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Review: Batman vs. Two-Face
Posted on
Tue, 14th Nov 2017

Adam West passed away back in June. The comparatively recent nature of this event makes it somewhat difficult to write a fair and unbiased review of Batman vs. Two-Face. A part of me wants to take a eulogistic approach out of respect for West, praising the film as a triumphant swansong for our beloved Caped Crusader and giving its myriad shortcomings a free pass. But another part of me would prefer to dispense with sentimentality and give it an honest review, however harsh that may be. So that's what I'm going to do. And on that score I’m happy to report that Batman vs. Two-Face is a decent film. I’m less happy to report that it’s not quite the triumphant swansong I’d hoped it would be.

The film begins with a voiceover by Desmond Dumas, whose commentary is clearly modelled on the non-diegetic narration of Desmond Doomsday in the original TV series. Only here Desmond is presented as a reporter within the storyline, not an omniscient overseer like his namesake in the 1966 movie and TV show. The opening titles see Batman and Robin framed by a searchlight in such a way that recalls the title sequence from Batman: The Movie. This kicks things off with a pleasant note of familiarity and there are many similar nostalgic nods scattered throughout the film. However, most of these throwbacks are the same ones we saw in Return of the Caped Crusaders and the fan service doesn't feel quite as potent the second time around. The musical score references Nelson Riddle’s classic theme tune, and onomatopoeic text bubbles are plentiful during the fight scenes. But as with Return of the Caped Crusaders, the overall atmosphere of the film is different from that of the original series – it’s darker, slicker and a lot more action-oriented.

 

Several familiar names are to be found amongst the voice cast. I’m not going to lie – West sounds old. But his deadpan delivery is as endearing as it ever was. And Burt Ward sounds just as energetic and enthusiastic as he did in 1966. Julie Newmar is also back as Catwoman, and Lee Meriwether plays a supporting role as Lucilee Diamond. But the standout performance is definitely William Shatner as the eponymous villain. He doesn’t go for the obvious laughs here the way Tommy Lee Jones did in Batman Forever (1995). For the most part he plays it straight. And he does a great job. Shatner gets across both the pathos of Harvey Dent and the malice of Two-Face, imbuing one character with a soft-spoken gentility and the other with a coarse gravelly snarl. This is one of the better animated versions of Two-Face and should appeal to a wider audience beyond just fans of the sixties Batman.

With regards to plot, I should emphasize that this movie is not an adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s unused script for the sixties TV show. Nor is it based on ‘The Lost Episode’ Batman ’66 one-shot by Len Wein and José Luis Garcia-Lopez. The filmmakers have ignored Ellison’s reimagining of Dent as a disfigured television reporter in favour of a more conventional District Attorney back story (Wein did the same thing in the Batman ‘66 comic). The treatment of the character is darker than you'd expect from the Batman ’66 universe, and it’s fair to assume that if Two-Face had appeared in the original series he would not have been portrayed in such a sinister light. The same goes for Hugo Strange. If you were expecting either of these characters to be made over in classic Batman ’66 fashion, you’re in for a disappointment. The versions of Harvey and Hugo presented in this film could hail from any other Batman cartoon; they're not tonally customised for West’s universe. To some viewers this will seem like a wasted opportunity. But to others it might make the film more accessible.

The movie contains numerous references to classic Batman comic book stories. Some of these are straightforward visual nods, such as the infamous image of Batman slapping Robin across the face from World's Finest Vol 1 #153 (November 1965). Other comic references are more substantial. The main storyline, which sees Dent undergo reconstructive surgery and attempt to turn over a new leaf, is clearly inspired by the first chapter of The Dark Knight Returns (1986). While the auction scene, in which villains compete in a bidding war for the secret of Batman’s identity, is lifted straight from Detective Comics Vol 1 #472 (September 1977). Then there’s the scene of Two-Face strapping Batman and Robin to a giant coin and flipping them onto a bed of spikes, taken from Batman Vol 1 #81 (February 1954). There are many more nods to classic Batman stories inserted throughout the film, and long-time comic readers will have a fun time spotting them. 

The quality of animation is acceptable, but by no means impressive. I’ve seen worse from these DC animated movies (The Killing Joke), but I’ve also seen better (Under the Red Hood). I think the biggest problem I have with both Return of the Caped Crusaders and Batman vs. Two-Face is that the drier instances of deadpan humour which characterised some of the TV show’s funnier moments just don’t translate well into modern animation. The nuanced physicality of West and Ward’s performances is poorly reflected in the stiff animation, and the humour on the whole veers towards obvious slapstick and sight gags. There’s no denying the original series had its share of that type of humour as well, particularly during the third and final season. But for every scene of Batman engaging in a surf-off with the Joker, there’d follow a more subdued scene of ironic dialogue delivered with straight-faced earnestness. That's not really the case in Batman vs. Two-Face. Instead we have a number of gags carried over from Return of the Caped Crusaders, such as Aunt Harriet suspecting Bruce and Dick are gay, and the end credits playing against footage of Batman and Catwoman dancing. Even if these things amused you in the previous film, you may find them a tad stale in the sequel.

 

I’d like nothing better than to end this review by proclaiming Batman vs. Two-Face a worthy conclusion to the Caped Crusader film trilogy that began with Batman: The Movie. But honestly, I thought the film was just adequate. Not bad. Not great. Just ok. It’s a decent addition to the Batman ’66 canon and is more or less on a par with Return of the Caped Crusaders. I do wish it was funnier and more accurately reflected the style of the sixties TV show, but I appreciate the strong vocal performances and interesting new take on the title villain. If you’re a fan of the Adam West Batman you’re going to see this film anyway, regardless of what I say about it. But even if you’re not a fan of West’s interpretation, I’d recommend this movie to any comic fans on the lookout for a solid Two-Face story. It doesn’t feel as fresh or as novel as Return of the Caped Crusaders, but it does offer more of the same for anyone who enjoyed that film.

Solid voice acting and an interesting villain make this an entertaining final entry in West’s Batman saga.

6½/10

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Feature written by
Silver Nemesis



Silver Nemesis is a writer and a lifelong fan of Batman comics, movies and TV shows.
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