When a powerful criminal who is connected to Bruce Wayne’s (voice of Kevin Conroy) ex-girlfriend Andrea Beaumont (voice of Dana Delany) blames the Dark Knight for killing a crime lord, Batman decides to fight against him.
Growing up, I was a massive fan of comic books and comic book characters. I would spend hours reading the newest Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man comics and had a blast doing so. Simply put, the universe of Marvel and DC are massively important to me. I genuinely wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for these amazing characters and storylines, and I have so many people to thank for creating these memorable experiences.
But, ever since I was a young boy, my favorite superhero of all time was Batman. My first exposure to the iconic character was when I was about six years old after watching Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins for the first time ever. Was I a little too young to be watching such a dark and brooding movie like that? Probably. But I didn’t care. I had the biggest smile on my face the entire time and instantly fell in love with a character I had only just been exposed to.
My brother and I are both big gamers, and I vividly remember him one day getting the video game adaptation of Batman Begins on the GameCube. We both spent countless hours playing that game and never wanting to stop. Out of the entire game, I still remember the sequences where you have to control an in-training Bruce Wayne, as depicted in the film. Sneaking around throwing shurikens at various different enemies was so much fun.
After that, I then watched Nolan’s The Dark Knight when it was released in theatres in 2008, and it was at that moment I knew that I absolutely adored the character of Batman. The sense of mystery behind him. His undying dedication to avenge his parents’ murders. His awesome line of gadgetry, his robust fighting skills, his rogues gallery, and so, so much more.
But no other Batman related property means more to me than the Batman: Arkham series of video games. My childhood was practically shaped around those games. I truly cannot tell you how many times I have completed Batman: Arkham Asylum over the course of the past decade because it is probably about fifty. No exaggeration.
Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm reminds me of the Arkham games in all the best ways. Both properties have incredibly brilliant storylines and have dark atmospheres that really set the tone for the rest of the journey ahead.
Up until the release of this film, fans of the Dark Knight really didn’t have the definitive Batman film that perfectly balanced the dynamic of Bruce Wayne and Batman. While I don’t think it’s the greatest and most well made Batman film, perhaps my favorite one has to be Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. Its sequel, Batman Returns also holds a special place in my heart.
As great as those movies were, they didn’t do a wonderful job at depicting the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman. We mainly got to see Batman, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely would have been nice to have seen more development for the man behind the mask. Mask of the Phantasm does exactly that and does so almost effortlessly. We spend equal time with Bruce Wayne and Batman and we get to understand the duality there like we never have before.
In one of the film’s standout sequences, a tired and distraught Bruce Wayne visits his parents’ gravestones in the Gotham City cemetery, and confesses that he no longer feels compelled to fight crime anymore. “I don’t want to let you down, honest, but… but it just doesn’t hurt so bad anymore,” he admits. “You can understand that, can’t you?”. It’s moments like these that stand out the most because they are scenes that flesh out Wayne in ways that have never been done before. Few Batman stories are able to tell fascinating stories with the man behind the mask as well as Mask of the Phantasm does.
In addition to the film’s excellent handling of its characters, it also has a story that was equal parts exciting and unpredictable. Even though it’s only seventy-six minutes long, the film never once feels too short. It never feels too long, either. It feels just right. The adventure that it takes viewers on is gripping and fun.
Part of the reason why is trying to determine who the illusive Phantasm is. When the answer was finally revealed to me, I was genuinely shocked and couldn’t believe my eyes. “How did I not think of that?” I asked myself. It’s a reveal that should be so incredibly obvious but it’s not. As soon as the mask comes off, it all makes so much sense.
Something else this movie needs to be getting praised for is its beautiful animation. This film was released in 1993 and still looks gorgeous all these years later. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of the animation styles used today – one of my favorite examples of this is the stellar work shown in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – but there is something so nostalgic, simple, and awe-inspiring about the classic 90s animation techniques.
Even the voice acting is out of this world great. For many fans, Batman: The Animated Series is one of the most wildly fun pieces of entertainment related to the Caped Crusader. Running for a total of two seasons and eighty-five episodes, each story is unique and fun to see unfold. One of the things that fans love the most about that series was the voice cast. Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, in particular, are simply iconic as the voices of these characters, and they reprise their respective roles in this film. They both do magnificent things with their roles here and they sound lively and full of energy. There is just something so oddly fun about hearing Mark Hamill give it his all as the Joker and hearing his laugh still gives me chills to this day.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of the greatest Batman stories ever told. It’s a stunning piece of animation with a story that is equal parts gripping and unpredictable. It boasts a voice cast that feels lively and energetic and does a truly brilliant job at balancing the duality of both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: PG for animated violence
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Release Date: December 24, 1993
Running Time: 76 minutes