Director – Rick Morales, Screenplay – Michael Jelenic & James Tucker, Producer – Michael Jelenic, Music – Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion & Lolita Ritmanis, Animation – Dr Movie (Directors – Jae-Ha Yu, Joung-Gil Lee, Seunghun Yu, Seungkyung Le, Young-Soo Kim & Youngee Shim). Production Company – Warner Bros. Animation.
Adam West (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Burt Ward (Robin/Dick Grayson), William Shatner (Two Face/Harvey Dent), Julie Newmar (Catwoman), Thomas Lennon (Chief O’Hara), Jeff Bergman (The Joker/Announcer), Lee Meriwether (Lucilee Diamond), Steve Weber (Alfred Pennyworth), Lynne Marie Stewart (Aunt Harriet), Jim Ward (Commissioner Gordon), William Salyers (The Penguin), Wally Wingert (The Riddler), Sirena Irwin (Dr Quinzel)
Batman and Robin are present at the test demonstration of the Evil Extractor invented by Dr Hugo Strange, which will remove the evil from the villains in Arkham Asylum. However, things go wrong and the machine explodes, showering District Attorney Harvey Dent with the collected evil, leaving him scarred down half his face. His mind split between good and evil, Harvey becomes the villain Two Face. Some months later, Harvey’s best friend Bruce Wayne has financed an operation to restore Harvey’s face. Harvey returns to the job but at the same time another Two Face appears to be conducting a diabolical crime spree around Gotham City. Two Face captures Batman and Robin and sets up an auction among the other villains offering up the prize of removing their masks to discover their identities.
Amid the plethora of Batman related product appearing in the last couple of years, one of the quirkiest surprises was Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016). This was an animated film that reunited the aging Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar from the Batman (1966-8) tv series, playing the roles they did in live-action fifty years earlier. Moreover, the film abandoned the dark and grim take on Batman that has dominated comics and movies since the 1980s and was made in a deliberate replication of the campy, unserious pop art tone of the 1960s series. It was both a homage to the 1960s series and a sly parody of it at the same time.
Batman vs. Two-Face is a sequel. Given that it was recorded just before Adam West’s death in June 2017, it is likely to be the last of these Retro Batman films, although Rick Morales and co have made noises about next making a film based around Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. West, Ward and Newmar are back, this time joined by Lee Meriwether who acted as Julie Newmar’s replacement when she was unavailable to reprise Catwoman in Batman (1966), the theatrical spinoff of the Batman tv series. (In a cute touch, she plays a psychologist that Newmar’s Catwoman knocks out and leaves inside her cell in the catsuit whereupon she shrugs and decides she likes wearing it). The voice cast is filled out with the actors who played the same parts in Return of the Caped Crusaders.
The main villain this time is Two Face, a fixture of Batman comics since 1942 and variously played on the big screen by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever (1995) and Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight (2008). Two Face has the distinction of being one villain who did not appear on the 1960s tv show, although apparently there was a script written by Harlan Ellison in which he did appear but this was never filmed. The film also introduces several other villains, including Hugo Strange and his assistant Dr Quinzel, who will of course become Harley Quinn, who never appeared in the 1960s tv series. On the other hand, the film does give time over to supporting villains such as King Tut and Bookworm that were created specifically for the 1960s tv series.
Batman vs. Two-Face is much in the same vein as Return of the Caped Crusaders was. There are all the campily ridiculous lines: Batman’s challenge to King Tut’s minions: “Surrender, you poor deluded fools, and throw yourself upon the mercy of the court” or Robin’s “Holy, Amelia Earhart, where do you hide a biplane?” Two Face with his motif based around Number 2 seems a natural for the 60s Batman milieu and William Shatner, who could easily have been cast as Two Face back in the original live-action show, has fun in the role.
On the other hand, Two Face’s origin is mangled – he does get his coin but his disfigured face and split personality is merely caused by an accidental leak from Hugo Strange’s Evil Extractor, which can also apparently be turned into a gas that gives Robin and a host of others split faces too. This comes in contrast to the comic-book origins of Two Face where Harvey Dent’s mind is split after he is scarred by acid thrown by a mob boss. The plot also confusingly starts with Two Face’s origin story then jumps forward to after his crime spree as a super-villain to have Harvey Dent given an operation to restore his face and proves doubly confusing when we then have another Two Face in operation around the city.
I enjoyed Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders but found Batman vs. Two-Face merely average. It seems more like watching a regular episode of the 1960s tv series rather than the slyly self-parodying asides that Caped Crusaders came with. There is not quite the same degree of cleverness this time. Indeed, I think it is more a case of a joke that was fresh and amusing the first time around that pales with the rehashing.