At the moment I'm starting to write this post, Henry Cavill is taking a break of the production in New Jersey, while Zack Snyder and his team are adding new locations for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Even when this movie is set to be released in a year and a half, it's already one of the most expected productions of recent times.
A new film where Batman appears inspires us as geeks and cape crusader's lovers to watch again all the movies of this great character, from Adam West to Christian Bale, always finding new things we like (and dislike) of these stories. Recently, DC has chosen to adapt several Batman graphic novels into animated movies, allowing different directors to approach more serious Batman storylines with more freedom. So far, Year One and Batman: Gotham Knight remain as my favorites. Other productions like Under The Red Hood and The Dark Knight Returns have been very well received by critics and fans. But long before this creative freedom was given by Warner Bros.(also motivated by the succes of Chris Nolan's style in big screens, by the way), there was Bruce Timm and his Batman Animated Series.
Timm and his team created the TV show that is until today, the best animated version of Bob Kane's creation. After one impressive first season, an animated movie was set to be released in VHS, shortly Warner rejected the idea and decided to take it to cinemas. However, the film was a flop due to the very short time that remained in exhibition. Thanks to the VHS sales around the world (the film made it to cinemas only in the US), the production recovered the 6MD invested.
Mask Of The Phantasm was premiered in 1993, and tells us the origin of Batman in the Timm's animated universe, when a young Bruce Wayne meets Andrea Beaumont, a woman who will later play a key role in the construction of the Batman identity. At the same time, a mysterious dark figure is killing one by one the members of an old mafia family.
In time, this movie has become part of the best efforts to take Batman to cinemas in recent years, and maybe the only light of hope after Burton left the franchise and before Schumacher take it. But, what does this vision has that makes it stay as the best Batman animated film ever? Why is better than some live action films? Here are my reasons. Don't forget to comment and share, dear readers!
8.- Animated Batman to a whole new level
The artistic design of Timm's Batman is now a classic, but the TV show had a very simple 2D (and effective) animation style. Since the first two minutes, you know Mask of The Phantasm is something else. A very classy pan of Gotham shows the animators began to play with a new 3D style, giving a very accurate feeling of actually watching a motion picture.
7.- The Music
It seems that back in 1992, Bruce Timm knew Batman would take a while to get a decent version in big screens, so could easily place all the seasons from the animated series a as sequel to Burton's Batman Returns. In fact, the opening scene in each episode we can hear the iconic musical theme Danny Elfman did for those films.
But in Mask Of The Phantasm, director Eric Radomski opted to use a new music theme for the picture, leaving behind Elfman's classic track and not even using it in his film, he brought Shirley Walker to make the music instead. In addition, this animated film has a love song included in the soundtrack , which is simply great. The first script written by Alan Burnett was born looking to create a love story for Batman, and this song by Tia Carrere really catches the message.
6.- The movie has a brilliant script
It's just a 76 minutes movie, and it quickly develops interesting situations for Batman, presents all the new characters and keeps the explosive rityhm from the beginning to the end. It shows a tormented Bruce Wayne in a very unusual way, the film does not have the classic flashback of how Bruce's parentes were killed, it shows how he's not really sad about they were murdered in front of him, the script choses to give us a Bruce Wayne who wishes his parents to be there to guide him, taking the character to a kind of sick madness, claiming in his parents' grieve that he "is not counting on being happy". Heartbreaking moment.
5.- It has blood and is violent
As a kid I remember watching The Animated Series while having breakfast before going to school, and the only time I remember watching Batman bleeding was in this movie. MOTP has very exciting action sequences, and some explosive scenes where Batman isn't involved. We would not see this kind of complex script until Nolan made his film 12 year after. It's for sure that Timm risked a bit showing this level of violence, and it was not repeated in the TV seasons to come after MOTP. Also, it contains some images that could disturbe a child.
4.- The Phantasm is freakin' cool!
The design for this iconic villain is truly remarkable. Maybe inspired by Darth Vader's helmet and Batman's cape, this character is one of the best nemesis Batman has ever had. Plus, the final twist revealing the identity of the mysterious phantom is key to close a very solid script. Timm made the first drawings for this character, based on the villain Raeper, Andrea Beaumont would return as the Phantasm in Justice League Unlimited TV series.
3.- The Joker as supporting character
This was just brilliant. Paul Dini chose to include the Joker as supporting element in a plot where Bruce's past is the real protagonist. This Jokes not only counted with the definitive voice of Mark Hamill, but it also had the chance to get his own origin story, well, sort of. In this film, the Joker was the hoodlum of a powerful mafia family that wanted to kill Andrea's father. We know where he worked sometime, but we still don't know how this man became the crazy clown, just like in the comics.
2.- Sex & Politics
Just like in the Nolan's trilogy, there's a chance here to show a Gotham that doesn't know how to deal with this Batman stuff. Is he a hero, or just a dangerous vigilante who shold be stopped? To portrait this insecurity and the eternal politics greed, we have Arthur Reeves, a corrupt functionary who is now in love with Andrea and has dirty issues with the wrong people in Gotham. It may not be the best supporting character here, but his final faith helps to remind us how cruel and mad the Joker can be. The final destiny of Arthur is quite chilling.
Oh, and about the sex, remember when Andrea went back to Wayne Manor? Yep. It happened.
1.- Excellent artwork
It's quite easy, Mask Of The Phantasm inspired one of the best Batman poster collections and fan artwork around the world. Quite cool, right?