Sunday, February 12, 2017
Sunday Best: Superhero Movies of All Time #16 - Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
For a long time, this was the best cinematic Batman movie.
The Batman Animated Series did so much right in terms of capturing who Batman was from the comic books. The show did it in a way that seemed to elude previous film installments. But there is a big difference between making a story for the big screen.
But this movie delivered.
In order to set this movie apart, the story had delve in to Batman in a way we had never seen before. This led to a deep examination of Bruce Wayne and his life before and after taking on the mantle of the Bat.
It is always risky to try and introduce a new villain to the already rich rogues gallery of the Dark Knight, but this movie does it incredibly well. While Batman is taking down a mob ring, a new masked vigilante, the Phantasm, who begins killing the mob bosses. Batman gets the blame and he is now hunted by both police and criminals. The addition of the Phantasm creates a nice tension to Batman's war on crime. You can see and feel Bruce's struggle with this increased extremism.
We are also introduced to another new character, Andrea Beaumont. When Bruce began his crusade he fell in love with this wealthy socialite and almost abandoned his mission. But she jilted him with a Dear John letter only to return years later. With the increased pressure from the Phantasm, Bruce is tempted once more to leave his never-ending campaign.
But this film does not ignore other important aspects of the Batman legacy. The Joker factors very prominently into the story. And rather than feeling shoe-horned into the plot, he is an integral part, organically woven into a story that at first seems very boilerplate Batman adventure takes you to the very heart of the character in the way that had not been seen on film.
This is a Batman movie that has something to say about the sacrifices we make for our obsessions and whether or not they are worth the price. Most times the dilemma of the superhero regarding the choice of giving up their fight against villainy feels forced and trite. But you get a distinct sense from this movie that this could be the capstone to the Batman story and that he could finally lay down his burdens and walk away free. And the audience feels conflicted about this: we want the hero to have a happily-ever-after but it would be at the cost of so many others.
The only thing holding this back from being higher on the list is that the animation is not quite up to the cinematic experience. To be sure it is better and more polished than a regular episode of the series, but it never raises to the level that it should. If you had taken the exact same script and made a live-action film, the emotional impact would have been greater.
But for now, let's not think about what Batman: Mask of the Phantasm wasn't. Instead let us honor what it is.