Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, Eric Radomski and Bruce W Timm)

Phantasm

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

No, seriously. I’m going to spoil the ending.

When Gotham City’s gangsters are systematically killed by a bizarre being known as the Phantasm, Batman is wrongly blamed – and must also face dark secrets from his past…

Good guys: Bruce Wayne/Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) is a square-jawed hunk and, at first anyway, a commitment-phobic womaniser. We see extensive flashbacks to him as a young man and his early attempts at vigilantism (his costume is a basic all-black affair); after proposing to girlfriend Andrea, the pair are scared by some bats, which gives the young Bruce an idea. In the present day, Batman is falsely accused of the Phantasm’s crimes and is hounded by the police…

Bad guys: Weasel politician Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner, who was also in Supergirl) used to be an assistant of Andrea’s dad, Carl Beaumont, and is now in league with mobsters. The Joker turns him insane and he ends up laughing uncontrollably in a mental hospital. The maniacal yet dapper Joker doesn’t appear until about halfway through, voiced entertainingly and energetically by Mark Hamill. He’s taken over the ruins of a theme park and made it his lair. When he’s hired by a gangster to stop Batman, who the bad guys assume is the assassin, he quickly learns the Phantasm is actually to blame. At first, we’re led to believe that the Phantasm – a powerful, masked vigilante who appears, kills and disappears enveloped in smoke – is Carl Beaumont, out for revenge on the gangsters who ruined his life. The same actor voices both characters. However…

Other guys: Not properly fitting into either of the previous two categories is Andrea Beaumont. She’s voiced by Dana Delany, whose name sounds like a comic-book character. Andrea is a sharp-talking, sexy dame who had a relationship with Bruce years earlier. Her father was in hock to some gangsters, and just after Bruce has proposed to Andrea, she had to flee Gotham City with her dad. Returning in the present day, she soon figures out Bruce’s secret identity. She also drops enough hints – and then actually states – that her father is the Phantasm. However, the Joker has guessed the truth: it’s actually Andrea. When Bruce finds out, he calls her on her pointless vengeance. She rightly points out he’s a hypocrite. From the established Batman mythology, Alfred gets a few scenes with Bruce, while Commissioner Gordon won’t believe that Batman has turned evil.

Best bits:

* The first appearance of the Phantasm.

* Bruce surrounded by attractive women at a party. “Never mention the M word,” says one, meaning marriage.

* The flashbacks – like in Lost, the switch to the past is always smartly motivated by an emotional character beat.

* Andrea talking to her mother’s grave. “She doesn’t have much to say today,” she quips to Bruce.

* Bruce’s first attempt at crime-fighting – “Who’s this clown?” asks an incredulous bad guy – and the subsequent action sequence.

* The scene in the moonlight graveyard. The Phantasm kills a mobster by tricking him into an open grave and then pushing a huge tombstone on top of him.

* The Gotham World’s Fair, one of those futurist theme parks that predicted hover-cars and robotic domestic staff. There’s a gorgeous dieselpunk aesthetic to the whole thing. A similar sequence features in Captain America: The First Avenger.

* Bruce sees a sleek, retro-futuristic car at the fair: the same model as the future Batmobile.

* Bruce: “You think you know everything about me, don’t you?” Alfred: “I diapered your bottom. I bloody well ought to, sir.”

* Bruce puts his Batman mask on for the first time. We don’t see it, but Alfred looks terrified.

* Just before the first appearance of the Joker (played by Luke Skywalker, of course), we get a sound effect either copied or actually cribbed from The Empire Strikes Back – it’s the noise the Millennium Falcon makes when it breaks down.

* The Batwing.

* The running gag of Alfred walking in on Bruce and Andrea kissing then walking out again.

* The Phantasm pulls off its mask, revealing Andrea!

* Batman and the Joker fighting in the abandoned World’s Fair – their brawl takes place in a scale model of Gotham City, so they seem like giants. (It reminded me of similar gags in Hot Fuzz and Crank: High Voltage.)

Review: After a successful first season of Batman: The Animated Series, its producers set about making a feature-length, direct-to-video special. Impressed with the quality, however, the studio decided to give the film a cinema release. I’m no expert on the TV show and had never seen Mask of the Phantasm before, so I don’t know how representative it is. But it’s an enjoyable piece of storytelling. There’s a good structure, with plenty of plot development. The flashbacks – a nod to Citizen Kane, according to the producers – work really well in simultaneously fleshing out character and filling in back-story. And it also looks gorgeous, with some stylish animation which mixes up its eras to create a fun and interesting world. Enjoyable stuff.

Eight knife-wielding robots out of 10.

Next time: Riddle me this, Harvey Dent!

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