Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Film Review
Released in 1993, Mask of the Phantasm was the first animated Batman movie, and the only one to be released originally to theaters. It remains one of the best of Batman's animated adventures, and one that fans of the live-action Batman films would probably enjoy.
Batman: The Animated Series
Mask of the Phantasm is set in the same universe as Batman: The Animated Series, which ran on television from 1992 to 1995. The series' mix of art deco and film noir gave it a look that, in many ways, resembled Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film, which had triggered a huge Bat-Renaissance just a few years earlier.
Characters on The Animated Series were designed by illustrator Bruce Timm, and the style, inspired in part by Fleischer Studios' Superman cartoons of the 1940s, would go on to become the style of character design used throughout the DC Animated Universe.
Two Tales of Batman
Mask of the Phantasm tells two stories. Batman's encounters with the mysterious Phantasm are set in the present, while the story of a younger Bruce Wayne, and the sequence of events that led to his donning the cowl for the first time, is told via flashbacks. This heavy use of flashbacks may make if hard for younger viewers to follow the action, but it adds greatly to the interest for older viewers, as we learn that the two stories are, in fact, tightly intertwined.
A dark, caped character is killing Gotham City's crime bosses. Batman is mistakenly blamed for the murders, and Gotham's police force, over the objections of Commissioner Gordon, are instructed to hunt him down. On the run, at times barely avoiding capture, Batman must find the real killer. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne's life becomes complicated by the return of a woman from his past, Andrea Beaumont.
The Phantasm, a mysterious, cloaked character with a skull-like mask and a scythe on one hand, was created specifically for the movie, but appears to have been inspired by the Reaper, a villain from the Batman: Year Two story line that ran in Detective Comics #575-578 in 1987.
Batman: Year One
The flashback story borrows elements from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, which ran in Batman #404-407, including scenes of a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne fighting crime dressed in black leather and a ski mask. Bruce has the edge on the criminals physically and mentally, but it's not enough. He comes to realize that they also need to fear him.
During this time, Bruce meets Andrea Beaumont for the first time, and the two become lovers. Falling in love was not part of "the plan", and Bruce is unsure what to do. In a powerful scene, we see Bruce at his parent's grave, pleading with them to understand if he is unable keep his vow to them. The vow, of course, refers to Bruce's promise to avenge the deaths of his parents by devoting his life to fighting crime — in a way that the police never could.
When Bruce and Andrea become engaged, we realize that Bruce has, indeed, abandoned "the plan". Anyone even remotely familiar with the Batman mythos, however, knows that the marriage doesn't take place, and that Bruce eventually does become Batman. What we don't know is why. When Bruce finally puts on the Batman costume for the very first time, the scene, which also contains Alfred's reaction, is one of the best in any Batman movie, animated or live-action.
Mask of the Phantasm uses same cast of voice actors as Batman: The Animated Series, including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, who also plays an important role in the story. Andrea Beaumont was voiced by Dana Delaney, who went on to be the voice of Lois Lane in Superman: The Animated Series.
The film was well-received critically (see Siskel and Ebert's review to the right) but failed to recoup its $6 million cost at the box office. The movie eventually became profitable thanks to its release on home video, and several direct-to-video features set in the DC Animated Universe have since been released, many of which have been excellent.
Mask of the Phantasm is rated PG for violence including explosions, hand-to-hand combat and use of guns.