Bat Movies Part 3: Batman & Mask of the Phantasm

by | July 19, 2012 | Comments

Let’s stop here, this is Bat Movies: a five part article series exploring the films and cultural impact of Bruce Wayne and his night moves as justice-dispensing vigilante. In this third installment: Batman: The Movie and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

So at this point I’ve seen all of the Batman films and, um, wow, I guess enjoy all of them. That’s the happy result of having eight fairly distinct Batmans, they all have something of value on some level — even Batman & Robin. (Now I’m wondering if Warner Bros will reimburse me on the booze it took for me to get through it.)

So, Batman: The Movie. This is the 1966 adaptation starring Adam West as The Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as plucky Robin. My experience with this version of Batman is fairly limited. I always hated it when the show popped up on Saturday mornings since the weird colors and all the old people made me lose my appetite to eat cereal. After that, I only knew of this Batman (as I suspect many of us) from the myriad of references in pop culture. The Simpsons especially was instrumental, e.g. Adam West’s hilariously bizarre guest spot, or the episode where they film the Radioactive Man movie in Springfield. Those references are barely even spoofs, as the movie really is that knowingly twisted and stupid, and I was surprised at how contemporary some of the jokes are. The part where a porpoise randomly sacrifices itself to save Batman and Robin from torpedo death had me do a double take. And Robin’s anti-alcohol screed is so brazen and blatant that I suspect it’s dripping in sarcasm, which is interesting as I thought sarcasm wasn’t manufactured until 1991.

So, yeah, Batman: The Movie‘s camp and not particularly thrilling, not that it even tries to be. But then it’s also entertaining all the way through and it was clearly an influence on my favorite show, The Venture Bros, so there’s an extra level of amusement.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was unchallenged as my favorite Batman for 15 years, up until 2008’s The Dark Knight. Phantasm defined everything I wanted to see out of a Batman joint — complex cast of characters, great villains, action, drama, and maybe even a little romance. The origin story, almost always a bit tedious, is one of the movie’s highlights. Seeing Bruce Wayne go out on his first vigilante run, sans costume, was such an illuminating character moment for me. It humanized Batman and demonstrated the sheer commitment and insanity of his quest.

Mask of the Phantasm introduces a new villain, a mysterious cloaked figured draped in smoke, with a long blade attached to the right hand. The Phantasm is cruising around Gotham City at night, executing gangsters and members of the mob, which also has the inadvertent side effect of framing Batman for the crimes. Not that I fetishize the stuff, but I love how violent the movie is. Though it was a cartoon, it respected the audience’s capabilities to understand murder and death. If you grew up in the 90s, you know how rare it was to get that sort of trust. It felt like the stakes were truly high and no other American animated film bothered trying to do something like this until The Incredibles. It’s no surprise then that in-between the two films, I really got into anime.

This is probably the only Batman film that could be categorized as a mystery. Who is the Phantasm? One asks along with Bruce Wayne, “What is the Phantasm?s goal, purpose, and motive?” which makes the scenes of detective work very engaging. As the film drives deeper towards the truth, it also does something interesting: it introduces The Joker as secondary antagonist. There’s almost a sense of relief when he shows up. Joker’s there to ratchet up the action into the explosive final act, but he’s a familiar face who’s also predictably unpredictable, a good foil to the Phantasm’s monotone vengeance.

The movie is only 76 minutes long, which I think is a sweet spot for action cartoons. It was no problem watching this movie over and over as a kid, and was instrumental in developing my curiosity in pop culture.

Tag Cloud

Schedule zombie war TCA 2017 CBS All Access 2016 Fall TV Acorn TV biography social media TV AMC CBS Pixar Creative Arts Emmys ratings FOX Star Trek CMT Lionsgate RT History supernatural Amazon Toys political drama Year in Review The CW Musical Comedy DC Universe Marvel crime drama President Holidays TLC PBS Certified Fresh Cosplay Awards El Rey Syfy TruTV Paramount First Look Set visit Winter TV USA Paramount Network golden globes crime Infographic APB NYCC binge Nickelodeon Comedy Central thriller Photos Western historical drama Super Bowl cooking Countdown cats 21st Century Fox crime thriller adventure Calendar LGBTQ FXX Freeform Superheroes Ghostbusters ESPN SundanceTV Oscars Hulu Christmas Star Wars Music Rom-Com American Society of Cinematographers politics Box Office Sneak Peek Pirates Crackle Reality Competition justice league See It Skip It ABC GoT Comic Book Esquire History vampires Sundance Netflix Food Network dc Country transformers E3 FX Lifetime Tumblr travel TNT Adult Swim The Arrangement NBC Best and Worst WGN Video Games TCM Martial Arts romance GIFs Character Guide 45 serial killer Britbox sitcom Premiere Dates GLAAD Nat Geo Biopics what to watch X-Men VICE diversity 24 frames composers comiccon boxoffice Trailer Interview Winners Disney talk show Ellie Kemper Podcast Dark Horse Comics Rocky Sci-Fi Red Carpet Watching Series Opinion VH1 Action TBS Marathons Polls and Games Bravo period drama Reality Rock YA IFC Thanksgiving Horror BBC Mary Tyler Moore 007 aliens Universal ITV TV Land Summer Fox News Nominations HBO Mindy Kaling dceu spy thriller Valentine's Day singing competition Mystery Emmys TCA cinemax BET psycho Spike Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Extras Fantasy A&E OWN CNN Showtime Warner Bros. Trivia Sundance Now Pop Starz MTV harry potter USA Network based on movie ABC Family technology Tomatazos Logo Masterpiece Disney Channel Animation Spring TV discovery DirecTV E! SDCC Election 2015 cops Grammys Teen sports 2017 Drama dramedy police drama Cartoon Network medical drama BBC America Kids & Family Musicals Writers Guild of America DC Comics MSNBC PaleyFest docudrama TIFF science fiction