live in caves? Eh, I don’t know what to make of all this.)
It all feels like this movie is tries its hardest not to be taken seriously. There’s no logic behind anything – the writing, the cinematography, the acting. Superhero movies have come a long way from this. When I wrote about the Batman Singularity, it was largely out of concern; today, characters who don’t necessarily need to be grim and serious are starting to become grim and serious, just because Batman does this and does it well. Since this is so pervasive in superhero media, Batman ’66 seems absurd. I suppose that as the genre has developed, the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other.
This movie does nothing to address the trauma of Batman. At his core, his trauma is a fundamental part of who he is. At a young age, he watched his parents get murdered in cold blood; this isn’t the basis you might assume for a happy-go-lucky film like Batman ’66. This film, looked at today, would be amazing satire of the character who takes himself so seriously; in that case, it would have been hilarious and it would have been just fine. But this chapter of the franchise gave millions of people an impression (a wrong one, at that) of what the character is, by showing what the character is not.
However, there are certain things that I simply can’t take away from this movie. It’s fun. It’s engaging. All of its fight scenes are well-orchestrated, even the one that is interrupted by on-screen onomatopoeia texts such as “Kapow!” and “Whack!”
I want to say that this movie hasn’t aged well, but in a way, it has. One will find more pleasure from watching it ironically than they ever would while watching it seriously. With a comic series (entitled Batman ’66) launched in 2013, the film and subsequent television show cemented their place as ironic classics.
When you get right down to it, it’s not The Dark Knight and it’s not supposed to be dramatic. You’re not there for the emotional nuance or the great story. It’s all about the zany fun, and as said in the dedicatory introduction, it’s about the adventure. Less than a month before the grimly heavy-handed Batman v. Superman, watching Batman ’66 will remind you of a time when superheroes were silly and fun.