The Dark Knight is one of the biggest releases of this summer, if not the year. How do you prepare yourself for such a monumental picture? By watching previous depictions of Batman in movies, of course. We’re making our way through ten feature length incarnations of the Dark Knight’s stories, from Adam West to animation. We invite you to join us for the ride as we analyze the good, the bad, and the Bat.
(And yes, we’re actually re-watching all of these old flicks rather than just relying on our memory, so we can honestly evaluate each of them in preparation for The Dark Knight).
Day Four: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Between Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s respective reigns on the Dark Knight’s theatrical releases, Batman snuck into theaters in animated form. Originally intended to be a direct-to-home-video release, Warner Brothers decided Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was worth a theatrical release. They were right.
The animated story, done in the Burton influenced style of Batman: The Animated Series, features a new vigilante in Gotham, the titular Phantasm. Unlike Batman, the Phantasm is not above killing his victims (gangster bosses from throughout the city). Unfortunately, nobody is aware of the new vigilante, so Batman is blamed for the deaths, leading to many police officers (pretty much everyone except Gordon) attempting to hunt the Dark Knight down. In the midst of this, Bruce Wayne is having a bit of an identity crisis with the return of an old love interest, Andrea Beaumont, who represents the life Bruce almost chose instead of being Batman.
Phantasm is, at its heart, a love story. Although the Phantasm is an interesting character, it’s Bruce’s relationship with Andrea that really makes the movie come alive. Nothing Burton offered matches the brutal emotion of Bruce Wayne, collapsed from the weight of his inner conflict before his parents’ tombstone, begging to be released from his promise (to avenge their deaths) and stating, “I didn’t count on being happy.” It’s the side of the stoic character the movies rarely explore… until Christopher Nolan stepped in.
Kevin Conroy delivers a fantastic Bruce Wayne/Batman, of course, would you expect any less from the man who has played the characters vocally for the better part of fifteen years. Also excellent here from the animated series, Mark Hamill’s Joker, who really is the definitive take on the character, and a lot more faithful to the Joker we’ve known over the years (as opposed to Nicholson’s specific take), even if the movie does give the villain a touch of a background.
Yet again, the reflection of Batman in his villains is clearly apparent, made even more clear in a heartfelt speech from Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Alfred. Phantasm is a creature of vengence, built through years of a desire for revenge that knows no bounds. It’s a line Batman himself walks; he just knows where to draw the line.
As we get ready to descend into some of the weaker Batman movies (at least from my memory - we’ll see how they play over the next week after I haven’t seen them for years), it’s important to point out that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm definitely earns a place among the stronger pictures. If you haven’t seen it, check it out, and prepare yourself for a heart-wrenching story.
The Good: The romance story here is absolutely heartbreaking at times, and shows a side of Bruce Wayne we never get to see in the live action movies, even if the story is a bit non-canon.
The Bad: Adults might be tempted to steer clear of an animated adventure with the Dark Knight. Don’t be fooled. Batman: Gotham Knight advertises itself as the first PG-13 animated movie, but this one has violence, blood, killing (off screen), and even implied sex. None of that is bad, but missing out on it because this is an animated story would be.
The Bat: Actually, the movie is at its best when it isn’t showing the Bat’s tools, most of which we’ve already seen in the movies. Wayne in his ski-mask tossing shurikens is pretty brutal. For those truly looking for the Bat, however, the first time Bruce puts on the costume (to Alfred’s reaction of, “My God!”) is pretty iconic.
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