Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the perfect Batman movie. From the perfect dark, brooding and gothic mood set by Bruce Timm, the perfect casting and voice acting from Andrea Romano, to the epic music by Shirley Walker, to the cast led by Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Stacy Keach and Abe Vigoda, to the brilliant story by Alan Burnett and written by Alan Burnett, Martin Pasko, Paul Dini and Michael Reaves.
In Phantasm we're told from the beginning that the relationship didn't work out. We're given the story anyway because it's necessary to the plot, but also because the relationship crumples not because of Bruce Wayne's obsession and insanity. We learn in the past time frame that Bruce scrapped the idea of becoming Batman because he wanted to be with Andrea Beaumont, and when she comes back into the present timeline, while we are given the usual "I'll give up being Batman for you!" shtick, it once again ends in an unexpected way: Andrea Beaumont is the Phantasm.
Like most Batman movies, this one is heavy on theme. Here it's parallels. The journey of the revenge seeker--Bruce Wayne and Andrea Beaumont--is explored here. Bruce becomes Batman and in doing so devotes his life to being a masked vigilante and rejects the idea love; Andrea does the same. Near of middle of film Joker makes a joke (like he's supposed to, Nolan) to the effect that the Phantasm makes Batman look cute. And it's the truth. The costume is scarier, the weapons are stranger, and the methodology is different: the Phantasm is willing to kill. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The two pivotal Batman moments come at the middle point of the movie. The first is Bruce's decision to scrap the idea of being Batman to lead a happy life with Andrea. He realizes that he's reneging on his vow and goes to his parents' grave in the rain and asks for their forgiveness, that he wants a sign that he could be allowed to leave them. Bruce actually begins to weep a little, and says that he never counted on being happy. It's a powerful scene to watch. The animation, the music, Kevin Conroy's emoting, it's all quite perfect. It's all capped wonderfully by Andrea coming to him and saying that maybe they were meant to find each other, that it was his parents' way of saying he could be happy if he wanted to.
I usually don't care for flashbacks in books or movies; often I think it's a stalling measure, but here it strikes a perfect balance between character and plot, and it sets up the coming events in a tragic way: we want good things to continue happening, but as the past and present stories reach their climax and begin to collide, each scene becomes more depressing and leads to the greater tragedy: that Batman will always be Batman, and he'll always be alone.
As much as I love this movie, I do have some problems with it. The revelation of Andrea Beaumont (who should be blonde in my opinion) being the Phantasm is a neat one. Surprising as all hell, but it doesn't make sense. She's too small, too short, and how would she have been able to push over the mortuary statue? God bless her, but she doesn't have the physicality to do all those things. I'm not even trying to be sexist here (really!). She says to Bruce she took a self defense class. That's not good enough. Also, at 76 minutes, the movie isn't long enough. If Phantasm had been a few minutes longer we could have been given a look at what Andrea's life had been like in the ten years in between the death of her father and the beginning of her revenge plot. It would have been nice to see how she, you know, managed to do these physically impossible things. With a longer run time we could see more of Bruce and Andrea in the present and have their relationship slowly begin to move towards each other again. We also could have seen what was going on in Bruce's mind when he decided to stop being Batman, we could how he felt when he realized the Phantasm was Andrea, and we could have seen how Alfred felt about all of this. He has a stake in this too, Alfred raised Bruce, so we should see him struggle as the surrogate father, trying to lead Bruce to sanity, and react to his disappointment when it all falls apart. And most of all, with the added run time, we could have avoided the same plot hole from Batman Returns that involved Batman being cleared of the charges off screen.
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