BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM
has one of the best scenes in any
Bat-film -- live-action or animated. We are shown the young Bruce Wayne suiting up as The Batman for the first time. You see him as a shadow, attiring himself in his crime fighting garb. But that’s not the part that makes the scene great -- it is Alfred’s reaction upon seeing Bruce for the first time as The Batman: a combination of shock and fear.
B:MOTP was the first full-length, animated Batman film. It was set in the animated Bat-universe of the 1990s created by the team of Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, and Bruce Timm. It was written by Burnett, Dini, Michael Reaves, and Martin Pasko. It was directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm. Like the animated television series, Kevin Conroy voiced The Dark Knight, and most of the voice actors reprised their roles (such as Mark Hamill as The Joker). It was intended to be a direct-to-video release, but premiered in theaters on December 25, 1993.
I never saw MOTP in theaters. I remember when it came out, thought about going, but for some reason I didn’t. I don’t recall why, but I do remember that the theater run didn’t last long. However, it became available rather quickly on home video (In April of 1994), so I picked up a VHS copy upon release.
At the time, the 1989 live-action BATMAN directed by Tim Burton was the best Bat-film to date. A year and a half earlier, I had been tremendously disappointed in its follow-up sequel, BATMAN RETURNS. When I first watched MOTP I was sort of surprised how good it was. Not that I thought it was going to be poor -- I watched the television show and was a fan of it. However, this animated film was not only better than the live-action RETURNS, I thought it was better than BATMAN. And this was something at the time I did not want to admit.
MOTP is the story of an established Batman on the hunt for a new Gotham vigilante called The Phantasm. The Phantasm is methodically chasing down and taking out the mob bosses of Gotham City -- permanently. The Batman is blamed for the executions, so he’s got the Gotham PD chasing him and making the job of taking down this murderous vigilante more difficult.
The character of The Phantasm seems to be based on a character from the comic books called The Reaper. In fact, MOTP has elements of the comic book BATMAN: YEAR TWO; although the overall story is quite different.
The other plot of MOTP is told in “flashbacks.” It is the story of young Bruce Wayne, pre Batman, caught in a crisis. Should he continue his “mission,” that will soon lead to him becoming The Batman? Or should he follow his heart? Bruce Wayne has fallen in love with the beautiful Andrea Beaumont, has asked her to marry him, and she has accepted.
Of course his engagement and upcoming marriage will complicate his war on crime, so Bruce decides that he has to choose. I won’t tell you his decision, but I will quote Bruce addressing his deceased parents at their grave. “I didn’t count on being happy,” he tells them.
Yet, as well all know, The Batman in ultimately born and Bruce does begin “The Mission.”
The story continues in the present day with the aforementioned mob murders taking place and the return of Andrea Beaumont to Gotham. Also in the mix is The Joker, who we learn was once a mob hitman, in the days before his skin turned white and his hair green. It seems that The Crown Prince of Crime is a target of The Phantasm as well -- and in fact may hold the key to The Phantasm’s motive.
The finale takes place at The Joker’s hideout -- the abandoned site of the Gotham World’s Fair. We then learn who The Phantasm is and why he is doing, well, what he has been doing in Gotham. While things come to a conclusion, the ending certainly isn’t a happy one.
But a great and expected ending for a BATMAN film.
I absolutely love this film. Before I began writing this review/retrospective, I almost forgot how good it actually is. It had been years since I watched it -- my daughter had poured orange juice on my tape when she was about 3 or 4. She is almost eleven now, so that should tell you how long it had been!
It is virtually unanimous among Batman fans that the creative team of Dini, Timm, and Burnett “get” what The Batman and his world is all about. That is more than evident in their MOTP. In fact, the animated Bat-films -- MOTP, BATMAN: SUBZERO, and BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER all surpass the final three Burton/Schumacher BATMAN pictures in quality. Not once in any of those films was The Batman a joke. Never too macabre, weird, or over-the-top campy.
It is almost a damn shame that animated films -- aimed at kids -- were of better quality than the live-action films during that era. And that is meant as a compliment to the creative teams behind those animated pictures.
I am giving BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM a grade of A-, and consider it the second best of all the BATMAN films -- live-action or animated. It is a must have for all fans of The Dark Knight.
Just go watch that one scene that I described in the beginning and tell me otherwise.