Canister X Movie Review #12: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko and Michael Reaves
Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm
Runtime 76 min.
5 out of 5
A mysterious costumed phantasm haunts Gotham City, knocking off mob bosses thus drawing the Batman out from the shadows to stop him. Only when the Dark Knight starts to uncover clues as to who this person might be does he discover how deeply personal this phantasm’s crusade has become, not just to the phantasm himself, but to the Batman as well.
Pulling out all the stops with top-notch storytelling, animation and direction, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a hallmark in Batman’s movie history that’s guaranteed not to disappoint!
This movie is unbelievably amazing and rivals even the almighty Dark Knight Trilogy that would begin on the big screen twelve years later. Actually, Mask of the Phantasm was in theatres and I remember going there with a friend and being stunned start to finish at this masterpiece. I also remember being anxious for it to hit home video—and back then, flicks took a looong time to get to video—and the day it came out, I went to K-Mart straight after school, spent some big bucks for the VHS (over twenty, I’m sure), then biked home in the rain so I could watch it. It was totally worth that brutal and soaked-to-the-bone bike ride.
This is a serious Bat-flick, both in tone and scope. Brought to life by the same team that managed Batman: The Animated Series—Bruce Timm and Paul Dini—I’m pretty sure this was the first animated superhero movie to ever hit the big screen. This was also at a time when animated superhero movies never happened. There were only half-hour shows—twenty-two minutes, technically—and that was it.
The story is enthralling, right from the introduction of the mysterious phantasm through Bruce Wayne’s heartbreaking journey both in the present day and in the flashbacks that showcased his rise as the Dark Knight, all the way to the intense, sobering and heart-wrenching finish.
To this day, Mask of the Phantasm stands as a benchmark of Batman storytelling in my book. It’s right up there with the Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman 1989, and the other recent animated efforts. Personally, it’s the finest superhero animated effort ever brought to screen.
The storyline is mature and, probably due to it hitting theatres, was geared toward adults as it clearly contained those kinds of markings (i.e. a hinted-at sex scene between Bruce and Andrea, something that was never in superhero animation before). The violence level was also a notch above the animated series, complete with blood, hard-hitting brutality, and a glimpse into the kinds of real-life physical ordeals Batman would have to go through if he truly existed.
The real strength of the story lies in the fact that as much as it’s Batman solving a mystery, it’s Bruce Wayne’s story, showing us a part of his journey to becoming Batman, what made him finally put on the cape and cowl, and how those events from his past had a direct and painful impact not just on his future, but on the future of Gotham City as well.
The animation is perfect, moody, stylized and has become the benchmark even all these years later of what superhero animation can be.
This isn’t a kids movie. This is a serious Bat-movie for the serious Bat-fan who wants to take their Bat-flick experience to the next level.