Friday, September 19, 2014

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Recently I noticed 2014 was the 75th anniversary of Batman's original comic book appearance in Detective Comics #27 from 1939, so latching onto whatever reason to dig into my movie backlog box I noticed I have two Batman films in there. Perhaps I will get to The Dark Knight Rises by the end of the year, but today I am covering the only animated feature of Batman to hit the big screen that was released on Christmas day, 1993 with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (trailer).

Over the last several years, Marvel and DC have pumped out plenty of straight to video animated films based on a lot of their hit characters. From what I have gathered online and from other comic/movie buffs, DC treats these videos with a little more care. I have only seen several of them, but do remember preferring DC's work with the excellent two part, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Assault on Arkham, over mediocre recent Marvel animated features I saw featuring the Avengers and another with a Punisher and Black Widow crossover. In the early 90s however, animated comic feature length movies were practically nonexistent.

There were animated cartoons based on Batman, Spider-Man and the X-Men back then kicking in high gear, but they were all part of the then mega popular Saturday morning block of cartoons. Warner Bros. wanted to take their chances and do a feature length special on the booming Batman: The Animated Series that was all the rage on FOX and make a direct to video release, but at the last minute and with less than a year notice, Warner gave the go ahead to make it a theatrical release. So just in time for a Christmas release in 1993, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm hit theaters.

This is a real quick watch at 75 minutes. A new masked vigilante going by the name Phantasm, is wiping out some of the top crime lords of Gotham, and not-quite-accurate eye witness accounts are putting Batman at the blame. It would not be an early 90s Batman animated adventure without the devious Joker being along for the ride, and he makes sure to mettle with Bats in ways never before seen on the cartoon show that only a multi-million dollar movie budget can afford. To top it off, an old romance interest of Bruce Wayne returns for his affection, and that side story of getting Bruce to drop the Batman act once and for all to win over the girl helps bring the running time to a theatrical length.

To be clear, this is done with the same animation style of the hit cartoon show of the early 90s, and most of the original voice cast is here for the movie. Kevin Conroy does the honors of Bruce Wayne and Batman, while Mark Hamill does an exquisite job at voicing the Joker like only he can. I loved the cartoon so much during its original run, and while it was a hit with kids, it featured a more darker and mature animation style that it ended up doing well with a wider range of demographics, and old episodes still hold up splendidly today. This cast is in top demand and returns often for a lot of other recent Batman animated specials and videogames, including the critically acclaimed Arkham line of games from the last several years.

Mask of the Phantasm comes as no surprise as another hit from the team responsible the cartoon. While the plot is pretty straightforward and leaves plenty of hints at who the new Phantasm menace is, it is still a fun ride along the way. Kind of like how The Simpsons Movie had some grander animation sequences with their new budget, so does Mask of the Phantasm with more dynamic chase and set piece sequences that really pop and stand out more than what I was accustomed to from The Animated Series.

It has been a long time since I saw Mask of the Phantasm, but I have seen too many other Batman features in recent years that has Batman chasing after a long lost love interest as one of the driving narratives. So to see Bruce Wayne chase down an old flame in Audrea Beaumont is a little too much of the same, although it was probably a newer dynamic back in 1993. Antagonists The Joker and The Phantasm helps keeps things interesting for The Dark Knight however. As predictable at who the Phantasm is, seeing him peck away at Gotham crime bosses is a delight, as is The Joker's hideout being an old, abandoned "Gotham of the Future" amusement park that is full of his trademark tricks.

The DVD I picked up has a release date of 2005, and this version along with the other various releases from over the years I researched online come with no extra features other than a trailer. This is a little disappointing as I remember a lot of the DVD releases of The Animated Series come with a pretty decent amount of extras, and even a little throwaway 10 minute feature on what it was like to bring The Animated Series to the big screen would have been something that would have went a long way.

Speaking of the cartoon show, a big part of me wants to re-watch the series since it has been forever, but the four season set fetches for a pretty penny online. While it would be nice to own that, I just do not think I want to invest that price for only four seasons of content, so I think I will be happy with my copy of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm as a far more cost effective, yet still highly entertaining substitute.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

21 Jump Street
Bounty Hunters
Captain America: The First Avenger
Field of Dreams
The Fighter
Good Will Hunting
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Veronica Mars

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