Batman Live's take on its source material may be dangerously close the reviled 1997 film Batman & Robin, but that hasn't stopped it generating a lot of hype. Punters attended the opening night in droves, many sporting the garb of their favourite Gotham City heroes and villains. The celebs were out in force too. Shameless actress Sally Carman and soap stars Tina O'Brien and Denise Welch were among the VIP guests who lined up for photographers on the red carpet ahead of the main event. There was an air of anticipation outside the venue, though some of the older sections of the audience looked like they needed convincing. We were just praying we didn't have another Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark on our hands.
Upon entering the arena, fans were greeted by a 3D Gotham City landscape, replete with model skyscrapers and a 100-foot LED video screen. It was an impressive backdrop that at least assured us production values were high and the show's £12 million budget put to good use. A rich symphonic score kicks things off as the audience are introduced to a young Bruce Wayne and given the PG-rated version of the Dark Knight's origin story. What follows is a streamlined take on a tale comic book fans will be familiar with, focusing on Dick Grayson's quest to avenge the murder of his parents and how it led to him becoming Batman's protégé Robin.
Although the sets and symphonic score are initially dazzling, the wafer-thin storyline offers little to for the older sections of the audience, and the script is almost an afterthought. Batman Live is about action, not words. The Dynamic Duo get their hands dirty throughout the show, brawling with villains such as Riddler, Penguin and Two-Face, ahead of a final showdown with a Joker that's more Cesar Romero than Heath Ledger. While it's a stretch to call any of the fight scenes hard-hitting or believable, the choreography came across flawlessly and the on-wires sequences were among the evening's highlights. Sadly for us grown-ups, creating a spectacle was always the priority here, and the result is style over substance.
What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for with showmanship. In addition to the aerodynamic wire suspension, other standout moments include the unveiling of the F1-inspired Batmobile, watching the Bat-Signal sweep across the audience, and the nightmarish recreation of Arkham Asylum. The latter, with its prisoners suspended by chains and giant incarnation of the Scarecrow (played by a guy on stilts), was perhaps enough to give nightmares to the very young, but most of the crowd were bowled over by these set pieces. Even the old-timers couldn't suppress their cheers when Bruce Wayne declares his secret identity to his sidekick. In fact, the loudest shout-outs seemingly belonged to those somewhere in their thirties.
Tonally, Batman Live sits somewhere between the Adam West television show and a night at the circus (for the most part, at least). The production uses Dick Grayson's trapeze artist roots as an excuse to throw in a fun house number, complete with acrobats, clowns and even men in horse costumes, every other scene. Like the action sequences, it's all choreographed to perfection, but it felt less and less like a Batman event as these scenes dragged on. The comically tense exchanges between Batman and Catwoman, and the dynamic between the Joker and Harley Quinn brought some authenticity, as did the stylish sets for the Batcave, Wayne Manor and the aforementioned Arkham Asylum, but many of the parents may have switched off by these points.
In summary, Batman Live is something of a mixed bag. It's well acted, expertly choreographed and can be a thrilling spectacle at times, but the essence of the subject matter feels absent during some scenes. In its finest hours, the show delivers excellent family entertainment, but old-school Batman fans may be disheartened by its watered-down take on the Dynamic Duo's origin. We were a little disappointed that there wasn't more substance on offer for the adults, but we'd take this over Spider-Man's Broadway debut any day.
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Watch the Batman Live 'Batmobile' video below: