Batman Mask of the Phantasm

 

  • Title: Batman Mask of the Phantasm
  • Directors: Eric Radomski, Bruce W. Timm
  • Voice Direction: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 1993
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Mystery, Action, Animation
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Dana Delany, Mark Hamill, Stacy Keach Jr., Abe Vigoda, Bob Hastings,
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • Length: 76 Minutes
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, Double-sided Standard/Widescreen

“I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy. Please, tell me it’s OK.’ ” Bruce Wayne to his parents’ grave

“The way I see it, the only one in this room controlled by his parents is you.” Andrea Beaumont to Batman

The first in a series of animated movies that followed the very successful DC Animated Universe on WB and it’s associated networks (Cartoon Network, Boomerang), Batman Mask of the Phantasm is a promising start. The film opens with wonderful art deco titles, and quickly moves into the plot: someone is killing top gangsters in Gotham City, and a new congressman assumes it’s Batman and makes him Public Enemy # 1. Meanwhile, an old girlfriend of Bruce’s — Andrea Beaumont, has returned to town.

Much of the film is flashbacks to their blossoming relationship, from their first meeting in a graveyard – Bruce, visiting his parents, overhears Andrea talking to her (dead) mother – to their courtship, and Bruce eventually proposing (a proposal quickly shattered by the emergence of a huge number of bats from a nearby cave). Bruce even decides that he would put aside the cape and cowl, and his mission, to be with Andrea. However, she sends his ring back the next day, and Bruce adapts the Bat as his symbol. He’d been working on a costume, something to scare criminals, but hadn’t quite gotten it perfected yet at that point in time.

In the present, Batman is trying to discover who is killing off these old gangsters, a crime being pinned on him no less. Gradually he discovers all the gangsters were clients of Andrea’s father (some sort of accountant or investment banker, it’s not really spelled out), however, he assumes it’s Andrea’s father responsible for the crimes.

The Joker shows up, voiced by Mark Hamill, as he was in Batman: The Animated Series, to wreak havoc. The “Phantasm” (not actually named as such in the film) confronts Joker, the last one involved in Beaumont’s forced exile from Gotham and eventual death, only to be unmasked – it’s Andrea. Batman arrives, and fights Joker in the now decrepit World’s Fair grounds, which, ironically, were dedicated to portraying a brighter future. Batman and Joker fight in the 1/3rd scale “city” appearing like Godzilla and King Kong – Joker even sends a group of toy airplanes after Batman. But Joker has an ace up his sleeve — he’s rigged the entire place to explode. Batman is able to stop Andrea from killing the Joker, and escapes himself, but fears Andrea is dead (she’s not, we see her leaving Gotham by boat, but she’s not talking either).

This film had the producers of Batman: The Animated Series experimenting with a longer format for the first time. Aspects do work — there’s some great filming, and the plot is nice and complex with enough twists and turns for just over an hour. There’s one scene where Batman, having chased the “Phantasm” ends up in a graveyard — he suddenly realizes he’s in the graveyard where his parents are buried. And there is a wonderful shot of Batman looking at the Wayne grave, and we see the shadow of Batman’s outline fall on the grave. It’s a shot worthy of Citizen Kane in all the complexity of what it suggests: about Bruce, about Thomas and Martha Wayne, about the effects one act of violence had on a life. And Andrea too was affected – the night Bruce proposes to her, her father announces they have to go on the run – the mob wants money from him, money he doesn’t have. Both Bruce and Andrea are robbed of any chance of being happy. But the Bruce/Andrea romance is also, in a way, the downfall of the story. Bruce in love just doesn’t work the way, say Clark Kent’s romance with Lois Lane’s does. Or even Bruce’s occasional flirting with Wonder Woman does (see Justice League and Justice League Unlimited). Bruce may flirt, he deliberately brings “eye candy” to his social functions, but he’s way too dedicated to his night job to get serious with any woman.

And, oddly enough, though well played by Mark Hamill, Joker seems almost like an after-thought to the film. He’s not orchestrating events at all, but merely reacting to them. This makes him seem oddly under-used, though there are some great moments with the Joker anyway.

And, finally, for a mystery, the film ends with a giant plot-hole. We know the “Phantasm” killed the mobsters, and that “he” is a “she”— Andrea Beaumont. Bruce knows this as well, and thinks she’s dead at the end of the film. But the cops don’t know that. Just how was Batman planning on convincing them? When they’d chased him all over Gotham City trying to kill him?

But, overall, a good try – and successful enough for an additional string of DC Animated films to be made, most of which I have.

By the way, for the curious, the DC Animated Universe is: Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond, plus various movies. Don’t ask me to put them in order — I originally saw them widely out-of-order, tho’ I now own all on DVD but Superman.

Recommendation: For the serious Batman collector, a “should have”, but otherwise rent it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

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