My Favorite Movies – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

15 Sep

By Tanner Smith

There are three Batman movies in particular that I hold in such high regard–and they’re all very different in style and tone, but neither of them is any less entertaining or powerful or thought-provoking. I love Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I love Tim Burton’s Batman, and I love Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which I’m going to talk about now.

I didn’t watch “Batman: The Animated Series” as a kid–I was in college when I watched the first season on DVD and I was enthralled by the gritty atmosphere and adult themes and complex ideas that made for the very best episodes. To my pleasant surprise, this was not just a show for kids–in fact, I’d even say it treated kids as if they were adults. And my first time watching the cinematic spinoff, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” which I had bought soon after watching my first episodes of the show, was like watching a fully-realized three-part episode crafted by the show’s best writers (and a bigger budget as well).

There’s a reason “Mask of the Phantasm” has grown a following over time and is even hailed by some as THE best Batman movie of all time: because it is really freaking good.

It was so good that when Siskel and Ebert missed seeing it in theaters, they dedicated a spot to it on a much later show, after they had finally caught it on laserdisc. They thought it was so good that it was worth talking about regardless. Better late than never. I agree with their review, except for one major point: Mark Hamill as The Joker. “I don’t like this Joker’s voice,” Siskel admitted.

I disagree–I always thought Mark Hamill was one of the best Jokers in Batman entertainment. As a maniacal clown, he was both twisted and funny at the same time; he’s like Pennywise fully realized. And I like him in this movie too, especially in his final moments where he’s at his craziest.

So what is it about “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” that everyone including myself loves? Well, for one thing, it’s short (77 minutes, including credits)–that means every single frame of animation counts. Nothing in the story is wasted.

Speaking of which, the story is great. It delves more into Bruce Wayne’s past and how he could’ve had a normal life with the right woman before becoming Batman. It also gives us a compelling mystery with another masked vigilante who is mistaken for Batman, whose name is now sullied as a killer. The more we learn, the more interesting the mystery becomes. (Also, if you look up who does the voice for the Phantasm, it leaves a pretty good clue as to who’s behind it all.)

And yeah, people die in this PG-rated action-thriller–the sight of a smiling corpse (one of Joker’s victims) that the Phantasm finds always gives me a jolt each time I see it! If I had seen that as a kid, WHOA!

My favorite scene: a flashback scene in which Bruce Wayne ultimately becomes Batman and dons the infamous mask. Alfred reacts, “My God!” The music, the shadows, the sheer delivery of that one line from a man who’s raised Bruce all his life and now seeing him become a terrifying figure–it’s all so great!

I’m glad I caught this movie when I did. And I’ll talk about “The Dark Knight” and “Batman” at some point in the future too.

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