For February’s Genre Grandeur, the selected theme was “Animated Comic Book/Strip Movies”. Chosen by Bubbawheat from Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights, this theme required some thought. To search for a possible title, I headed to Bubbawheat’s blog and discovered the list of “every superhero and comic book movie in chronological order”. While scrolling through the list, I came across one movie that I had heard of, but had never seen: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. This cinematic Batman entry has acquired a great amount of praise over its twenty plus year existence. However, it also has a reputation of not performing well at the box office. Any movie fan knows that box office performance does not always equal quality. But what is the quality of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm? Is it truly as good as other people say it is? Has it become overrated through the power of nostalgia? These are the questions I’ll answer in this review!
Things I liked about the film:
The voice acting: When it comes to animated films, the audience’s attention is so focused on what’s happening on screen, that they don’t think twice about the voice acting. Even though it seems like a small piece of the overall project, it actually can make or break the characters’ and their memorability. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm had an exceptional cast! Each actor brought more than enough emotion to match the facial expressions presented in the movie. These two components felt they were paired perfectly, with the voices themselves feeling like they belonged to that character! The casting itself couldn’t have been better! All of the actors effortlessly embodied their character through their voice talents. They were able to successfully gave life to their roles and enhance their memorability!
The animation: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is filled with great animation! Its 2-D style still holds up twenty-seven years later! What works in this movie’s favor is the color palette found throughout the project. Most Batman stories adopt a dark color scheme, to showcase the destruction and dismay that has overcome Gotham City. While Batman: Mask of the Phantasm does feature darker colors, the way lighter colors are paired with them is visually interesting. A great example is when a criminal named Buzz Bronski visits the cemetery. The entire scene is filled with the hues of black, gray, and dark blue. The red roses on a wreath are one of the few light colors that can be found in that scene. This makes the wreath pop with color and forces the audience’s attention toward the flowers. It also gives the film a style similar to movies with a “film noir” label.
The music: Another element in animated films that sometimes gets overlooked is the music. For Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a piece of music that really stood out was the official score. Composed by Shirley Walker, this score was powerful and helped the overall production gain its own identity. An orchestral composition and an operatic choir make this piece of music, as well as the overall film, feel grand in scale. This score was used during the opening credits, with similar tunes featured in two climatic moments of the film. Batman movies have historically incorporated orchestral scores into their projects. The score from The Dark Knight is one of the most iconic pieces of music in film history. Shirley Walker’s musical contributions to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm help keep that tradition alive.
The writing: I was really impressed by the writing in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, as it was clever and well thought-out! The film’s overarching mystery is a perfect example of this. It’s the kind of mystery that allows the audience to take a journey alongside Bruce/Batman. They get to experience events and situations when Bruce/Batman does. At times when a surprise comes, it catches the audience off-guard, as they are so invested in Batman winning over evil that they don’t see a surprise coming. Despite the movie’s darker tone, there was room in the script for humor to be included. One great example is when a party guest believes that the word “engagement” starts with the letter i. Because of how the joke was written and the delivery of the voice actor’s performance, the joke itself was executed flawlessly!
What I didn’t like about the film:
An unclear timeline: Throughout Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it was difficult to determine when this film took place. In a flashback scene, Bruce and Andrea visit the Gotham World’s Fair, mirroring World’s Fairs that have taken place in decades past (for a point of reference, a World’s Fair was featured in Captain America: The First Avenger). That same flashback scene showed Andrea using a car-phone, an invention known for its popularity in the ‘80s. At two separate moments in the movie, Bruce uses a computer to solve the film’s overarching mystery. Batman stories, more often than not, make a conscious effort to ground themselves in reality. Since this film was released in 1993, the story should have taken place in the early ‘90s, in order to reflect its “current” setting.
Too many flashbacks: Flashback scenes are meant to provide additional context to the film’s plot. They are placed at certain points in the story, so they can present their full impact on the audience. In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, several flashback scenes were shown, explaining the nature of certain relationships and giving clues to the film’s mystery. However, I feel there were too many of them. More than three flashback scenes existed in this narrative. At times, it seemed like every other scene in the movie was a flashback. It also didn’t help that some of them were a little too long. One example is when Bruce meets Andrea’s father for the first time. I liked the scenes themselves, but they made the flow of the film a little clunky.
My overall impression:
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is not just a solid Batman film. It’s also a solid animated film in general! For my first time watching an animated movie starring the world’s favorite ‘Caped Crusader’, I really enjoyed what I saw! It contained a lot of elements I look for in good animated projects, such as the quality in animation and the story itself. What’s great about this film is how Bruce/Batman was allowed to be a detective within the story. This aspect of the character is not often seen in cinema, as Warner Bros. has usually placed more emphasis on making Batman an action-hero. In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it was nice to see Bruce/Batman use multiple talents to save the day. This is definitely one of the better of the Batman cinematic entries! It has stood the test of time and is an enjoyable picture! I want to thank Bubbawheat and MovieRob for giving me a chance to finally see this film! Looking back on it, I have to wonder, where has Batman: Mask of the Phantasm been all my life?
Overall score: 8.4 out of 10
Do you have a favorite Batman film? Is there an animated movie you’d like me to talk about? Share your thoughts in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!