Cal says goodbye to Adam West with his final Batman adventure.
To say the least, 2016’s Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was a pleasant departure from the dour, gritty depiction of the Caped Crusader introduced by Christopher Nolan. A throwback to the lighthearted 1960s Batman television show, Return of the Caped Crusaders was a well-received success, and now less than a year later, we have the equally-enjoyable sequel, Batman vs. Two-Face. Overseen by the same creative team, it’s another funny, action-packed Batman adventure that’s faithful to the source, with hilariously convoluted one-liners, situation-specific Robin exclamations, and goofy action scenes. Much like its predecessor, Batman vs. Two-Face does threaten to run out of steam at times, and it’s not as great as it had the potential to be, but it’s nevertheless an enjoyable sit.
When a laboratory accident goes awry, District Attorney Harvey Dent (William Shatner) is left with a horribly scarred face and a menacing alter-ego, re-christening himself as Two-Face as he terrorises Gotham City with a string of crimes. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West) and Dick Grayson/Robin (Burt Ward) are thankfully able to thwart the dastardly foe, however, and Dent is given treatment to reconstruct his face and hopefully restore his sanity. But before long, the likes of King Tut (Wally Wingert) and Bookworm (Jeff Bergman) begin a spree of crime, and a theme of duality runs through said criminal activities, leading the Dynamic Duo to suspect that Two-Face has returned.
Although Two-Face never featured in the television show, science fiction author Harlan Ellison did pen a treatment for an episode that was ultimately never produced, serving as the inspiration for Batman vs. Two-Face. Written by returning scribes James Tucker and Michael Jelenic, the movie provides an appropriate new origin story for Dent’s dark half, and is surprisingly focused on its titular villain while the likes of The Penguin (William Salyers), The Riddler (Wingert) and The Joker (Bergman) are pushed into the background. The movie even brings in additional characters such as Hugo Strange (Jim Ward) and Mr. Freeze, among others, while Batman’s relationship with Catwoman (Julie Newmar) is further developed. Wisely, there is something of a detective element to the story, with Dent maintaining his innocence upon Two-Face’s return. (Admittedly, it is a tad odd that Bruce and Dent do discuss having a longstanding friendship, but he was never mentioned in the original series or movie.) Batman vs. Two-Face is actually a bit more dramatic than what has come before, which certainly makes for a more interesting flick, but it does lack some of the wit of its immediate predecessor. Nevertheless, it still delivers some big laughs and enjoys basking in the spirit of 60s Batman, even if pacing is not always sure-footed.
There are ample visual gags throughout Batman vs. Two-Face, including the hilarious image of the Dynamic Duo walking down a building, and it’s fun to see big action scenes that could never have occurred on the original series due to budgetary constraints. Much like Return of the Caped Crusaders, the animation is elementary and rough around the edges owing to the low-budget, crying out for more personality and style. It’s suitably colourful, but detail is exceedingly basic and movement lacks fluidity, sadly reflecting the straight-to-video nature of the endeavour. Plus, beyond the fun recreation of the chintzy Batcave and Bruce’s mansion, the movie makes heavy use of unremarkable animation backgrounds. For a project of such significance, it’s unfortunate that the animation is unable to fully serve the actors involved. With that said, though, there is appreciable style to the visual depiction of Two-Face, whose face is often obscured by shadows. Meanwhile, the music (credited to Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis) does sound cheap at times, but the recreation of the original theme is still top-notch, adding another layer of flavour. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid smirking like a child when the theme starts to play.
How fitting it is that Batman vs. Two-Face denotes West’s final motion picture performance before his tragic passing, and we must be thankful that he was given the opportunity to play this iconic role again. West’s performance may not be anything grand, but he still slips back into the proverbial Batsuit with ease, nailing the comedic delivery and demonstrating once again that he’s note-perfect for this “campy” interpretation of the Caped Crusader. Nobody can straight-face absurd one-liners quite like West. Meanwhile, Ward is reliably energetic and still sounds remarkably youthful, but it is Shatner who steals the show, proving himself to be a genuinely excellent voice actor and a perfect pick for the role beyond his obvious ties to 1960s television. Shatner is able to carve out two distinct voices, playing Dent straight while Two-Face is mean, growly and intimidating. Less successful, however, is Newmar – her age is still reflected in her voice to a distracting degree, lacking the spark of seductive sexiness associated with the role. Again, she’s a fun novelty, but her performance is stiff. The movie makes another fun callback to the television show by bringing in Lee Meriwether for a minor role, and the resulting in-joke is incredibly clever. For those unaware, Meriwether replaced Newmar as Catwoman for 1966’s Batman: The Movie.
There has been discussion about whether or not this animated series will continue without West, but the notion of replacing him is a terrible idea. Granted, impressionists were hired to recreate the voices of deceased actors from the television show, but it simply wouldn’t be the same without West himself. It is evident that this was not intended to be the end, as Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Sirena Irwin) – soon to become Harley Quinn – is given a minor introduction.
Batman vs. Two-Face is unfortunately burdened with the baggage of being West’s final movie, and those expecting something more substantial may feel disappointed since the movie was not designed to be anything more than a fun action-adventure. Thankfully, it delivers as such, and it’s an endearing if imperfect send-off to our beloved Bright Knight. The end credits actually conclude with a tribute to West, and it’s a poignant gut-punch to footnote the movie, and certainly left this reviewer shedding a tear. We are fortunate to have been given Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and its sequel before West passed away, and his death even sadder knowing that further instalments were in the works, and that possibilities were endless. In spite of their shortcomings, these feature-length tributes to 60s Batman remain both funny and entertaining.