Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Retrospective Review
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was released in 1993 and now has been released on Blu-ray so I thought I'd rewatch it and give you my review on it. There are minor SPOILERS in this review so I highly recommend that you watch this film first then come back and read my review. You have been warned.
It is an animated neo-noir superhero mystery film and is directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm. The film was written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko and Michael Reaves and stars the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. This film gives us an origin story that we have never seen before. I do think it is the best representation of Batman that has ever been released in theatres. Yes, better than The Dark Knight and the 1989 Batman and here's why:
The Story/The Direction:
This film was released after the hype of Batman: The Animated Series and begins with a mysterious villain, the Phantasm, coming into Gotham and killing off gangsters. People think it's Batman (Conroy) because he disappear and from a distance looks similar. Batman then has to clear his name from the police by tracking down this Phantasm. In addition, a woman, Andrea Beaumont, from Bruce's past comes back into town. You find out she was his first love after losing his parents. This new romance shows how he is tortured between trying to be happy and living his life as Batman. This was touched on in The Dark Knight but not to this extent. Here, you see a more humanistic Bruce Wayne not one just following his love around. As with all tragic dramas, this romance does not end well and thus Bruce becomes the Batman that we know. On top of all of that the head monster hires the Joker (Hamill) to take out the person behind the gangster murders. So now Batman had tofight off the Phantasm, the Joker, and the police.
What makes this film different than the Christopher Nolan films is that it looks at the psyche of Bruce Wayne. The Nolan films mostly looks at Batman and his nemeses, which is fine in its own right. The Dark Knight slightly touches on Bruce's psyche but this film fully shows it. The animation looks on par with a lot of other hand drawn films at the time. I will say the Blu-ray copy is a whole lot better than my DVD copy and also my VHS copy I had as a kid. There are some scenes that you can really tell where they made their HD upgrade. The character designs, backgrounds, and lighting have always been strong even on the older versions. You can see the effort that the designers put into the film. The musical score in this film is superb. Danny Elfman, who worked on the '89 Batman film, created the original TV show theme while Shirley Walker did the rest of the show. Here, she expands on her work and makes it more epic. The choir that she adds gives Batman a Gothic feel that honestly hasn't really been shown before or after. When Bruce first puts on the Batman cowl, the music works in a way to scare you but also amaze you even without actually seeing Bruce with it on. Another scene that Walker's music adds to is in the climax.
To set the scene, everyone is beaten down to a pulp, explosions are going off all around, and Walker's Gothic music brings together one of the best Joker laughs by Hamill and potentially one of the best by the character itself. You put this story with it's music and you get a great film. This film is also fairly violent for a PG animated film. There are plenty of intense killings and bloody scenes. But the violence and blood add to the scenes that make you feel each punch or kick. There's one scene where Batman is being chased by the cops and he is beaten to a pulp. You see the blood dripping from his mouth that really shows how human he really is. He is then blown back after a grenade launcher is shot at him and his vision becomes impaired. You see that Batman is not a superhero like Superman or Wonder Woman who have powers and he really is only a man in a cowl. There are also a good amount of scary moments as there should be with a Batman film, some that still creeps me out to this day.
Again what makes this film amazing is how it looks into the psyche of Bruce Wayne. We all know the story of how young Bruce going to the theatre with his parents and on their way home, his parents are killed in front of him. You don't see this on screen but the groundwork is there for any new viewer to understand what happened. Bruce as we know him has always been miserable. But this film brings up the idea of what if he was happy? What if he fell in love? What if there was someone who could change his mind about keeping justice? Again, Nolan's Batman films touched on this but Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal) was never really that type of character Bruce's parents being killed has been known to really affect him in a way that has never been explored. This film shows him feeling guilty and even asking his dead parents for forgiveness for finding happiness.
This is something that has never been recreated with the Batman character. This is derived from the great script that is able to tell us a complex, tortured Batman in a new and unusual way in only 76 minutes. It goes without saying that Conroy and Hamill do amazing jobs in their respective roles. In addition to the main character, you have a great supporting characters, new and old. It allows for people that aren't too familiar with the original series to still be attached the characters.
The Phantasm is great and mysterious that became so iconic after this that it became essential to the Batman mythos continuing into the Justice League and Batman Beyond TV shows. This character was created especially for this film so going in you know nothing about it. This film also brings in politics like The Dark Knight did because Gotham doesn't know how to deal with Batman. Is he a hero, or vigilante who needs to be stopped?
Here steps in Arthur Reeves who is corrupt but is trying to work for the greater good of Gotham. While not exactly like The Dark Knight, it's interesting to see the same concepts 15 years prior. Last and certainly not least, we have Andrea. She is Bruce's first love but she is not just a romantic interest for Bruce. She has her own back story and independence. She is strong and perhaps lays down one of the worst burns on Batman ever stated:
She is great and a wonderful new character added to the Batman mythos.
One of the flaws with this film is that it's not a complicated film. It's a typical mystery story with Batman as the main protagonist. It's as dark and brooding as Batman but not as adult as The Dark Knight. This can make it potentially forgetable to a newcomer especially for ones coming from the Nolan series. This personally never really bothered me too much because I saw this for the first time years ago and I loved it now just as much as then. However, I will say I think that The Dark Knight is a more enjoyable because of the realism it had but not perfect.
However, even this minor flaw can be defended by what it does well. It looks at who the Batman/Bruce Wayne character is in the truest sense: a very conflicted man. The other renditions were only the respective director's interpretation of the character. This film is a comic book film to the tee as it has everything from drama to comedy to great music and great characters. It has plenty of child aspects but also a good amount of serious themes for adults. While it may be too late to see it in theatres, I'd definately pick up a copy to watch or rewatch.
Rating: 4.5/5.0 bowties
What did you all think of the film? Let me know in the comments section.
Thanks for reading!