Film Review: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
In 1993, Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm released Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, based on Batman: The Animated Series, which was based off of the DC character created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Starring Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Mark Hamill, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Robert Costanzo, Bob Hastings, Dick Miller, John P. Ryan, and Jeff Bennett, the film grossed $5.6 million at the box office. The film was nominated for the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature and spawned two direct to video sequels: Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman.
While Batman continues to wage war on the criminals of Gotham City, a new danger arises by the name of The Phantasm. A masked figure who has been killing off of Gotham’s high-profile mob bosses, they have a similar appearance to Batman and targets criminals like he does. As such, the police blame the Dark Knight for the killings, causing Batman to have to clear his name and stop the Phantasm.
Though not exactly presenting audiences with a threat that’s bigger than anything presented in the animated series, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is still a great film as it presents much higher stakes with characters dying and giving Batman a deeply personal matter with which to contend. To do so, the film delves into Bruce’s backstory and displays a romance he had that left him conflicted about whether or not to continue in his crime fighting as Andrea has given him happiness. However, her leaving him so suddenly destroyed Bruce’s happiness, allowing him to become Batman. Andrea eventually returns, but the one source of happiness that Bruce ever had following the death of his parents has become part of what he had sworn to end. It truly presents beautiful inner conflict in both the backstory portions as well as after Bruce finding out that Andrea is The Phantasm.
Though it’s not just inner conflict that’s at play in this film. It gives the audience a good foil to Bruce and Batman. The two characters aren’t so different, which is something that not only The Phantasm believes, but that Alfred does as well. At least to a point, considering that both characters are out for vengeance after their parents were killed. But that’s where the similarities end as Batman has his rule of no killing and The Phantasm has no qualms about doing so. Alfred masterfully points out the differences between the characters when he notes to Bruce that the soul is blackened by vengeance and that he has always feared Bruce as Batman would become the monsters he fights. Yet, Alfred also states that he toes that line every night, but has never crossed it like Andrea did.
The film also has some very well-done symbolism revolving around the amusement park that Andrea and Bruce go to in the flashbacks and where Joker is hiding out in the climax of the film. It’s called “World of the Future” and it’s a great metaphor for the future of Bruce and Gotham city. When he and Andrea are visiting in the past, it’s up and running, presenting a bright, hopeful, and idealistic vision of the future, coinciding nicely with the path Bruce and Andrea were on before she left. However, in the present day, the park is very run down. It’s decayed, dark, and quite cynical with Joker using it as a base. It shows how Bruce and Gotham have fallen, with the latter now having a thriving criminal underworld and the former having no hope or happiness for anything. Further, once Andrea shows and states how she fully intends to kill Joker, the dynamite under the park goes off and destroys it.
There’s also some good foreshadowing that happens throughout the film. For one, Bruce’s proposal is interrupted by a swarm of bats coming from the cave below them and there’s also the self-defense classes Andrea took, allowing her to take on Bruce. One very notable point of foreshadowing is how Joker is confronting Reeves in his office and drops hints that the two of them have plenty of knowledge about the Beaumonts. This is the scene where he finds out who The Phantasm is as he would know that The Phantasm isn’t her father, as Bruce suspects, because he killed him before becoming the Clown Prince of Crime.
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