A strange wraith-like creature stalks the streets of Gotham, killing off old mobsters. When Batman is spotted on the scene, he takes the blame for the murders and becomes a wanted man, hunted by Gotham police under the guidance of Councilor Reeves, a slimy individual eager to make a grab for power. The deeper Batman investigates the mystery, he is surprised to find old wounds opening that he had thought long scabbed over with time. An old love, Andrea Beaumont, has returned to Gotham just as the murders are on the rise. As the death toll rises, he becomes overwhelmed with emotion and must make a choice which life takes precedence, Batman’s or Bruce Wayne’s.
Released on Christmas day in 1993, Mask of the Phantasm was a bomb for Warner Bros., mainly due to the lack of support from the studio and poor marketing. But it is a marvelous testament to the Batman mythos and a celebration of the animated series.
I understand that the film was rushed into theatrical release. Using the talented animators, directors and superb voice actors, Mask of the Phantasm is a remarkably moving drama with romance, action and even humor (thanks to the marvelous Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Alfred). The mystery of the Phantasm is enough on its own, but the addition of the Joker raises the stakes and the clown prince of crime is at his most outlandish in this story.
Watching this movie, I must admit to feeling frustration that the live action films never achieved this level of excellence. I do enjoy the Burton films, but they fall flat in so many places such as action and dialog. The Chris Nolan movies are outstanding but sacrifice much of the Batman mythology in order to tell a bold and daring story about Western civilization. Mask of the Phantasm, in contrast, is a well executed Batman story through and through, weighing in heavily on gritty pulp crime, Gothic atmosphere and much more.
I had the good fortune to watch the film on the big screen at the NC Comic Con this past weekend and it was a fantastic experience, reminding me why I had embraced the Batman animated series long ago and why it continues to hold a special place in my fanboy heart.