30 for 30: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Richard Petro

twitter @ThePetroProject

October 6th, 2019

"Vengeance blackens the soul, Bruce. I've always feared that you would become that which you fought against. You walk the edge of that abyss every night, but you haven't fallen in and I thank heaven for that."

     I feel sort of guilty here. I had mentioned in my intro that I was refraining from placing Halloween in this special since I've talked about how it's one of my favourites before and I wanted to keep things here kind of fresh and inviting to possible new discussions over different films. And yet, something drew me to put Mask of the Phantasm on here no matter what, even though it, like Halloween, was subject to me talking quite a bit about how much I loved it.
     Needless to say, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is my favourite Batman movie ever made. Yes, it's not an original choice, but it's so hard to go against it (same thing goes for the other choice I see a lot from people, the Batman Beyond film Return of the Joker). While I'm a massive fan of Batman in general and, like almost everyone else, consider The Animated Series as one of the greatest animated series ever, it has very little to do with my love of the film. It helps that the creative forces are behind the feature, but it absolutely stands on its own as a brilliant, singular piece.
     My piece from a few years back covers a lot of what makes the film work (you can revisit it here), but I'll still try my best to sum it up without getting too far lost in the rabbit hole.

     What makes Mask of the Phantasm stand out so well is it's impeccable writing. The film is a lean 70-minutes, and not a single moment is wasted. There's enough here to make it feel as though the film is longer than it actually is, perfectly blending action, flashbacks, character moments and revelations, and still letting individual moments room to breath. All of the characters are wonderfully fleshed out and, more importantly, feel like perfect respresentations of their characters.
     Bruce Wayne is seen as his charming, Playboy-ish self that feeds into the idea that just because he has a lot of money means he may not know much else about, well, anything else, while offsetting that with a great representation of the depression and trauma he is dealing with. The flashbacks involving his evolution into Batman is still possibly the greatest put to screen, symbolizing just what it truly means for Bruce to let this form of darkness take over him and how it isn't necessarily a great thing, no matter how cool we may think Batman is in a pop culture sense.

     His relationship with Andrea is well conveyed in the small amount of time it has, and Andrea herself is a character I've always loved. There's a lot to discuss that I'd rather not get into, it's better to have the film unfold for you, but she is smart, funny, and layered in ways that make her work and have a bigger impact than you would assume given her relatively short time on screen. The film wouldn't work as well as it does if she wasn't believable, and I wish she had turned up in more afterwards, though it's obvious that her story ends here. The movie is just as much her story as it is a Batman movie, possibly moreso.

     Of course there's more and more to discuss, even including the previous article I had written about the film (Joker is brilliantly portrayed here, the mystery is intriguing, the way it handles Bruce's struggles with becoming Batman, etc, etc), which is an ongoing testament to what I had said prior about it; there is a lot of content packed in here, and it never feels like the short runtime is working against it, as moments can still breathe and feel incredibly natural. Even divorced from the known and long-standing excellence of the animated series, it hold up on its own and easily ranks among the greatest superhero films ever made, and is still the definitive big screen version of the world and its characters we have gotten so far.