Thursday, September 6, 2012

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)

Directors: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm

With the rampant success of the Batman films to this point of time (that would be the two Tim Burton ones for those curious) and the massive success of the animated series that was playing on Fox, it only made sense for the box office to get a taste of what the 90s animated series was pumping out. That endeavor of love and fan worship would be "Mask Of The Phantasm", a stellar version of Batman that would come to actually out perform almost all of the live action films to come later in quality. It's the best of all elements one would want from a Batman film, regardless of its animation, and to this day remains one of the finest Batman feature length films released.

Batman/Bruce Wayne has been helping out local law enforcement for a while now in Gotham City and despite some naysayers towards his vigilante justice that he utilizes, it has been a rather smooth collaboration. That is until a new masked avenger shows up and begins killing off a series of individuals with criminal histories. Batman is ultimately blamed and without the help of the citizens of Gotham he must find this 'phantasm' before the rest of mob turns to crazier paths to survive...aka The Joker.

Born in the shadows...or at least that's where he gets dressed.
As a kid, I was enamored with this film and now looking back after almost 20 years (yipes!!) the damn thing still holds up. In fact, I would argue that "Mask Of The Phantasm" is one of the best versions of Batman to ever grace the silver screen. This animated feature may have been directed at kids, but it certainly carries a very serious and dark tone to it and its this adult oriented tale of forlorn love and a sense of purpose that really carries the heart of Batman with it.

The key to any good entrance is smoke. Definitely smoke.
Plot wise, the film is pretty complex for a kid's feature. It has a leaping structure that flashes back to Batman's integral years when he was first learning the curve and about his first (and perhaps only true) love. "Mask Of The Phantasm" focuses down a strong story and really deep character development for Bruce Wayne which is one of the reasons it works so effectively. It also builds on Batman's detective work and a rather twisty tale of mob betrayals that lead our "villain" to a murderous spree. By the time they decide to include a Batman regular, The Joker so awesomely voiced by Mark Hamill, one is already so hooked into where the story is going that it's just like icing on the cake for a wickedly slick finale.

The finale of the film goes to new heights...via a jet pack.
Really, my only complaint about the film is some of its animation. They literally ported the style and look of the television series straight over into a more epic format, but didn't upgrade. Yeah you get some clunky early 90s CGI that's new, but the animation still looks like that of a TV program and I would have wished they could have upped the ante on that a little bit. It gets the job done and still stays true to the style of "The Animated Series", but as a long time fan I would have liked to see it kicked even further (like the small upgrades they did on "Subzero").

As is, there are a few films on par with the great quality of "Mask Of The Phantasm" in the Batman universe and that says something about how awesome this film is. Even almost 20 years later (yipes!!) it holds up as a deep and fulfilling viewing experience that adds a lot of mystery and intrigue to the already kick ass nature of Batman.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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