Batman Mask of the Phantasm Review


It’s time for one of the first great Batman films to finally be reviewed and Mask of the Phantasm was certainly a film that turned the tides for animated superhero films as we know them. This film was in the same continuity as the 90’s Batman TV show so that was definitely a draw for many since it was known as the definitive version of Batman. I can’t argue there and seeing him on the big screen was probably a lot of fun. This is a pretty solid film that also contains the Joker so expectations were certainly high coming into it. I’ve seen it several times at this point and it’s always been one of the better Batman films.

Batman is framed by a new vigilante in Gotham, but this new figure is willing to cross the line. He has already vanquished several members of a mob and he intends to finish off the last survivors. Batman won’t have this and he decides that he’s going to have to take this Phantasm down. Will Batman really have what it takes to pull off such a feat? The film also deals with Batman’s meeting with a lady named Andrea. She has something to do with his past and now she has returned after 10 years…what’s her angle!? The Joker also decides to show himself towards the second half of the film so he adds to the intrigue.

Mask of the Phantasm certainly delivers on the animation front as Batman’s cloak looks very crisp and modern. You would think that this was a high budget episode of Justice League and that’s what I expect from a theatrical film. I think that the beginning of the film certainly got the most attention as it looks considerably better than the rest of the film, but the whole thing still looks really good. For a film, it also makes sense to trow most of your budget into the opening to really hook people in as opposed to a show where you want to put some budget into the beginning, but then you’ll want to save a lot of it for the climax. A good indicator of how good the animation looks here is to look at Batman’s design. The way that they design his cape and cowl are pretty good indicators of if the animation is good or great. Mask of the Phantasm is definitely on the latter side of that.

This film’s soundtrack uses a few tunes from the TV show while also inventing a new theme that plays during the intro and ending. It’s an operatic piece that works pretty well with Batman since it lets you know that something serious is about to happen. It’s more fitting with the ending than the beginning since it highlights a key decision that has now been made. It’s rather dramatic and it works well. You definitely won’t doubt that this is a theater film while you’re listening to the soundtrack.

Batman looks pretty good for the most part although I certainly have some qualms with his portrayal here. It naturally revolves around his scenes with Andrea. Many of the events with them take place 10 years earlier during Batman’s first adventures as a crime fighter. She arrived and he started to consider hanging up the mantle before he had even begun so that he could lead a normal life. It’s not the “I am the night. I am vengeance. I am Batman!!!” character that I remember, but this was fairly early on in his career so I could cut him a tiny bit of slack. Now, what I can’t simply overlook is that 10 years later Batman is once again in shambles because Andrea has returned.

No matter how close they were, there’s no way that anything would cause Batman to hesitate at this point. He’s already decided that being Batman is something that he’s going to do until he’s physically unable to handle the job anymore. He definitely wouldn’t consider stopping now for any reason. So, that subplot was definitely a pretty big stretch and it was a little sad how his secret identity was found out so easily. I don’t think he would typically make the mistake of standing in front of the Wayne’s grave or at least being caught doing so. He just didn’t look too good there and I have warned films about the possible traps involved where romance is concerned. I think it did hurt his portrayal here.

That aside, Batman tended to look pretty good in the fight scenes. It’s safe to say that he had the edge against the Phantasm and he took out the Joker with sufficient strength and finesse. It was only close because Joker had the home field advantage and I can live with that. He is still a tough villain after all so a close fight is to be expected. Batman put together the clues for the mysteries pretty quickly here and he also put Alfred in his place when he started to go a little too far. This is definitely the Batman that I am used too and it will be tough for any continuity to ever surpass the DCAU version of Batman.

The Phantasm is a pretty intense villain. I naturally won’t disclose his secret identity even though the film is so old because spoilers must be protected through thin and thin. So, naturally these lines just pertain to when he is in costume. He’s a pretty intense villain and he seems to show no fear as he hunts down gang boss after gang boss. He is equipped with a pretty sharp gauntlet that can cut through guns without effort and he is quite adept at moving through smoke. I think that some of his feats are certainly a little exaggerated since there is no possible way (Barring supernatural powers) that he can accomplish them. One example is where he throws a smoke bomb and Batman immediately grabs at him, but the Phantasm is gone. It’s pretty spooky, but a little hard to buy.

Andrea is one of the new characters for this film and she’s pretty decent although it can be tough for Batman fans since we don’t like to see him give up like this. Unfortunately, Andrea is in a pretty tricky situation since her father got involved with gangsters so now their lives are in jeopardy. That’s why she ended up leaving Batman 10 years ago and then she returns for this film. She seems nice enough, but also a little too easy and the whole affair with Batman happened way too quickly. Naturally, both of them are to blame for this, but also allowing the flirting by Reeves was a bit much on her part. I probably prefer some of the original characters from the final film in the Batman DCAU trilogy, but Andrea certainly could have been worse. At it stands, Andrea didn’t make the film lose any stars. (A star probably could have been gained without her subplot though)

Joker appears to give the film some star power on the villain front. Admittedly, the film probably wouldn’t have been quite as exciting without him. A super villain is always appreciated and you feel pretty confident that he will be able to stand up to the Phantasm. He is the Joker after all and he’s always prepared for every eventuality. His home base is pretty cool and he’s just a very charismatic character. I always did like him in the DCAU even if he’s not my favorite villain in most of the other forms of media. His fans will certainly be pleased with his portrayal here and he is seen as a pretty big threat from the get go.

Arthur Reeves is one of those guys who likes to be at the top of the Anti Batman game. He appears on TV constantly to remind people that Batman is a menace and you would almost think that he was Harvey Dent at first. It makes you wonder how this guy always manages to get on TV, but he is a politician. Let’s just say that all original characters tend to have something to do with the plot so he’s entangled in the past full of mysteries in this film. He’s definitely not a good character and I wouldn’t have minded if he hadn’t been in it. I guess we do need more villains though and he beats some of the sub villains. He just brings shame to the Arthur name! If it helps….he does have the courage to laugh at the Batman!

You may wonder about a certain figure on a boat as the film ends and what it all means. Well, I like to think that the figure threw another figure away as a certain explosion hit and quickly escaped, which is how the figure is here. That also explains why the other figure continues to appear in future media in this continuity. I think it makes sense, but it also undermines one character’s big moment at the ending. Ah well, at least it means that the character resisted from crossing the line one last time…even if it was accidental. This may sound vague, but you’ll know what I’m talking about as you watch the film.

One scene that may make you wince is when Batman takes on the cops. Typically, that is an easy feat for Batman, but they were probably trying to make it a little more realistic for the casual moviegoers so Batman actually doesn’t look good. We’ve seen him take on a planet full of enemies in the past so no true Batman fan will really be able to buy the scene. It’s also sad since Batman ultimately has to be saved. I think it would have been more appropriate for Alfred to have saved Batman since it would have left the crimefighter with more dignity. As the scene stood, it was a pretty sad moment for the Dark Knight. It also makes Bullock look worse than usual since he just shot someone who has been helping him out since day one. That’s definitely what I call being not grateful to someone.

The main plot is a lot more interesting than the flashbacks, but I did enjoy this rendition of Batman’s origin. It was fun to see his first fights against the hoodlums of Gotham. I just think that it would have been even more fun without the romance in Andrea’s subplot. This film definitely has a lot of romance in it and it’s interesting that the other two Batman films have romance plots involved in some way. It may help the general audience I suppose since they expect that, but you can certainly do a good Batman film without such a subplot. After all…what would the fans have to say about all of this? Batman is the solitary Dark Knight…end of story.

Overall, Batman Mask of the Phantasm is a pretty good way to start off the classic Batman trilogy of animated films in the DCAU continuity. The soundtrack is pretty good and the animation is superb. It tops several of the DC films that have come out in the last few years and that’s no small feat. Batman’s portrayal is hardly perfect, but he still looks smart and tough, which is good. The Phantasm makes for a nice villain and the Joker’s certainly a classic villain to use. The opening action scene is pretty great and you really feel the blows. The film may only be a little over an hour, but there are a lot of danger/combat scenes to help make up for that and the action never get boring. I definitely recommend checking this film out whether you’ve watched the TV show or not. It’s good as a stand alone Batman film no matter how much experience with Batman you have. Even if you’ve never heard of Batman before, (Is that even possible?) this is a pretty good place to start.

Overall 7/10

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