Batman – Mask of the Phantasm (1993)


Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm

1993 • 76 Minutes • 1.33:1• United States

Color • English • Warner Bros.

Voice Cast: Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Mark Hammill
Screenplay: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, Michael Reaves based on characters created by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson

Producers: Benjamin Melniker, Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm

Awards & Honors

The Essential Films
Top 25 Superhero Movies – #20

Whoops! Ha! I guess the joke’s on me. You’re not Batman after all. Looks like there’s a new face in Gotham and soon his name will be all over town… to say nothing of his legs, and feet, and spleen, and head…

Batman is on the trail of a homicidal vigilante that is killing Gotham City’s top mob bosses while at the same time dealing with the re-appearance of an old love. To complicate matters: The Joker enters the fray as a wild card. Can Batman keep the Joker at bay while solving the mystery of Phantasm?

WARNING: Spoilers

After the success of the first two Tim Burton Batman films, Warner Bros. Animation green lit a cartoon to be aired on the Fox Network. Shortly after Batman Returns hit the big screen, “Batman: The Animated Series” hit the airwaves just in time for the fall schedule in 1992. The show proved to be a big ratings success and soon a feature-length direct-to-video adaptation was planned. At the last moment, however, Warner Bros decided that it wanted to shoot for a Christmas Day theatrical release, giving the animators a tough deadline to meet. Though the team of Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm were able to release the film on time and on schedule, but due to the last minute switch to theatrical release, there wasn’t a proper marketing campaign behind the film and it ultimately failed at the box office. It did receive widespread critical acclaim, however.

The main voice cast of the animated series returned for the film. Kevin Conroy returns as the animated Dark Knight. Conroy is, in my opinion for whatever that’s worth, the best Batman ever… animated or otherwise. Conroy did something that no one else has successfully accomplished: His Bruce Wayne is the “mask” and Batman is the real person. He accomplishes this by making the Bruce Wayne voice sound “higher” than his “real” Batman voice. The Batman voice that Conroy puts on is iconic and to this day the voice that best personifies everything that character is supposed to be. Unlike Christian Bale’s “growl” voice, Conroy’s Batman voice is his real voice… the Bruce Wayne voice is the fake voice. It’s brilliant voice performance.

Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hammill, provides the voice of The Joker. Unless you’re new to the Batman mythology, you’ll know that Hammill’s Joker voice is beloved by Bat-fans everywhere. As I said recently on the Forced Perspective podcast’s Batman specials, every Joker, whether it was Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger or Mark Hammill was perfect for the “universe” they were set in. Hammill’s Joker was perfect for what was to become the DC Animated Universe.

Dana Delany plays Andrea Beaumont, a former lover of Bruce Wayne. Through a series of flashbacks we see that Andrea nearly derailed Bruce from becoming Batman. Bruce proposes, but she ultimately abandons him mysteriously leading him back on the path to become Batman. Delany is quite good in this role and she eventually returned to the DCAU as Lois Lane in “Superman: The Animated Series.”
Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach and Abe Vigoda all provide guest starring voices as a crooked City Councilman and mobsters respectively. Vigoda is especially entertaining as Sal Valestra. Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings and Robert Costanzo reprise their roles as Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock and provide the usual fine performances they provided to the Animated Series (however brief their screen time may have been.)

Overall this is one of the better written Batman films in terms of thematic elements as well as an exploration of the Batman character. When Andrea leaves Bruce, it leads to his decision to finally become Batman. In the future, to avenge the death of her father Andrea becomes the Phantasm. Both Bruce and Andrea are driven by an urge avenge their dead parents, and therefore reject the notion of love. This film also includes the most revealing moment in the tragedy that is Bruce Wayne. In a flashback sequence, he is tortured by the guilt that he no longer wants to fight evil. He wants to be with Andrea, and he kneels at the grave of his parents and cries “I didn’t count on being happy.” Later after Andrea leaves him and he, again rejecting love, dons the Batman mask for the first time… Alfred let’s out a “My God!” at the horror he feels at seeing it. Bruce Wayne is transformed… he is now truly Batman. It’s a fantastic scene.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, much like “Batman: The Animated Series” is perhaps the film that is the closest to the Batman comic book character. This despite having a villain created just for the film. It’s sleek and stylish, and even at only 70 minutes, packs an impressive amount of character development and action. Certainly one of the greatest animated films of all time.