Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Underrated, Part 3: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

We could probably do a separate series on underrated movies produced by Bruce Timm, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm may be the most extreme case. Released theatrically in 1993, this delves into the characters and continuity of the animated series. No longer constrained by television censors, the writers are free to touch on adult themes. There is sex and there is death, neither in overabundance, but both present.

A brilliant portrayal of the Caped Crusader, this film captures many of the same elements which have made Batman Begins and The Dark Knight successful. It considers the dark corners of Batman's universe, featuring a Joker who oscillates violently between hilarious and frightening, mobsters willing to kill, and heroes who falter.

We once visited a video store which classified this movie as drama, an unusually accurate depiction. While it certainly contains action, it is first and foremost a movie about characters, relationships, love, vengeance, and damnation. The movie shows how close Bruce Wayne came to salvation, of avoiding the mask of Batman and living a normal life instead. It's a love story, but one which cannot end well. Because Gotham needs Batman, the city will not allow Bruce to find happiness. In what may be the greatest scene of the picture, we are shown Bruce Wayne at the grave of his parents, begging them to release him from the promise he made as a child. In many ways, Mask of the Phantasm provides a darker portrait of Batman that any other that's been presented on film.

While close, the movie is not perfect. There are a few lines that are a touch melodramatic, and the animation, while generally solid, gets weak from time to time.

But make no mistake, this is a fantastic look at an iconic character. If you haven't seen Mask of the Phantasm, we suggest doing so immediately.

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