Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Mark Hamill
Directed By: Boyd Kirkland
[Originally written on June 30, 2005]
The film maintains the “dark deco” direction and style of TAS under the direction of Eric Radomski and Bruce W. Timm and the writing of Alan Burnett and Paul Dini (all of whom worked on TAS), and features the same voices talents as the show, including Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Efrem Zimbalist Jr as Alfred, Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Robert Constanzo as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Mark Hamill as The Joker. Basically, the movie takes all the best elements of the series, and puts it together as a longer episode. Except that if it were an episode, it never would have made it past the censors. Also, it’d be the best episode in the history of the show.
As a theatrically-released movie with a 76 minute running time, Mask of the Phantasm had license to do things the Saturday afternoon cartoon show could not do. It’s a darker, more mature look at Batman than the series could be, receiving a PG rating. It’s no Sin City or Heavy Metal, but is more intense than usual, showing murder, blood, and allusions to sex that could never be shown on the show. Which is not to say that it’s an adult film, because it’s not. It’s still an animated movie about a super-hero, and is still primarily for kids (albeit, older kids). It just means that Mask of the Phantasm is closer to the comic book than the series is allowed to be.
In terms of story, Mask of the Phantasm is a mystery movie, as a new vigilante, who bears similarities to Batman, comes to Gotham and begins executing mob bosses. Batman must figure out who this new vigilante is to end the Phantasm’s rampage, while Batman himself is being accused of the crimes. Meanwhile, a former love is back in Gotham (voiced by Dana Delany), drudging up painful memories for Bruce Wayne of the one who got away. While dealing with the Phantasm, his long-lost love, and Gotham Police, Batman also has to deal with The Joker, who is somehow involved in everything.
The movie is an excellent combination of action and suspense, and until the release of Batman Begins, was easily the best Batman film ever (but it now must place second). Strangely, since it is a cartoon, this film has the most convincing and realistic love story in Batman movie history (although, to be fair, there’s no real competition in that area, as all the other love stories in Batman movies have been rushed and unconvincing). Comic book fans will geek out over the Year One like flashbacks featuring a non-costumed young Bruce Wayne attempting to fight crime, and the appearance of the Phantasm, who, with a cape, spectre-like mask, and scythe, bears a strong resemblance to Year Two‘s murderous vigilante The Reaper, only less gay looking.
Personally, I absolutely loved this movie. However, it’s not a movie for everyone. If you’re not already a fan of Batman or Batman: The Animated Series, then I don’t think this movie would have much of interest for you. But if you are a fan of the series or the character, then I highly recommend you check this film out.