BATMAN MASK OF THE PHANTASM, 1993
Directed by Eric Radomski & Bruce W. Timm
Voices by: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dana Delaney, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigota
Review by Andrew Kosarko
A villainous killer known as the Mask of the Phantasm has been systematically eliminating nefarious criminals in Gotham City. Since police and gangsters alike have credited Batman with the murders, he'll have to discover the identity of the Mask to clear his own good crime-fighting name.
Released in 1993 as an animated feature film for theatres, this movie didn’t get the audience it deserved. Fanboys were not the crazy marketing pushers like they are today. And it’s a shame. If any movie in the Superhero genre was “ahead of it’s time” it’s this one. At the point of release, I was around 8 years old. I wanted to see Batman, not Bruce Wayne, but Batman, fighting bad guys and……well, that’s about it. Instead, There’s this mushy love story and Batman doesn’t really do much for the first little bit of the movie. Plain and simple; it was boring. Now in retrospect, I was a dumb kid. And although this is an animated film, it’s certainly not aimed for the “younger kids.” Most likely the teens and young adults. Which is where I was when I discovered how awesome this movie is. It’s Batman begins…before Batman Batman begins.
The Story: First of all, kids will get thrown off because of the non-linear storytelling. There are tons of and long flash back sequences chronicling Bruce Wayne’s training to become Batman and his relationship with Andrea Beaumont. Furthermore there’s even an origin of the Joker mixed in as well. As a kid I was bored out of my mind watching Bruce Wayne fight a street gang, but now I realize how awesome it is and how well it’s handled by Bruce Timm and company. Even while the origin is unfolding, the film is moving forward with Batman being unintentionally framed by a Darth Vader-esque villain dubbed, “The Phantasm”. A ghost-like figure who is picking off the Gotham Mobsters one by one. Meanwhile, Bruce’s former flame has come back into town, adding distractions to his investigation. Once Batman starts putting the pieces of the puzzle together, he comes to realize the Joker, a former mobster, is targeted by the Phantasm as well. Batman? He saves everybody, even the Joker. The first film to “get Batman right.”
Acting: Nothing can be criticized about Kevin Conroy’s voice portrayl of Batman. Nor can anyone criticize Mark Hamill’s Joker. Of all time performances of those characters, Conroy and Hamill are second only to Bale and Ledger. And that’s saying something. Some fanboys even go so far to say that they’re better. But I give the live action the edge because of the extra focus they put in. The supporting cast really does a fantastic job as well. Voice acting takes a different mindset as so much more emotion has to come out of your voice and delivery is everything. Stacy Keach takes the cake as Phantasm and does a very great at created a haunting persona.
Cinematography: Obviously shot on film from animated cells, my one complaint is that it appears not much was done to “clean up” the film. I understand the city is supposed to be grimy and gritty, but the film cells are noticeably dirty throughout the film. Whether it’s intentional or not, it was a distraction that is unnecessary and hopefully steps will be taken in the future to clean up the film on it’s special edition release.
Production Design: Can’t really nitpick this, but to say the artistic drawings are well suited for the world of Batman and Gotham. The technology is shiny and new and provides a nice contrast to the 1930’s noir look that the city and the villains utilize.
Editing: Well done. The pacing is the only thing that can be judged in this case and the movie never really gets boring, unless you’re an 8 year old who has no clue what’s going on.
Score: One of the most powerful aspects of the film. And the greatest part is the chorus singing throughout is actually singing the film makers names backwards. Shirley walker does a great job of paying homage to Danny Elfman’s iconic Batman theme while still creating her own unique style for the film and keeping the music emotionally tied into the story.
In closing: This is the greatest Superhero animated film of all time. Some may argue that Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is better, but I personally love this film. Nothing animated or even live action has ever topped the awesomeness of Bruce dawning the Batman cowl for the first time in his life. If there’s one reason to see this movie, that’s it. Please believe my fanboy bias is not interfering here. You will enjoy this film. And that’s my only problem with it. Animated films were originally intended for children. And while I respect that medium and love that it can now be aimed towards adults as well, I think it’s unfair that kids don’t have a lot of “Batman” movies for them. They’re more serious and plot driven for teens and adults. But the fact that the entire animated series that spawned this film is now available on DVD set and that “The Batman” (which I personally loathe but to each their own) can still give the kiddy Bat-fans something to chew on. Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski made the film that Batman fans had wanted for so long. No one knew Batman Begins would come along and knock this film off the top spot (yes, even beating out Batman 1989). And at times…..this movie finds a special place in my heart all over again and retakes the top spot of all time greatest Batman films in any medium.