I greatly enjoyed last year’s Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and was quite happy to learn of the impending release of the sequel Batman vs. Two-Face. I was especially keen for the second film on learning that William Shatner would be joining the cast as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, since Captain Kirk and Batman were two of the iconic characters who shaped my childhood (the others being the Lone Ranger, Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, and whatever Spider-Man cartoon was on at the time). The passing of the legendary Adam West lends this movie a bittersweet tang even as it serves as a marvelous tribute to the character he portrayed so unforgettably.
Batman vs. Two-Face begins with a 60’s-inflected version of Two-Face’s origin story: a horrible accident grotesquely disfigures Harvey Dent, crusading District Attorney and Batman ally, turning him into a split-personality obsessed with duality and the number two to reflect the visible split on his face. However, rather than waste a movie on another origin story (Origin Stories Suck), Batman vs. Two-Face goes big and broad at the outset, dispensing with the origin story and Batman’s ongoing conflict with Two-Face under the opening credits and launching the movie proper by presenting a mended Harvey Dent desperate to redeem himself in the eyes of the law and the Caped Crusaders. However, when second-string villains start committing a rash of robberies above their weight class, suspicion falls on the reformed Harvey Dent, suggesting he’s either not as healed as he claims or that someone else is stealing his schtick.
Batman vs. Two-Face doesn’t break much new ground for anyone who’s been reading comics for the last few decades. The “reformed Harvey Dent” is a familiar red herring that Batman has grappled with many times. Indeed, the past friendship between Batman and Harvey is core to the characters, with the perpetual hope that Harvey can be redeemed lending their conflicts a deeply tragic sensibility. In practice, this means that Batman vs. Two-Face is a “how are we getting there?” movie more than a “where are we going?” movie; there are a limited number of ways this story can play out, so the fun comes in seeing exactly how the crew chooses to execute the story. In the end, Batman vs. Two-Face nicely bests its predecessor in providing a much stronger story that’s rooted in the tragedy of the Batman/Two-Face relationship without allowing it to overwhelm the lighthearted sensibilities of Batman ’66.
Two-Face is a fundamentally grotesque character that almost certainly wouldn’t have flown on the original show even if they had the budget to create the effect. The animated version is a nice translation of what a live-action version would have looked like in the Batman ’66 universe, with more modern sensibilities bringing him to life in interesting and textured ways. The visual sensibilities overall are a nice blend of the original ’66 mod aesthetic expressed in ways the original show’s budget would never have been able to support. The opening “Evil Extraction” device is a perfect example of this in action.
William Shatner engages as Dent/Two-Face with gusto, stretching out in ways he isn’t normally asked to do (and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit to having a stray thought that people should make him act more often). The vague sense of artificiality he can often bring to a role plays extremely well with Harvey Dent, while he can still bring on an audible change when the darker aspects of the Two-Face persona take over. Adam West and Burt Ward reprise their roles as Batman and Robin with the same aplomb they did in the prior movie, delivering some truly cheesy dialogue with utter seriousness which makes it all the more entertaining. Julie Newmar also reprises her role as Catwoman, but the character seems shoehorned in and perfunctory. I’m all for getting Julie Newmar back in the recording booth, but it would have been better if she had something more substantial to do.
Batman vs. Two-Face comes on the usual Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack, and the video and audio quality are excellent as always. Bonus features include a fairly lengthy spotlight on Burt Ward and the Adam West tribute panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Some shorter segments feature Burt Ward and Julie Newmar talking about their experiences on the series and its aftermath. The remaining bonuses are recycled “first look” featurettes from earlier DC DTVs.
The passing of Adam West has put an end to this line of DTV animated features, since the crew would never dare attempt casting a sound-alike to replace the irreplaceable leading man. Personally, I’d also say that this is as good a time as any to lay Batman ’66 to rest as a property, allowing it to live on by injecting its DNA into works like Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Batman vs. Harley Quinn. We’ll always have the original series, the recent comic books, and these two animated features, but now it’s time to build on the foundations that the Bright Knight laid for us.