There is a fantastic scene in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm that elevates it so far above other Batman films in terms of its story and character development.
The scene is a flashback to when Bruce Wayne was developing the Batman persona. He has been out fighting crime, but realizes that criminals do not fear him and decides to craft an identity that will be the next step in honoring the promise he made to his parents. During this time, he is dating Andrea Beaumont who he considers stopping his vigilante operations for to propose marriage. Later when Bruce visits his parents grave on a rainy night he pours his heart out to them. Asking if he’s doing the right thing. He mentions how he can give more money to the police to hire more cops and other ways to help the city. Breaking down, he tells them, “I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy.” Shortly after Andrea surprisingly leaves Bruce for reasons unknown to him at the time. Believing he has lost his one chance for normalcy, he dons the cape and cowl for the first time.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was originally planned to be a direct-to-video release. Warner Bros. then decided to give the film a theatrical release. It was released to theaters on December 25th 1993 and while it received critical acclaim, it did not succeed at the box office despite the popularity of Batman: The Animated series, which was on air at the time. The movie basically died on the vine due to the short notice in which it was released. I was 8 years old and loved the animated series so I certainly would have wanted to see this in theaters. I dont remember seeing a commercial and didn’t see it until it arrived on VHS. It’s a shame becuase more people needed to see that movie then and perhaps we would have gotten more superb animated films in that particular DC universe.
Mask of the Phantasm takes its cue from mystery/noir films of years past. There’s the main character who is a detective as well as a woman who plays a major part in the story. That makes it work much better as a cinematic experience as opposed to it being another tale with one of Batman’s rogues as the source of conflict. Although one of his rogues does play a part in the game, it’s not in the way you usually would see it. Going back to the noir aspects, I loved getting the chance to see Batman in his detective mode on screen. We are used to seeing it on television or in video games, but on the big screen it is either in limited amounts or not at all. Always enjoyed stories where the action circles Batman as he tries to solve it as opposed to it being strictly about Batman. That’s what makes this film great. It’s a mystery involving the Dark Knight, but not about him.
I know it’s over 20 years old at this point, but I don’t want to talk too much more as to not spoil anything (if anyone is checking this out for the first time I want them to go in fresh). Batman: Mask of he Phantasm is a great addition to the Batman mythos. It’s gripping and atmospheric. It’s character focused and well-written. It’s one of the best Batman stories on big or small screens by a team who already made a timeless adaptation of the character. It’s a shame this was never released in high definition formats. This is long overdue for an intensive special edition treatment. Yet if you do want to check this out and never have seen it, it’s dirt cheap on DVD. I highly recommend this one. It’s worth your time.