So, every week I get together with an inconsistent group of friends to watch a movie. We go into a classroom and watch it on the big projector screen. It’s fun. We’ve watched a pretty wide variety of movies including Zoolander, Space Jam, Much Ado About Murder, Black Dynamite, The Blair Witch Project, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Alien, Halloween… actually, apparently we’ve only watched comedies and horror movies. We usually have a pretty easy time picking the movie, but as soon as we finished last week’s screening of Charade, we immediately encountered a huge problem, and entered into a week-long debate about what to watch next, Live and Let Die or Batman (1966).
There were very compelling arguments to be made on both sides, of course. Friend, occasional guest writer, and frequently quoted Will Standish had a particular hard time after admitting that Roger Moore and Adam West were pretty much his primary models of masculinity. Now, this argument was heated with proponents and opponents on each side. Worse: no one—no one—could decide if they, personally, would rather watch Roger Moore in Live and Let Die or Adam West in Batman. It was a remarkably difficult choice, and really probably shouldn’t have been. It got to the point where I was seeking advice from third parties who I knew weren’t going to be watching the movie. I even asked a professor. I went to his office and asked him what we should do and he said…
“Hm.” And sat there and pondered the choice for a couple minutes, saying nothing conclusive but every now and then letting out another “Hm” or sometimes and “Oooo…” or “Errr.” Eventually, he turned to me and, with the sincerity of a politician who just had to make a really, really challenging ethical decision for the benefit of the greater good, but at the expense of many, said that if anyone in the group has not yet seen Batman, we should watch Batman, because no one deserves to be culturally ignorant of Adam West. Guess what. Someone hadn’t seen Batman.
The Plot: Batman. And Robin. Villains… sharks? World politics.
That’s the plot. That’s all I have to say. It may not sound like much, but somehow they pull off a whopping one hundred and five minutes of intrigue, mystery, suspense, biff, pow, and zocko. Ah, maybe I should elaborate. So, the film begins with (fully deputized and law-abiding) superheroes Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) racing out to sea in the Batcopter to investigate a stolen yacht. Well, they get there and it turns out that the yacht is just an illusion and an exploding shark attacks Batman. Narrowly escaping this with a handy-dandy can of shark-repellent Bat-spray, our heroes return to police headquarters to consider the clues, where they have this conversation:
Commissioner Gordon: It could be any one of them… But which one? Which ones?
Batman: Pretty *fishy* what happened to me on that ladder…
Commissioner Gordon: You mean where there’s a fish there could be a Penguin?
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea… Sea. C for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet, an exploding shark *was* pulling my leg…
Commissioner Gordon: The Joker!
Chief O’Hara: All adds up to a sinister riddle… Riddle-R. Riddler!
Commissioner Gordon: A thought strikes me… So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance…
Batman: The four of them… Their forces combined…
Robin: Holy nightmare!
That’s right. C for Catwoman. Robin is an essential part of this crime-fighting squad, contributing vital information and just being helpful all around. Without Robin, Batman would have nothing, and he certainly would not be prepared to face the dastardly Catwoman. Indeed, though, Robin’s right, and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) has joined forces with Riddler (Frank Gorshin), Joker (Cesar Romero), and the Penguin (somehow Burgess Meredith).
Ah, what a nefarious foursome. Their mission: to kill Batman and Robin, and kidnap world leaders using a stolen dehydrate-inator.
Along the way, Batman and Robin have to deal with bombs, torpedoes, super-magnets, dehydrated pirates, riddles, knock-out gas, disguises, and incredibly awkward seduction. Actually, the part with the bomb is probably the best. In a very, very lengthy sequence, Batman desperately tries to dispose of a bomb, but keeps running into obstacles. Well, see for yourself:
A friend was telling me about this Batman podcast he listens to, on which some guy was talking about that scene. Apparently he saw the movie in theaters when he was four or five and, as all four or five year olds do, he got really, really invested in it. The scene with the bomb was so overwhelmingly suspenseful for him, and he was so anxious and worried for Batman’s safety, that he got too nervous and threw up. To me, that is the perfect review of this film. Now, in case you haven’t already gotten this impression, Batman is an entirely absurd movie. It’s all over the place. The narrative doesn’t make that much sense, the riddles make less sense, the answers to the riddles make the least amount of sense, the puns are nearly jaw-droppingly corny, and Cesar Romero’s mustache is very noticeable under his makeup.
Despite all of these things, and perhaps because of them, I enjoyed Batman entirely un-ironically. Was I worried for Batman? No. I didn’t throw up. But this is one of those movies that, whether or not you ever watched it as a child, kind of just reminds you of your childhood. You can sit back and remember a time when good was good and bad was bad, and in the end the status quo would be restored. Batman is a sort of harmless place, almost akin to Winnie the Pooh, but maybe a few steps up. Batman and Robin are constantly pausing to tell kids to respect police officers, say no to alcohol, never snack between meals, and always do the right thing. The villains exist merely as convenient foils so that Batman may assert his morality upon the audience and be loved for it.
This is exactly what superheroes should be. I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3. They were straight-forward and fun. The heroes, I think, are good role-models for children. Can superheroes be anything more than that? Can they bear weight for adults? Sure. I mean, The Dark Knight Rises was my favorite film of 2012, so that should say something. Superhero movies often lose sight of heroism in an effort to appeal to a more mature audience; hence Man of Steel. What’s my point here? Where am I going with this? If you have kids, and you want to teach them the difference between right and wrong, and give them a purely good role-model to whom they can look up, maybe you should rent Batman, and maybe you should skip Man of Steel.