Film: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Directed by: Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm.
Running Time: 76 min.
I am sure everyone and their monkey’s uncle has perhaps had their ear bent over the years about the first DC Animated film based off of the Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) over the years. A story about a young Bruce Wayne on the crossroads and early days of becoming Batman told in flashbacks while his present self is on the run from a frame up and facing down a mysterious antagonist that takes that one step to far approach.
So what makes this worth chatter in certain fan communities?
First, for the 90’s, a film based off of an animated television series without being just a well edited amalgamation of episodes or one long episode was rare to find, especially within shows geared towards the younger set, let alone one that was destined to have a theatrical release, instead of just going straight to video.
While the film failed in the box office, mostly due in part to the short amount of time the team was given by Warner Bros. to both make and sell people to the release (and one of those prime examples of why we all still tolerate trailers and promos now a days despite the complaints), though it did receive high praise from many critics, and has since gained cult following status.
This is everything you could want in an animated neo-noir film, directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm who carried the success and classy darker over tones of the series into the film, as well as reaching out to a variety of Batman comics, but also made it something more than its source material.
It treats itself like a serious feature film and not just an off shoot of a television show.
The amazing and clever cinematic score by Shirley Walker, one of the few female women score writers during the period in Hollywood and the original composer for the animated series and set the tone for the musical score for the DC Animated series universe franchise, greets viewers in the opening credits with a score that had an epic feel akin to listening to the scores of Superman (1978) and Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
It wasn’t just epic in feel and tone, but also contained some of the playful edge of its roots by its construction of the lyrics in an amusing inside joke that very few people caught at the time involving the choir who were not singing Latin or some other grand language, but instead, with all seriousness, they were singing the names of orchestrates Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Peter Tomashek (and some others) backwards.
The voice acting meanwhile of of Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Mark Hamill (Joker), and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr (Alfred Pennyworth). already excellent actors from the series, went all out (reprising their roles from The Animated Series), in particular Mark Hamill working his pre-Joker and present Joker figure.
The next positive was the story.
Loosely based off of events from Batman Year One and Batman Year Two graphic novels as well as the television series, showed a good balance of its various source materials, while being mainly its own thing. As a cinematic article in and of itself, accentuating its neo-noir lines, it stands on its own without needing to lean on its inspiration and sources to hard, but respecting the classic Batman Detective character, as well as the genre conventions of neo-noir, fitting as there were some moments in the flashbacks that were inspired/reminiscent of famous noir classic Citizen Kane (1941).
So we can agree this film has many advantages going for it, but does it have any drawbacks?
Two criticisms have come to light over the years, so lets address them:
The first Criticism is that the plot is to slow, almost plodding, with not enough action to keep audiences engaged throughout the film.
It’s a valid criticism, the pacing of the plot is slower then many are likely accustomed to, particularly child audiences, and in comparison to later films, its pace is a little staid. The fact of the matter though is that noirs are often not normally fast paced predominantly.
Its all about setting the atmosphere, building the intrigue, or at least good noir films do this, and this is a noir film make no mistake about that, and this film does a good job in establishing its intrigue and mood with just the right amount of action scenes- and when they happened, they were really good, relevant to the story, and memorable- to satisfy. Though perhaps those who respond to higher action to story ratios might not be as in to this film.
The Second criticism would be the lead romantic role, Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany), was not a very well developed character.
In this I would have to agree more with critics. For most of her appearance, Andrea didn’t receive much development as a character herself for a large part of the movie, but despite this she did fulfill her role for the story, and the resolution of her character in the climax of the film does somewhat save her character. You do believe the chemistry between her and Bruce as well, which was vital component as part of Bruce’s struggle in his early years as a vigilantly in making his ultimate choice for the path he takes as Batman.
Its worth noting that her character does appear in a cameo or two within the DC Franchise, particularly in the series finale of Batman Beyond (1999-2001).
Unfortunately, Andrea did reflect a trend with how women were treated rather stereotypically that was part and parcel in the Batman Animated series for the most part until more interesting characters like Harley Quinn came along. Andrea did break the mold to an extent as well, in a way that went beyond the love interest or the sexualized villianess. she is an interesting mix of breaking the mold and sustaining it at the same time.
This perhaps reflects the dated nature of the film perhaps, but when one takes into account the amazingly story, great acting, a brilliant antagonist, the noir atmosphere, and the homage to source material with an original twist here and there, plus the spectacular climatic ending, it somewhat saves it from completely falling into the dated container, perhaps why it has retained its cult status and one of the top favorite DC Animated Film list for may fans of the franchise.
This is certainly one of my top favorites from the DC Animated Franchise, a highly recommended watch for not only Batman fans or DC Animations fans, but also for those who just want to watch a great feature film.
If you liked this review, please consider following me on my Patreon.