Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm
Directed by Eric Radomski, Bruce W. Timm
Written by Alan Burnett, Martin Pasko, Michael Reaves, Paul Dini
Voiced by Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, Stacy Keach
When Miss Andrea Beaumont returns to Gotham City after a ten-year absence, it throws Bruce Wayne’s world into upheaval. Bruce and Andrea were romantically involved just as Bruce was beginning his trial runs as a vigilante, and her presence brings back a flood of memories — both about the love that he lost and his earliest crime fighting adventures before he became the caped crusader. Bruce’s troubles become twofold, when a new masked entity in the city begins knocking off gangsters, and Batman takes the wrap.
Things go from bad to worse when an elderly crime boss turns to desperate measures and hires the Joker to kill Batman before he is murdered. Now, Batman must try to solve the mystery of the ghostly Phantasm while preventing anymore deaths, and at the same time subdue the psychotic antics of the Joker, who has taken up residence in the abandoned Worlds Fair exhibit. Meanwhile, as boy billionaire, Bruce must reconcile his feelings for Andrea.
Until Batman Begins hit theaters in 2005, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was arguably the best big-screen representation of the iconic superhero. Using the rabid popularity of Batman: The Animated Series as a springboard to launch what was originally planned as a direct-to-video feature into theaters during Christmas of 1993, Mask of the Phantasm captured the essence of Batman almost flawlessly. With the PG rating also came more wiggle room for the creators to deal with the dark themes surrounding the brooding billionaire, as well as more intense violence than was allowed for the television show including bloodshed and even death.
The story, which is split almost evenly between present day and flashbacks via Bruce’s memories, is incredibly well written and gives more depth to its characters than any “kids show” has a right to. The flashback sequences, which borrow elements from Frank Miller’s Year One storyline, focus on Bruce Wayne’s almost palpable pain as he walks the thin line between devoting his entire life to the darkness and begging to be released from the promise he made to his dead parents so long ago. It is also within these flashbacks that another possibility is examined for what the Joker was up to before he took his infamous bath in toxic waste.
The present day storyline sizzles with mystery and intrigue as Andrea’s storyline unravels into an intricate part of the mythos of Bruce Wayne, at least as far as the animated series is concerned. The character of the Phantasm, which is incidentally never named within the movie, is one of the scarier characters to grace the animated world of Batman. Based at least in appearance on The Reaper, a villain that appeared in the Year Two comic book storyline, the Phantasm glides across the screen through a shroud of smoke with a giant axe-like scythe attached to its arm and a voice that’ll make the hairs on the back of your next stand up. The climactic three-way battle between Batman, the Joker, and the Phantasm at the end of the movie is pure comic action that will have fans grinning ear-to-ear without the need for smiley gas!
With many of the creators of the animated series intimately involved with the creation of Mask of The Phantasm, including co-directors Eric Radomski and Bruce W. Timm and writers Alan Burnett and Paul Dini, the continuity from the small screen to the big screen is absolutely pitch perfect. The voice talent is also along for the ride, including Kevin Conroy as Batman (and who recently reprised the role in Batman: Gotham Knight) and of course Mark Hamill as The Joker, whose vocal performance goes absolutely ballistic. Dana Delany, who would later become the authoritative voice of Lois Lane in the Superman cartoon, brings Andrea Beaumont to life. Stacy Keach Jr is on hand as the Phantasm, while Abe Vigoda and Dick Miller step into the shoes of two hapless crime bosses.
With the heightened violence, implied sensuality, and rich storytelling that will undoubtedly be lost on the younger set that the film is supposedly geared toward, Mask of The Phantasm can easily be seen as a precursor to the modern trend of creating animated feature films that can be enjoyed on multiple levels depending on the maturity of the viewer. While kids will be excited for the action-packed sequences, older viewers will be engulfed in the morose tragedy of the story that is the Batman.