When Gotham City’s mobsters begin meeting a violent end at the hand of a new masked vigilante, the cops peg Batman for the crimes. But as the Dark Knight uncovers the Phantasm’s identity, it draws his own motivations into question, and things get even more complicated as the chaos draws The Joker into the mix. What began as straight-to-video release, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Tickets) got a budgetary bump and a theatrical release in late 1993 after Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski’s Batman: The Animated Series proved to be such a massive success for Warner Bros.
1. So far, Mask of the Phantasm is the only one of DC Comics’ animated features to get a theatrical release. This is largely because the movie completely tanked at the box office, failing to even recoup its modest $6 million budget. It has since turned a profit through home video release and heavy TV airplay and is generally accepted to be the best of DC’s animated features (though many would also argue for the controversially dark Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker).
2. If you’re still not sold on the cult-movie chops of Mask of the Phantasm, the first lines in the movie are spoken by none other than B-movie icon Dick Miller. He dies basically immediately, but… still.
3. One reason why I like this version of Batman over his live-action counter-parts is how much it plays up The World’s Greatest Detective aspect of the character. He spends much of the movie tailing suspects and analyzing data, and he also doesn’t pack the same kind of extravagant gadgetry that’s present even in Christopher Nolan’s “real world” depiction of the character. Except he does have a plane, a car and a motorcycle — he’s still Batman, after all.
4. That’s not to say that there aren’t any great action set-piece in this movie, especially a roof-top chase sequence between Batman, The Phantasm and the GPD .
5. While not an origin story in the vein of Batman Begins or Batman: Year One, Mask of the Phantasm also takes a look back at a young Bruce Wayne just as he’s about to don the cowl, and it illustrates what ultimately gives him that one final push to take the black. I can’t dig up a proper attribution for this, but according to The Internet, the film’s writers cribbed from Citizen Kane in its use of flashbacks to tie Bruce’s past to the mystery at hand.
6. Mark Hamill’s version of the Joker might be my all time favorite incarnation of the character. Slimy and charismatic, Hamill’s Joker merges all of the best aspects of that character without playing to one extreme or the other. His voice wavers back and forth between the charming mischief maker to this murderous agent of chaos so fluidly and with such vivid showmanship, that it really is a marvel to hear.
7. Freed from the rather rigid standards of Saturday Morning Cartoons, Mask of the Phantasm began to push what was considered acceptable in animation. There’s blood, death, some “adult themes” in Mask of the Phantasm, which is all rather minor compared to the animated Batman movies that comes out today, but it was a welcome first step for fans of the medium.
8. While Hans Zimmer made a gigantic mark with his scores for Nolan’s Batman films, he performed the synthesizer cues in Mask as the Phantasm. The more you know.
9. I’ve always enjoyed the use of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s imposing tombstone as a totem for Bruce’s psychological problems. In Phantasm, he’s shown crying at the foot of their grave, lamenting not being able to keep his promise to wipe Gotham clean of crime. For Bruce, anything less than perpetual mourning and a life dedicated to vigilantism would be a disappointment to his dead parents, but he never seems to realize that the promise he made to them after their murder is actually one that he made to himself, and that the civic minded Waynes would be more likely to encourage their son towards a productive life of happiness rather than sacrifice it for one of vengeance.
10. Fuck it, here’s four minutes of the Joker laughing: