Batman and Robin are urgently summoned to take care of a problem, of a ship at sea. They go to the Batcave, get onto the Batcopter, fight a villain and save the day. So far so good. Now, just to add a few details.
Batman and Robin are urgently summoned to take care of a problem, of a ship at sea. They open a secret door behind the library, slide down fireman poles called Batpoles to get to the Batcave. They get into the Batmobile and ride to the airport first, on the way informing the Air Control that it is a red alert situation. The airport staff physically push the Batcopter onto the tarmac to ready it for the arrival of the Dynamic Duo. The Batcopter takes them to the sea above the ship. Being the superhero that he is, Batman decides to use the Bat Ladder to climb down from the Batcopter to the ship. In the process however, he finds himself with a shark stuck to his thigh. When punches don’t work, Robin uses his trapeze artist skills to give Batman the Shark Repellent Bat Spray, and they save the day. This is just the first 10 minutes of the film and I was already struck by the humour found in the mundanity of being a superhero. Now that is not something you often hear about a superhero film and definitely not in back in the ’60s. But that was the Dynamic Duo half a century ago.
Curiously though, the confines in which they existed in Gotham back then seem well ahead of their time. Remember the Sokovia Accords from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which wanted to exert government control over superheroes leading to rifts and an eventual Civil War? Well, here, even though Batman and Robin are ‘ace crimefighters whose identities cannot be revealed to safeguard their utility’. it is definitively made clear that they are not vigilantes but are deputised agents of the law. Even their slogan is “Support the Police”. Again, not something seen very often in this genre. From the looks of it, they are only called on when trouble is of a higher magnitude than that which a policeman can contend with. They talk to the press just like cops, they are answerable to the city just like cops. A citizen even remarks that he feels safe when they are doing their job. Exactly, a Job. I guess it’s safe to assume, then, that Batman hated his boss and might have at one time even argued about overtime, bonuses and what not. Batman is the perfect superhero for such an endeavour since he’s always been the butt of jokes about how he is “just a rich guy wearing a mask with no powers”. I think this film takes that to heart.
Coming to plot, it is just the usual. All four of Batman’s primary villains, The Joker, The Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman, gang up to – in Batman’s words – take over the entire world by using a machine that can turn people into powder. The plot in itself is very thin but it is the moments that elevate this movie. Comedy in a superhero genre is not new to us anymore, with quips and repartees forming the basis of most superhero movies (I’m not looking at you, Zack Snyder). But the comedy here is not in the writing so much as in the pitch of the performances. The scenes where Commissioner Gordon, Batman, Robin and Chief O’Hara are thinking hard to solve the Riddler’s riddles are reminded me of the Mahabharat play from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. It is laugh after laugh. To give you an example, a riddle that is asked is, “What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree, and is very dangerous?”, to which Robin replies: A sparrow with a machine gun!”
There is also a lot of physical comedy involved as well. Now, say you are a superhero, and you have to dispose of a bomb. How do you do it? One way is the Nolan Batman way. Ride your Batplane into the sea and drop it, let people think you’re gone for good and show up somewhere else. Our 1966 Batman, however, has better, easier ideas. He simply picks up the bomb and runs around the pier looking for a place to throw it only to be thwarted by a couple in a boat, the commercial establishments around and a flock of ducks. This leads him to nonchalantly quip, “Some days you can’t seem to get rid of a bomb.”
Over the years, I have seen superheroes fail to save the world in many ways. Striking the arm for the head, not being united enough, etc. But I have never seen superheroes (yes, I emphasise the super) fail to save the world because they didn’t arrive on time, because they decided to run (yes, run) the distance only because they were “fit”. (I wonder if they have their pay cut for such lapses.) Mind you, this is a movie where there’s a Batcopter, a Batmobile, a Batboat and a Sholay-esque Batcycle with a detachable sidecar. But I must say, the spectacle of two costumed, masked men running across the city of Gotham through a crowd who couldn’t care less about them, trying to save the world, is comedy gold.
The relationship between Batman and Robin is done well despite there not having much time devoted to it. Batman imparts philosophical advice to Robin from time to time, which Robin takes to heart because it’s coming from Batman, a person he respects. The dynamic between the Dynamic Duo reminded me of Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy. One of a student/ward who loves and respects his teacher but knows when and how not to cross a line. A minor complaint here is that there is next to no exploration of their civilian alter egos.
At the end I must say that after the superhero movie boom in the last decade there is a certain joy in watching a superhero movie minus all the CGI, the big city battles with all the destruction, the technology and the superpowers. The final battle here could be straight out of a Priyadarshan film. It is refreshing to see two superheroes being late to save the world because, well, they ran there. It is great fun to watch actors ham because they have to ham. It is definitely the freshest and newest superhero movie I have seen in ages. It subverts all tropes of a superhero movie we have come to expect and it does that knowingly while laughing at its own stupidity and ironic value. I understand that the movie was made for a different audience at a different time but I would say it makes for great viewing in these times when the superhero genre has been done to death and new innovations are desperately needed to enhance this genre from silly popcorn fun to something more.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.