Warning - This review will contain spoilers.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of the best Batman stories ever told. Which is a big claim to make and one I used to be hesitant on. After all, Mask of the Phantasm lacks a lot of the iconic moments which Batman (1989), Batman Begins, The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, and [I could be here all day with examples so I'll stop now] are famous for.
Yet, it sticks with me.
My initial impression of the movie wasn't all that favorable. It didn't have the same staying power to me as even some episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. The origins of Two Face and Mister Freeze remain in my head years later. I wasn't overly impressed with the Phantasm and wondered why the first animated movie was focused on a new character.
But the story stuck with me.
It buried itself in my subconscious.
Now I love it.
|The Phantasm is a beautifully designed villain.|
On a basic level, Mask of the Phantasm is another retelling of Batman's origins but it stops to take a serious moment and ask, "Could Bruce Wayne have found some better way to channel his energies?" Usually, the answer is no. Batman would always be Batman and the world would be an objectively worse place if he didn't exist.
Mask of the Phantasm argues maybe not.
The story attacks not the idea of Bruce Wayne being a hero but that his crusade had to consume him utterly. Bruce Wayne and Andrea Beaumont are people who become so angry, they can't do anything with their lives but channel that anger. They're both heroic people and, together, they might actually have become heroes of a different stripe. Perhaps a new Thomas and Martha Wayne using their wealth to help the city prosper or helping in other ways. I like to think they'd become a duo like Black Canary and Green Arrow.
But we know history won't let them.
|Andrea and Bruce are cute in the way only two emotionally damaged comic book characters can be.|
I could try and discuss the movie's twist but it's not exactly a secret that Andrea Beaumont is the titular Phantasm. Any discussion of the movie's themes and story would be without purpose if you don't acknowledge this fact. It would easy to say that Andrea Beaumont is just a female Batman, albeit one who kills, but that is missing the point. Andrea is the only sort of woman who Bruce Wayne could fall in love with--one who understands his pain enough to appreciate it.
There's some genuinely classic moments in the film like when Bruce realizes he can't risk his life like so many police and firemen if he feels he's going to subject his love to the same pain he knows, like Bruce realizing he can't become Batman if he doesn't have the pain driving him forward, and Alfred's silent approval at the possibility Bruce's twenty-year-obsession is being defeated by the power of love.
|Andrea is one of my favorite action girls in the DCU.|
The animation in the movie is similar to that of the Batman animated series but smoother as well as crisper. Kevin Conroy could do Batman in his sleep even then but brings an amazing amount of emotion to the material. Dana Delany also succeeds in creating a tortured, fascinating performance with Andrea Beaumont. She's a actress who I love both as Andrea and later Lois Lane and could easily have carried her own superhero show. Mark Hamill, well, is Mark Hamill and allowed to give his most terrifying performance ever as the Joker.
|The Joker versus Andrea is a terrifying confrontation. Especially as Bruce is severely tempted just this ONE TIME to let him die.|
In a way, I'm tempted to say the Joker's presence wasn't necessary despite the fact thsi is probably Mark Hamill's best performance as him. We didn't need the Joker to get between Andrea and Bruce but I respect the artistic choice. Andrea isn't one of the many obsessive vigilantes out there like the Red Hood or Ra's Al Ghul's League. This is the sort of movie where the two leads might have been able to talk it out. Given this is a comic book movie, that simply will not do!
Also, it's a nice reminder Gotham City's criminals are not exactly helpless prey for someone who would cut them down like wheat. I also liked the fact they returned to the origin of the Joker as a gangster as I've never been too terribly fond of the idea of him as an innocent victim of Batman's.
|Alfred's reaction to Bruce's costume is probably the best moment in the film.|
In conclusion, Mask of the Phantasm is an outstandingly good movie which only gets better with re-watches. It is the height of the animated series and something with a lot of great personal moments. It's not exactly a fun movie but it's a great one.