REVIEW: Batman vs. Two-Face
You can’t help but watch the just-released Batman vs. Two-Face with a tear in your eye and weight in your heart. Adam West’s final performance was thankfully completed well before his untimely death in June. He goes out with some fine tributes but it’s a shame the concluding chapter of his Batman career is such a mess of a story.
For whatever reason, ABC and 20th Century-Fox chose not to use Two-Face, perhaps fearing he was too gruesome for 7:30 p.m. viewing. That’s a shame since the Harlan Ellison treatment for a two-parter, had some promise. The tortured psyche of District Attorney Harvey Dent makes for a wonderful examination of mankind’s duality and the obsession with the number two fits in with the rest of the rogues’ gallery. For whatever reason, the screenwriters eschewed the comic origins in favor of something hewing closer to Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde (appropriately name-checked here).
There are storytelling lapses in logic that one could argue is in keeping with the rushed pace of producing the original story but for a sustained, feature-length story, you need a far stronger premise. We have Prof. Hugo Strange (Jim Ward) making his debut, demonstrating he has figured out how to extract “evil” from Batman’s foes. To test it, some genius has allowed him to experiment on five of the most dangerous foes rather than one, so yes it works, but so much evil has been extracted that the machine predictably explodes. And so Two-Face is born.
The rest of the story presents an opportunity to showcase large numbers of familiar felons in a wrong-headed bit of fan service (we got them last time so this feels repetitive) while creating an oddly dissatisfying subplot of Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) actually feeling jealous of Bruce Wayne (West) having an adult male friendship with Dent (William Shatner); something to feed the homosexual theories that have existed between the duo since Fredric Wertham first raised the issue in the 1950s. Thankfully, we have the welcome dalliance between Batman and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) early in the story to cement the notion that Bruce is straight. His opening scene of reciting poetry to her from outside her prison cell is one of the most romantic elements in the series.
Given the pedigree shared by writers James Tucker and Michael Jelenic, I expected a tighter story. There’s a lot of fighting, wheel-spinning, and effort to wink at the fans to prolong the story of Two-Face’s efforts to rule Gotham, especially after he unmasks Batman, and Dent’s struggle to retain his humanity. We get a nice focus on King Tut (Wally Wingert) and his own duality issues while little used villain Bookworm (Jeff Bergman) makes for a nice red herring. There is also the introduction of Dr. Quinzel (Sirena Irwin) which is tonally wrong and out of place.
Director Rick Morales does a serviceable job but may have allowed too many inside jokes, marring the actual pathos of the story. That said, of the various puns and jokes, the best may be that Dent is treated after the initial explosion at the Sisters of Perpetual Irony Hospital.
While West, Ward, and Newmar are welcome familiar voices, Shatner surprises with a nuanced performance as Dent/Two-Face. What could have been over-the-top, even for this series, actually helps ground the character’s torment. They are all well-supported by an able vocal cast.
Visually, the designs for Batman/Wayne and Robin/Grayson are less effective than the previous feature. In some angles, Robin actually looks aged and too often, neither look like their live-action counterparts. Thankfully, the animators literally copied Filmation’s Captain Kirk poses so Shatner is recognizable as his 1966 self and his Two-Face is appropriately creepy.
The Blu-ray combo pack comes with the Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD code. The Special Features open with “The Wonderful World of Burt Ward” (14:30), a look at the actor’s career and half-century relationship with West. The actor is remember during the Adam West Tribute Panel from Comic-Con International 2017 (39:30), where radio personality Ralph Garman, director Kevin Smith, producer James Tucker, actress Lee Meriwether, and moderator Gary Miereanu talk about the man’s influence over generations; “Burt Ward on Being Starstruck” (2:00); “Burt Ward on Ambition” (1:00); and “Julie Newmar on Inspiration” (2:00). Look for a 30-second Easter Egg which is fun, but obvious.: bAT