Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

17 Feb

Batman Mask of the Phantasm phantasm

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” was the only theatrical release based on the animated series of “Batman” (entitled “Batman: The Animated Series”). The series was dark and complex, which is what also could be said about this movie. It’s strange and very intriguing in the way that this movie (and the series) was able to strike the right notes for kids and adults. But “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” is a gripping thriller that both would enjoy.

Actually, I just realized what is special about both this movie and the series—it treated the kids like adults!

“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” digs deeper into Bruce Wayne’s past, as we discover that he almost had a normal life before becoming the Dark Knight himself. This is brought back to him by the arrival of an old flame, Andrea Beaumont, with whom he restarts a romance. At the same time, there’s a new villain in town—a mysterious vigilante who is killing off Gotham City’s crime bosses. This villain, who can appear and disappear with a puff of smoke, is called the Phantasm and is also mistaken for Batman. So while trying to deal with his life as Bruce Wayne, Batman is also on the run and out to clear his name.

The animated series was mostly known for its Gothic stories and character development, as hard choices and haunting memories come into place. Such is the case here. The flashback sequence in which we see events that lead to Bruce Wayne becoming Batman is very well-handled and quite complicated. It shows the fantasies of what might or should be, and then reality takes its toll in a harsh way that leads to tough decisions that ultimately must be made.

The new villain, the Phantasm, is a welcome addition. With a dark cloak, glowing eyes, a mask that also alters voice, and a lot of smoke to fool during encounters, the Phantasm is one tough customer. As the story progresses, there is more to be told about the Phantasm’s story, and during the film’s harrowing final act, that story comes full-circle in a way I wouldn’t dare give away. The Phantasm isn’t the only villain, however. We’re also fortunate enough to have the Joker, slimy as ever. And the scheme that these villains follow through with is surprisingly well-put into detail. Maybe I wasn’t too enthralled by evil schemes in some of the live-action Batman movies, but this one was quite intriguing.

The climactic final act is phenomenal. It’s not just because of the crafty animation style that makes it worth watching; it’s everything that has been set up before, and is now paying off. I love action-thrillers in which the climax really means something after all that’s happened before.

It’s a shame that this animated Batman movie was a box-office bomb. (Reportedly, this had to do with Warner Bros.’ inept marketing campaign.) It has since gained a cult following on home media release, and for good reason. It’s a pretty strong film. Even Siskel & Ebert, in 1995 (the year “Batman Forever” was released), admitted that they regretted missing this film in the theater, saying they enjoyed it more that “the current Batman adventure.” Much like the animated series this was based on, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” is intelligent, spectacularly-drawn, and quite dark and intricate.

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