Batman vs. Two-Face, 2017

Last year, the era of Batman ’66 was recreated in all of its kitschy splendor.  This year, the creative team that made that happen has doubled down on that, featuring an iconic Batman villain that never made an appearance on the original television series: Two-Face.

Back in the day, there was a script that was supposed to have introduced Two-Face to that series.  Written by sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison, “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” was never optioned, deemed too dark for the spirit of intent of the series.  Only recently has that original script made it to the public, in the form of a comic book.

Having read this for myself, I can say the producers made the right choice.  It’s a great story, and it captures Two-Face’s origin story faithfully, but it really did miss the point of what the TV series was doing.  Ellison is known for pushing boundaries, and he does it well.  This was a bridge too far, not for Ellison or for the character, but for the tone of the series.

It didn’t stop people from wondering what it would be like if Two-Face had made an appearance on that series, however.  Now it’s finally happened.  Batman vs. Two-Face has hit home video release with a story that actually does fit the spirit of original intent.  It’s no less tragic, but it is every bit as goofy as the classic series in all the right ways.  Once more Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprise their roles as Robin and Catwoman respectively, joined by Adam West in what would sadly be his final performance as the Bright Knight.

We even get a cameo by the last surviving member of the original cast, Lee Meriwether, completing the circle as well as it can be completed.

The only question remained, how would they translate Two-Face?  For starters, they went back to 1966 and found another popular leading man who is as infamous and as respected as Adam West for much the same reasons: Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner.

Whatever you think you expect from this performance… you get exactly that, and you get something completely different.  It’s *ahem* a two-fer as Shatner’s Harvey Dent is exactly what we expect from him, and his Two-Face is spot-on to that character, in stark contrast to both Shatner and Dent.  It’s nothing short of impressive, to be quite honest.  At times, you might even forget it’s Shatner, so immersive is the performance.

As with Return of the Caped Crusaders, look for all of the Easter eggs.  Look for the shameless gifts of nostalgia.  Look for the winks and nods that made the original what it was.  But don’t look for lightning in a bottle.  This one has a very different edge to it, which in a way captures on some level what Harlan Ellison wanted to bring to the table.  It works.  It works very well.  But it somehow feels like it’s missing something too.  That feeling is what happens when they push the modernization just a hair too far.  I don’t have a problem with what they did or why, I only know where it feels different because of it.

Also as before, the music is spot-on with what is accomplished on screen.  Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuiston, and Lolita Romanis rework Neal Hefti’s original music into something that just elevates it a notch.  It captures the original feel, modernizes it just enough, and contributes to that dark spin where needed to characterize Two-Face.

I watched this film back-to-back with its predecessor, Return of the Caped Crusaders.  Combined with my knowledge and enthusiasm for the original TV series, watching these films together really puts into perspective what reignites the nostalgia and what is pushed forward.  I applaud the effort here.  It’s not quite up to the same standard as Return in some regard, but it is very much worth the watch.  It’s a very different kind of fun when compared to the first, and it stands on its own as much as works as a companion piece.  Most importantly, it’s a worthy send-off for Adam West.  I can see no better way to honor the man.

4 stars

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