This past summer, we lost Adam West.
Known primarily for his iconic role as Batman in the 1960’s, and the oddball Mayor West of Family Guy, the 88 year old actor gave us a reprise to his Batman role in the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, alongside Burt Ward (Robin), and Julie Newmar (Catwoman). I loved the film, especially coming freshly off the abysmal interpretation of The Killing Joke (another one of my favorite Batman stories that was burdened by unnecessary filler and unsatisfying character arcs). Return of the Caped Crusaders was bright, playful, and a fun palette cleanser.
I was thrilled to hear that a sequel was so quickly greenlit, and even moreso that the introduction of Two-Face into this universe would be played by none other than William Shatner himself.
So again, we are thrown back into the 1960’s world of Batman, with the heroes spouting squeaky-clean morals and plot devices that could not exist anywhere else but here. In this case, Dr. Hugo Strange introduces an invention that is designed to extract the evil from Batman’s greatest foes. Their evil is too much, however, and a toxic gas escapes the machine, scarring the left half of district Attorney Havey Dent’s face, creating the villainous Two-Face.
The intro credits highlights numerous battles that the Dynamic Duo goes through in fighting their dual-visaged villain, and then starts with a seemingly rehabilitated Harvey Dent once more…. Or is he?
It’s a unique introduction to the Two-Face origin story as he was planned, but never used for the original show. Harvey Dent is a perfect recreation of 1960’s Kirk-era William Shatner, and Shatner gleefully chews the scenery right alongside Adam West. The dialogue is so perfectly deadpan and silly that I laughed more than a few times.
And yet, Two-Face is a more dangerous villain than most of Batman’s usual rogue’s gallery. He is violent, and deranged, often at odds with himself, and always beholden to the whims of his two-headed coin. While more aggressive than the standard Bat-Nemesis, he fits into the show’s tone very well.
Whereas Return of the Caped Crusaders focused on Joker, Penguin, and Riddler as the main villains, this film gives lower tier villains King Tut and Bookworm their time to shine. The mystery of how Two-Face is back despite a “cured” Dent reminded me of the sub-plot of The Dark Knight Returns, and touches on that same theme.
As with the previous film, Batman Vs. Two-Face is a love letter to all things Batman. There are a ton of fan references, meme nods, and other “blink and you’ll miss” references (always read the signage in the background) that keep the viewer’s attention.
Burt Ward still does a great Robin. Both Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether get in on the Catwoman fun. And then of course, Adam West. He sounds older, but he still delivers each line straight and with sincerity. His mission this time is a personal one, built on faith and hope that his friend Harvey Dent can ultimately be redeemed.
West completed his lines before his passing, so I doubt anything was significantly changed between then and this film’s release, but there are moments toward the end that he plays so heroically and warmly, the feeling of loss did start to set in. Until the very end, I has been so wrapped up in the story that I had been unaware that tears had been silently streaming down my cheeks during those final scenes. I grew up with this Batman every day after school, and he was “my Batman” well before Michael Keaton donned the cowl. Four months after his passing, we get to see him one last time in action, a moment where the character outlives the actor.
For the Bright Knight’s final journey, Batman Vs. Two-Face is a fitting one, and the credits end on a note that summarizes his role: Vigorously dancing away with his friends without a seeming care in the world.
And that’s how I’ll choose to remember him.
Rest well, Bright Knight.