Retro Movie Review: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Released to coincide with the 25 year anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, this first feature-length Batman movie gets the HD Blu-Ray treatment.  But after all this time, how does the granddaddy of the DCAU fair?

For those that haven’t seen the movie, I know its surprising but those that haven’t seen this movie do exist just listen to the last episode of The Definitive Crusade podcast to find one;  it’s basically Year One for the animated Batman continuity.  Someone is offing mob bosses with the shadowy culprit being identified as Batman.  Harvey Bullock, at the pressing of councilman Arthur Reeves, finally gets to go after the “bat-eared freak” as secrets and memories of the past collide into a threat to the present.

The film’s noir style, famously created by the animators drawing on black paper rather than white, is in full Fleischer Brothers mode carrying the style and panache of the early seasons of the show.  Bruce Timm and co. take their cues from the comics, with homages to the actual Year One when Batman is cornered in a construction yard as an example.  All that is missing is the cat that gets shot at and a colony of bats.  In addition, there are parallels in the less recognised  Year Two both with Bruce’s love interest and the main antagonist.

Animated Batman arguably has the best cast of actors.  Phantasm is no exception with Kevin Conroy getting to wrest levels of emotions out of both Batman and Bruce that he rarely had time to do in the 20 minute format of the show.  It is something of tour de force for the man whose voice is the voice everyone hears when they read a Batman comic.  Also along for the ride is the usual cast of Bob Hastings, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Robert Costanzo and of course Mark Hamill who are joined by guest actors Dana Delany and Stacy Keach.

The film is not without a couple of problems.  There is a slight issue of how a character can already be in Gotham, yet we see them arrive and of course there is the idea that no matter what you do or what story you want to tell, you have to force the Joker in there!  The former point is alluded to towards the end of the film, yet the latter seems incongruous especially when the character doesn’t appear in either of the source materials and with the vitriol that his inclusion in the Wayne murders from the Burton Batman movie caused.

With all that said and done, for a large swath of fans, B:TAS is their Batman in the same way that the late Adam West was mine.  This movie is a great way to celebrate a show has been hailed as the most authentic version of the character ever created.

Release date: December 25, 1993 (USA)
Directors: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski
Screenplay: Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, Michael Reaves, Martin Pasko

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