Spun off from the popular animated TV series, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM was originally conceived as a quickie direct-to-video release that would keep the show's animators busy between seasons. After the project was substantially completed, Warner Bros. deemed it strong enough for theatrical release.
During a conference of crime bosses held in a Gotham City skyscaper, gangster Chuckie Sol (Dick Miller) is killed in a confrontation with the Phantasm, but Batman (voice of Kevin Conroy) is held responsible for his death. Councilman Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner) rails to the media that Batman is an irresponsible menace, then attends a party at the mansion of millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, Batman's alter ego. Reeves taunts Bruce for having allowed an old girlfriend, Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany), to get away.
In a flashback to Bruce's college days, we see him meet Andrea in a cemetery while visiting his parents' grave. Bruce has vowed to avenge his parents' murder by dedicating his life to fighting crime. After donning a mask and black ninja-styled outfit and foiling an armored car robbery, he begins
a romance with Andrea.
Back in the present, another mobster murder by the Phantasm is pinned on Batman, moving sickly mob boss Salvatore Valestra (Abe Vigoda) to hire the Joker (Mark Hamill) to kill the superhero. After inspecting the crime scene, Batman visits the Wayne family grave and is seen by Andrea, who
realizes his secret identity. This prompts another flashback, in which Bruce and Andrea are enjoying themselves at the Gotham World's Fair. Bruce meets her father, Carl Beaumont (Stacy Keach), a businessman with ties to Valestra. Later, deciding that crimefighting and relationships don't mix,
Bruce asks his parents for a sign that they'll forgive him for forsaking his vow. As if in answer, Andrea arrives. When he proposes to her, bats fly up out of a crack in the ground and momentarily surround them. The next day, Bruce is investigating the underground bat cave when his butler Alfred
(Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) arrives with a note from Andrea breaking off their engagement and bidding him farewell forever. Bruce makes the cave his crimefighting headquarters and adopts the fearsome persona of Batman.
In the present, Batman has discovered evidence linking Beaumont with a number of organized crime figures. The Phantasm targets Valestra, but is beaten to the punch by the unstable Joker; Batman takes the rap again and has a close call with the police. Rescuing Batman in her car, Andrea explains
that she and her embezzler father had been hiding from the mob, to whom he owed a lot of money, in Europe. Beaumont eventually repaid the crooks, but that didn't satisfy them. Batman believes that Andrea's father may be the Phantasm, until he learns that Beaumont was murdered some time before.
In a tussle with the Joker, The Phantasm is revealed to be Andrea, intent on avenging her father's death. During the course of a protracted struggle, Batman arrives and does battle with the Joker in a miniaturized replica of Gotham City. Both the Joker and the Phantasm eventually disappear, with
Batman barely escaping into a waterway before a series of rigged explosions. Back in the Batcave, he grieves for his lost love, who has actually survived and left Gotham on an ocean liner. Batman grimly swings off in response to the Bat signal.
A by-product of the success of Tim Burton's live-action features, the animated "Batman" TV series has a distinctive Art Deco noir look. The show and the film respect the dark obsessiveness of the comic-book hero, portraying him as a borderline psychotic who is nearly as mad as his enemies but
constrained by a strict ethical code. This is, in a sense, a kid's movie that longs to be "adult," so as to more fully explore the twisted violence and general irrationality of Batman's world. Indeed, small children may be confused by BATMAN's flashbacks, frightened by its violence, and bored by
its gloomy sobriety and talky seriousness.
Still, there is much to admire here. A surreal battle between Batman and the Joker amid skyscrapers and elevated trains in a miniaturized Gotham City stands out, as does an extended sequence in which our hero is hunted by police SWAT teams. The most impressive piece of animation is the opening
credit sequence: a stunning two-minute, computer-generated 3D flight through Gotham City. This absorbing adventure should resonate with those who take the notion of heroism seriously--especially adolescent boys. (Violence.)
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