2015 is not 1966, but with the aid of animation, it sounds like we’re getting a real throwback soon, as Adam West and Burt Ward announced last weekend that at least one – and maybe two – cartoon movies featuring themselves as Batman and Robin were on the way. For a medium that only requires their distinctive voices, age is not an issue for the Dynamic Duo.
Alas, that despicable fiend Father Time has made it an issue for most of their villains, as most of the greats, save Julie Newmar, have ascended to Bat-Heaven. Like all obstacles facing the caped crusaders, however, this is one that is not insurmountable. Start with the fact that recasting the bad guys was part and parcel of the original show. And continue that train of thought as you realize there are undoubtedly numerous stars of today who are huge fans, willing and able to take up the cause of crime in order to be busted by the Bat. In selecting some new contenders we’d like to see, the rules are as follows. One: as with the 1966 series, the actor chosen must already be some sort of celebrity, so that the joy of the performance comes in the merger of established persona with bad-guy costume. Two: re-casting old characters is perfectly acceptable. Three: we will assume that the characters will be drawn to resemble the actors voicing them.
Here are 10 we’d like to see:
1. Pee-wee Herman as The Riddler.
Frank Gorshin’s Riddler had a manic energy, spindly physicality and hilariously unique laugh. Stepping directly into his shoes – as John Astin’s sole stint in the role thoroughly proved – is a bad idea. But if you could find someone with equal-yet-different skills in the funny laugh department, with a spindly figure, who can even be a bit monomaniacal? (Physicality is irrelevant for animation, but having the right frame is a good guide for animators) I think we can do that.
Note: it must be Pee-wee Herman who shows up. Not merely Paul Reubens, actor.
2. George Takei as Ra’s al Ghul.
Comic-accuracy isn’t the issue here. Finding someone who can play the ancient, eastern, immortal arch-foe of a hammy white actor known for over-dramatic pauses and big hand gestures – that’s the point. And to do it all with a healthy touch of camp? There is nobody better than George Takei.
He even has experience re-doing roles previously played by Liam Neeson, in animation.
3. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Two-Face.
Quick: what are Harvey Dent’s key character traits?
He must have been a handsome, smiling, baby-faced good guy in the past, but really come into his own when he let his evil side come out. He must be equally competent at winning and losing, scaring people and endearing himself to them…and because this is Batman ’66, he must be able to also do and say utterly ludicrous things with a straight face.
The straight face:
The only issue with his casting, really, is that it’s hard to imagine a guy the size of the Rock losing a fistfight to Adam West. But then again, when it comes to taking the fall for a goody two-shoes hero, he did lose cleanly to John Cena a couple of WrestleManias back.
4. Christoph Waltz as Mr. Freeze.
Perhaps no villain on the TV series evolved as much as Mr. Freeze, originally portrayed by George Sanders as a genuinely cold-hearted menace in an elegant suit (I’m far more partial to this version’s real name, Dr. Art Schivel, than Victor Fries). Ultimately, he evolved into the blue-faced guy in a heat-proof spacesuit, played by Eli Wallach and Otto Preminger, whose Austrian accent likely inspired the casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role years later.
Waltz is the perfect guy to reconcile all versions, with a mild accent and proven abilities to be both menacing and goofy; but even more so, the ability to monologue at length, crucially giving Batman and Robin time to escape from whatever trap he has put them in.
The fact that he has no issues being bald is just a bonus. Not that hairstyle matters for voice-over, but the commitment level counts.
5. Emma Stone as Poison Ivy.
From comic-book victimhood to comic-book villainy – ’tis a change much to be desired for Emma Stone who, in her best roles (think Easy A and Magic in the Moonlight) can manage to be simultaneously scheming, confused and at least somewhat sympathetic. A retro-Ivy would probably ditch the mass-scale eco-terrorism and poisonings, in favor of flummoxing Chief O’Hara with a rash of mysterious plant thefts…something Gotham PD cannot possibly handle by themselves!
And when it comes to retro-humor, her Gilda Radner impression can’t be beat.
6. Danny Trejo as Bane.
Bane’s design is clearly based on a luchador, and yet his most distinctive onscreen characterization was as a cyborg Sean Connery, and his second most-memorable live-action depiction (by default) was as a mute goon to Poison Ivy.
Isn’t about time we gave the role to a Latino whose badass credentials are unquestioned? Danny Trejo is not only perfect to play Bane as a scary guy with a teddy bear, but as a guy who has played the character of Machete as both R-rated action hero in his own franchise, and the PG-rated comedy version in the Spy Kids series, Trejo is the absolute perfect mix of terrifying and amusing to be an effective foil to this Batman.
Not to mention: in their inevitable fight, Batman’s toe will be stubbed, leading to an ingrown toenail that the hero can hardly fight crime with lest it become infected. Which leads us to our next entry…
7. Michael Keaton as Azrael.
The Adam West Batman is out of commission. In his place, a new Batman emerges. He has a more updated, edgier costume; he uses more violent methods; he sometimes kills when he does not have to; and ultimately, Adam West does not approve.
Only one man fits this description to a tee.
And when he bums out of the role and becomes a drunk? Yep, that’s nailed too.
It’s time to close the circle. Casting Michael Keaton as a Batman, even if he’s not the Batman, to the sound of thunderous approval from the fan community…well, that’s something I think we just owe him.
8. Jeff Goldblum as Scarecrow.
Back when it seemed like Joel Schumacher was going to get to make a third Batman movie, entitled Batman Triumphant, Scarecrow was going to be the villain, and Jeff Goldblum was heavily rumored to be in contention for the role. The next Batman film did indeed involve Dr. Jonathan Crane, but Cillian Murphy gave him a more lifelike gloss for a newly designed “realistic” Gotham.
Just because they could have gone with a more grounded Scarecrow, however, does not mean that they should. A primordial evil, masquerading as a washed-up actor with some psychiatric skills looking desperately for a comeback, why, that sounds like, like…
Holy headtrip! Can the Batman possibly argue his way out of that one?
9. Stephen Colbert as Killer Moth.
Seeing as how this is a retro-Batman, we’re talking about the original Killer Moth, Cameron van Cleer. An obvious parody of Batman whose goals are the opposite of what Batman’s would be, he masquerades as a rich jerk while saving criminals in his winged costume.
Colbert also made a career masquerading as a rich jerk who actually means the opposite of what he says, and in his performances as Tek Jansen and one half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo, he proves that he knows his way around a deadpan voice-over. Irony is his secret weapon – and that’s the word.
10. My Mother-in-Law as Crazy Cat Lady.
Not every Bat-villain on the TV show came from the comics, and not every celebrity was movie-famous, so here’s one that’s somewhat Internet-famous.
Nothing is scarier to a man than a mother-in-law scorned, and nothing ought to be scarier to Batman than a longtime admirer, trained in mutliple weapons, armed with five intelligent feline assistants, and ready to re-appraise his value into nothingness.
Besides, Martha’s a trained actress and singer. She’s up to the challenge. Like Catwoman, however, she’d ultimately fall into the hands of justice, never being quite able to kill her beloved Adam West, but boy, could she offer up some trouble beforehand!
Also, producers, she’ll do it for free.