Throwback Thursdays: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Batman Mask of the PhantasmIn 1993 a Batman movie came out called Batman: Mask of the Phantasm that was based on the 1990s Batman Animated Series. The show was wildly successful, so it is no surprise that a movie came out of the series. Since the release of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it has been hailed as one of the best Batman movies and is often put at the same level as many of the great live-action Batman films. It is certainly one of my favorite Batman movies: it introduces one of my favorite female characters, delves more deeply into Batman’s psyche, and gives us some of the most hilarious and terrifying Joker moments.

Spoilers for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

Our movie begins with several crime bosses meeting together to discuss business when gangster Chuckie Sol is killed by a mysterious masked figured not long after Batman shows up at the scene. The police assume that Batman is the murderer. Later we see Bruce Wayne at a party being fawned over by several women until one ex-lover yells at him for ditching her and throws a drink in his face. He is teased by his friends for his poor love life and it’s revealed that one of Bruce’s former girlfriends, Andrea Beaumont, is back in Gotham.

PhantasmThe movie then flashes back ten years to when Bruce first met Andrea while visiting his parents’ grave. Bruce has just started in his attempts to become Batman and he’s talking to his parents about what he is trying to do. The general feeling you get from Bruce talking to his parents’ grave is a sense of anxiety, guilt, and depression. Bruce feels almost as if his parents are forcing him to be Batman. His survivor’s guilt convinces him that his parents will be disappointed in him if he doesn’t become Batman and fight crime. But then he hears Andrea, who is visiting her mother’s grave and speaking to her as well. The two begin a romance and the more Bruce becomes happier and more content with his life, the less he wants to be Batman. He has what can almost be viewed as a panic attack over not wanting to be Batman, but after conversations with Alfred and Andrea (though Andrea never knew Bruce’s plans to become Batman) Bruce is eventually convinced that his parents would want him to be happy and move on with his life. Bruce seems prepared to do so and asks Andrea to marry him, but not a day after he proposes, Andrea and her father disappear, leaving only a letter behind telling Bruce that she had to leave. Bruce spirals back into depression and feels he now cannot have a normal life, so he becomes Batman.

Not long after Andrea’s return, the mysterious masked figure kills another gangster named Buzz Bronski. Bruce suspects that Andrea’s father, who was in trouble with the mob, has returned to seek his revenge. Andrea denies this and criticizes Bruce for his life choices, particularly his playboy persona, since she left. The masked killer later targets the mobster Valestra, who turns to the Joker for help. The Joker agrees, but when the masked killer goes to kill Valestra, they find him already dead with a smile plastered on his face and a camera attached to his body. Now that the Joker knows the killer is definitely not Batman, he hits a detonator, causing the house to explode with the killer barely escaping. Batman eventually catches up to the killer, but they get away when the police start pursuing Batman. Batman barely makes it out alive and has to take off his mask and cowl to use as a decoy. He would have been caught if not for Andrea showing up at the right moment to save him and speed him away from the police. With Andrea knowing that Bruce is Batman, the two rekindle their relationship. Andrea then reveals that her father returned to Gotham early to deal with some things all but cementing Batman’s theory that Andrea’s father is the masked killer. However, Batman later discovers that Andrea and her father fled the country because her father was in trouble with the mob, but the mob tracked him down and sent in a hitman and murdered him. Realizing that the masked killer is Andrea, he quickly learns where she is headed next when he sees a picture of the mob hitman and realizes it’s the Joker.

Andrea and BatmanAndrea heads to an abandoned amusement park where the Joker is hiding. Having already figured out her identity, the Joker has prepared for her and attacks her. He almost kills Andrea when Batman shows up to join the fight. Batman begs Andrea to give up her revenge plans, but she refuses and rightly accuses Bruce of being a hypocrite. Batman and Joker keep fighting but soon Andrea rejoins them and grabs the Joker just as bombs the Joker set go off all over the park. Andrea disappears with the Joker into the smoke, and Batman barely manages to escape. Later we see a heartbroken Bruce in the Bat Cave and Andrea is shown escaping Gotham once again. The movie ends tragically, showing Bruce dressed as Batman with the Bat signal flying in the background.

This has to be one of my favorite Batman movies of all time. The Joker is both terrifying and hilarious. He is shown as completely cruel and heartless, but still intelligent. Learning of the Joker’s past as one of Gotham’s most ruthless hitmen also cements him as a character who was always terrifying. While I appreciate the storylines that portray the Joker as a more tragic figure, the idea that he was always someone who enjoyed pain and murder is equally scary. Andrea is also a complex and interesting character. While she is still a love interest to Bruce, she is given so much more development than that. The main plot of the movie follows and focuses on Andrea. From the minute we meet her, we learn that she has her problems and interests outside of Bruce and she eventually gives Bruce up to help her father. Andrea is also given a revenge role that is rarely given to women, and is capable of calling Bruce out for criticizing what she is doing when he is practically doing the same thing. Furthermore, since we never see the Joker at the end of the movie, we are left to assume that Andrea is one of the few people to ever successfully beat the Joker.

the-last-laughSadly, we don’t get much of Andrea outside of Bruce’s perspective. We see her talking at her mother’s grave when she doesn’t know Bruce is watching and we get one flashback where Andrea remembers coming home to find her father murdered by the Joker, but otherwise everything is filtered through Bruce’s point of view. However, we do gets scenes that delve into Andrea’s personality. She is very strong-willed, opinionated, and intelligent. By herself, she designs a costume to help disguise who she is in every way. Andrea’s suit is not only armor, but covers her entirely and even makes her look more masculine to throw people off her identity. Her costume also dispenses smoke, enabling her to disappear just as well as, if not better than, Batman. She is methodical about tracking down her father’s killers and isn’t afraid to go after someone like the Joker. She’s pretty badass.

But my favorite thing about this movie is how it dives into Bruce’s psyche. The movie clearly shows how tortured Bruce is by his parents’ death and portrays his becoming Batman not as something good or healthy, but as a product of his psychosis and survivor’s guilt. We see how Bruce, with Andrea’s help, is almost able to overcome his issues, but falls back into his old ways when she leaves. In some ways Bruce becomes fixated on Andrea as his last chance for a normal life, pinning all his hopes on her. When Andrea returns, he immediately contemplates giving up being Batman again. But the tragedy here is partly Bruce’s own sexism and psychosis. Bruce places Andrea on a pedestal, seeing her as better than other humans—his salvation. Bruce is devastated to discover that Andrea is the killer because it means she is just as human and broken as he is. Andrea recognizes this, but Bruce can’t handle that revelation. He can’t learn from his mistakes and Andrea’s, and so continues to live as Batman because he doesn’t know how else to live anymore.

BatmanMost superhero movies show how noble and wonderful being a superhero is; though, in recent years many movies have portrayed that as being something good but difficult. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm shows Bruce as just as broken and problematic as his villains. I think it is an interesting take on the character and it is certainly one of the many reasons why this movie is hailed as one of the best Batman movies. I would highly recommend watching this film if you haven’t already. It certainly stands the test of time.

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