Batman vs. Two-Face review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
As I fired up Batman vs. Two-Face, having a night before watched the previous Adam West-starring animated Batman movie, a nostalgic wave washed over me. Those old stinger words of the announcer stating that Batman would reappear at the same Bat-place, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel made so much more sense. There was a giddy vibe to jump back into the warm and cheesy 1960s swing of a much different Batman. A Batman that always had a solution in his belt, a convenient way out of a situation, and wise moral message to impart. One more outing with the more kid-friendly caped crusader gave me a smile and whimper for this being the last time seeing Adam West in the familiar role.
That depressing fact aside, the film slides comfortably back into the West-era Batman world with villains most odd and schemes most odd. Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) are overseeing a new demonstration of the machine invented by Doctor Hugo Strange. His device can extract all the evil out of villains into a concentrated gas. A goofy start, but stay with me here. Also overseeing the experiment is District Attorney Harvey Dent, voiced by a gentile William Shatner. If the name sounds familiar, you may know him better as the evil Two-Face. And that’s exactly who he becomes when the evil gas explodes out of the containment chamber and infects half his body. And now Shatner’s usually suave tongue turns foul with gravel.
One montage of crime later, Harvey has been reformed. He no longer has evil desires and his face loses that garish green of Hyde-like qualities. All is well. Or so it would seem. A crime wave has sprung across Gotham, all involving twos; biplanes, Gemini, etc. It sounds like the work of Two-Face. Or is it? Harvey has no memory of committing such deeds. Who could be behind such feats?
While this premise sets up a unique mystery for Batman to solve, it’s far from intricate and not very surprising of a climax for the grand reveal. But that’s okay considering the West era Batman wasn’t known for being stirring mysteries, favoring brain-twisters fit for the schoolyard. What makes the film work is its commitment to chipperness and heart in its cornball comforting ways. There are brilliant choices in staging for Batman’s battles, from a double-decker bus of goons to an oversized pool table of crushing billiards. One of the best scenes features a slew of Batman villains bidding for his fate on a set that looks like Laugh-In. There’s also plenty of villains stashed in the backgrounds that are fun to seek, as well as some cameos, the most notable being Doctor Quinzelle. Maybe one day she could become Harley Quinn.
Once again, the strongest aspect is the earnestness in its absurdity. Notice how West, Ward, and Shatner never wink very hard at the camera or smile at their own jokes. They have a commitment to make this material as innocent as it ever was, 60s warts and all. Even Julie Newmar plays up her role straight when a character as ridiculous as Catwoman could have gone pun-crazy. These choices make the film easy enough to enjoy as what could have easily been a two-parter from the original series, if not for the stellar animation.
While Batman vs. Two-Face offers more of the same from Return of the Caped Crusader, it’s more of a Batman that’s more comforting and charming in its own warped ways. Rather than have Adam West go out on a nothing role in Family Guy or some direct-to-video shlock, he leaves us with the Batman we’d all like to remember him as: compassionate, driven, lawful, moral, and an excellent dancer.