Movie Review | Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Movie summary: Batman is wrongly implicated in a series of murders of mob bosses actually done by a new vigilante assassin. (IMDb)
Having taken delivery of the complete Batman the Animated Series blu-ray box set this week - which includes this movie - I felt I didn't really have a choice but to look at one of the best Batman movies ever made. Make no mistake, this is right up there with The Dark Knight.
Hell, depending on my mood, I'll actually take Mask of the Phantasm over The Dark Knight thanks to a great story matched by some wonderful performances. Kevin Conroy is reliably awesome as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Dana Delany just as good as his great love, Andrea Beaumont, and what else is there to say about Mark Hamill as the Joker?
I love, love, love the Batman: Arkham games and Hamill's performances in them, but watching Mask of the Phantasm again simply confirmed to me that it was recency bias rating them so highly and that this remains his single greatest performance as the Clown Prince of Crime.
I would even go so far to rate this version of the Joker as better than Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance, because I think this really is the Joker, and not a version made to fit the constraints of a more realistic setting.
Here, the Joker is hilariously funny, incredibly threatening, and certifiably insane - all to extremes, yet never once seeming out of character or feeling false. Ledger's Joker might claim to be an agent of chaos, Hamill's Joker is chaos - not even he knows what he's going to do next.
And that's a lot of words for someone who isn't even mentioned in the movie's title, but that's just how good Hamill is here. In a movie that delves deep into Batman's past and his motivations, as well as wondering what might have been, it's just an incredible amount of ground that this movie chews up in seventy-six minutes.
I really do like that we get to see what made Bruce almost turn his back on fighting crime too: his love for Andrea. Conroy really makes you feel his pain as he apologises to a portrait of his parents for wanting to stop his quest for vengeance because he never counted on being happy.
I won't spoil exactly why things turn out the way that they do, although what happens with Andrea certainly seemed to drive Bruce into becoming Batman to a far greater degree than would have happened otherwise.
There's been a persistent belief about the character of Batman being the real identity and Bruce Wayne being the 'mask', and Mask of the Phantasm certainly reinforces that view for how Batman started, then completely shatters it when he meets Andrea again in the present day.
For all the praise of the Joker above, I cannot stress how much this movie is a wonderful character study of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, what drives him and how each persona affects, or has affected, his life to such an incredible degree.
If I do have a criticism, it's that the character of the Phantasm doesn't really have as much of an effect on the story. Their real identity is a nice twist, and that certainly has a huge impact on what happens, but it does just feel like a little more could have been done with the character to mirror the Batman/Bruce dynamic to an even greater degree.
Also, some of the animation is spotty in places, although it's jaw-droppingly gorgeous on far more occasions than when it's simply mediocre - and even more beautiful cleaned up and in the higher definition of blu-ray. The sound benefits too, with the phenomenal score a perfect fit for an epic story.
Mask of the Phantasm is a great movie that covers a lot of material across multiple time frames in less than eighty minutes. There's great action, surprisingly deep character work, some very funny scenes and is filled with some simply wonderful performances - it's really not hard to see why so many people love this movie.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm turns twenty-five next month and still holds up as one of the best Batman stories ever told outside of the comic books. A great story, some fantastic animation and an incredible score combine with top-drawer voice work for a Batman film that live action has rarely matched.