PG, mainly because it is an animated movie. But the conceit of the movie is that there is a villain killing folks. This vigilante is acting like The Punisher and Batman needs to stop him. Okay, I don't know how PG that is. Add to the fact that there's straight up animated blood in this movie coupled with the Joker being hecka disturbing makes this a very questionable PG. It's part of the idea that animated films get passes that live action films don't. But I'm a bit of a hypocrite on this already. I also admit that Mask of the Phantasm is a good younger age Batman film before any of the live action entries. PG.
DIRECTORS: Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm
There was a time in my life where I would testify to this film. Before you lose my meaning, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a fantastic Batman story. But I would be one of the hipsters who swore that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the quintessential Batman movie. Mind you, this is in the olden times, pre-Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. But there was a pride to really loving this movie. I always wondered, "Am I really a fan of this movie?" After all, Batman: The Animated Series was always quintessential Batman. But there has to be something special when a TV show makes the leap to film.
The takeaway, as I've established, is that for a spin-off movie, it is pretty darned impressive. As much as my wife wasn't into watching this because it was an animated Batman movie, she didn't seem to hate it either. There was a sense of engagement. But the oddest negative thing I took away was how cheap this movie looks. It's not a pretty looking movie. I read a Buzzfeed article or something on this movie, and they talked about the genius art design. Really, Mask of the Phantasm looks only slightly better than a normal episode of Batman: The Animated Series. I'm pretty sure that I remember seeing this movie in the theater. Sure, back in the day, I might not have noticed that this movie lacked a certain polish that other movies would have. But my kids instantly pointed out some of the lower quality animation. The guests at Bruce Wayne's party are completely stationary. Also, this movie, despite being brought over to Netflix, never really had a high def remaster. I could have put my DVD into the player and probably gotten the exact same quality of film than what I showed the kids. It's so odd thinking that The Simpsons got a major animation upgrade but Batman got absolutely nothing.
Because the movie is so short, I always thought that the film was a little underdeveloped. I don't know if that's true anymore. This really just felt like a tight, but short film. Because it focuses on a new character, it really did feel like reading something like Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's Hush for the first time. The image of the Phantasm is a great and scary villain. It's a pretty smart move to have the Phantasm parallel the motivation of Batman. The motivation of the death of parents seems to be something that happens in comic books quite a bit. I feel a little bit like Elijah from Unbreakable (for good reason!) when I talk about comic book tropes, but the choice to make Phantasm a parallel for both Bruce Wayne and Batman is what really hits in this story. As much as I love Batman's code in these stories, the idea that he doesn't kill doesn't really make a ton of sense with his origin story. I suppose the idea that Thomas Wayne, as a doctor, would take the Hippocratic oath implies that he would do no harm. But Batman does plenty of harm. He just doesn't kill.
And that's where the story gets interesting. What Batman: Mask of the Phantasm really nails is the stuff that isn't quite Batman. We care more about Bruce Wayne and Andrea than we do the character of Batman. Batman is seen as the burden that he is meant to be. I mean, the movie even ramps up that conflict by placing Batman in direct odds to the police, similar to the ending of Batman Begins. That might actually be an apt comparison. Because so much of this is Batman: Year One, it is interesting to see that some of the similar beats would be repeated again in Nolan's franchise.
But I was always floored with the idea of the Gotham PD versus Batman. There's an episode of the newer Batman adventures (I forget the exact title of the later seasons of the show when there's a time jump and a change in artistic style), where Jim Gordon takes on Batman directly. We find out that the entire thing is a hypothetical situation due to Scarecrow's fear toxin, but that's when the show speaks most clearly. Batman is cool and all. He'll always be cool. As a Superman fan myself, I can't ever argue that Batman has the cool thing down. He's clever and agile. He does all kinds of martial arts tricks to take down the bad guys. But he's also the guy who has the least right to be out on the streets beating up bad guys. Yeah, the Gotham PD doesn't know that it isn't Batman killing all of the bad guys. They don't know about the Phantasm (although the assistant DA seems to have some insight into that). But it also is really revealing that Batman, with the violent beat-'em-up philosophies, is always just on the edge of what is acceptable.
Because even though Gordon isn't on the squad, the rest of the police are aggressively opening fire on Batman. Remember, Batman isn't really fighting them. But the sour taste that Batman creates with the way he treats the law imbues him with the level of threat that the police see gunning him down as the only option. Part of it comes from the idea that Batman is talented. But is there a stipulation in the law that says if a criminal is really good at getting away, he should be open to lethal force? I actually don't know this answer. I'm sure a member of law enforcement could point that out. But remember, the GCPD went from having a Batsignal on the roof of Police Headquarters to full spread of weapons based on rumors.
The fact that Phantasm is Andrea is a great shoe being dropped, but I don't know if it has the same staying power that the flashback sequences of Bruce and Andrea have. I mean, don't get me wrong. It might be the only way to really close up the movie. It was always so odd that, when reading Hush, people were wondering who was behind the Hush bandages. I mean, it was the only character who was being introduced in the series. Mask of the Phantasm has the same structure, again years before Batman: Hush. But I love the idea that the Batman persona is the element of the story that is most toxic to Bruce Wayne. We also read young Bruce as lost to the death of his parents. Batman was apparently born that day. But we see that there's an active moment where Bruce chooses to kill the Bruce Wayne identity and to become Batman. It's not something that was simply in him. The drive is there, but the obsession is almost cleared away when he puts on the mantle.
I have to remember that Batman: The Animated Series is kind of / sort of a spinoff of the Tim Burton entries of Batman. The fact that the soundtrack to both sound so darned similar. I mean, Danny Elfman did both the film and the animated series, so it's not shocking. But Mask of the Phantasm really plays it a bit fast and loose with the Joker origin story. We don't get very much with that in this movie. But there's enough to contradict things that we're seeing in the comic books right now, especially "The Three Jokers" storyline. But since the Burton film acted as a very loose template for the show, and that film has a Joker origin, I can give it a pass.
I will still say that Nolan's trilogy might be the ideal Batman films. But Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a pretty great story, coupled with amazing visuals in a solid runtime. It's great to see when animation doesn't need to feel like a second class storytelling medium. Because the film focuses so much on the character of Bruce Wayne and Batman and not on the action elements, the film just really works.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.