Batman: Mask of the Phantasm: An Overlooked Classic – Netflix Review (Day 29)

I take a look at what might be the best Batman film.

SUMMARY

A group of mob bosses, including Chuckie Sol (Dick Miller), are planning to launder a bunch of fake bills through a casino. They’re ambushed by Batman (Kevin Conroy), who takes out most of the thugs as Sol escapes to his car. He’s met in the parking garage by a different figure, the Phantasm (Stacy Keach), who appears to be an embodiment of Death itself. Sol tries to kill the Phantasm, but ends up driving off of the edge of the garage and dying. People at the scene see Batman looking out over the wreck and assume he was responsible. Local politician Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner) tells the media that Batman is a menace, despite Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) saying that Batman doesn’t kill people. Later, the Phantasm murders another mob boss, Buzz Bronski (John P. Ryan), and Bronski’s goons believe Batman did it. 

Your angel of death awaits.

At the same time, Andrea Beaumont (Dana “I was Lois Lane” Delaney), one of Bruce’s oldest flames, returns. We see in flashbacks that Andrea met Bruce when he was first trying to start his career as a crimefighter. The two grew close, to the point that Bruce even asked her to marry him and thought about abandoning his quest to be a vigilante. However, Andrea left the country with her father, Carl (Keach), and broke up with Bruce via a letter. Believing that he has lost his last chance at a happy life, Bruce finally becomes Batman. While investigating Bronski’s death as Batman, Andrea sees him next to the Wayne grave, leading her to realize that Bruce is Batman. Bruce later discovers a photo linking Andrea’s father to the two dead gangsters and a third mob boss, Sal “The Weezer” Valestra (Abe Vigoda).

Yes, Abe Vigoda plays a mobster who is on Oxygen. It’s great.

Valestra sees the reports of Batman killing the mobsters and goes to seek help from the Joker (Mark Hamill). The Joker tells Valestra that he’s going to help him, but when the Phantasm arrives at Valestra’s house, Joker has killed the aged mob boss and used his body as a bomb after strapping a camera to the corpse. When the building blows up, Batman meets the Phantasm, who escapes and leaves the police to chase Batman. He narrowly evades capture with the help of Andrea, who admits that she left with her father because he stole from the three mobsters. Batman now believes that Carl is the phantasm, but also discovers that there is one more target: the man who later became the Joker was Valestra’s chauffeur. Joker, now aware that the murderer isn’t Batman, goes to confront Reeves, who used to work for Carl Beaumont, and gasses him with Joker toxin after suspecting that Reeves might be the Phantasm. Batman confronts Reeves, who reveals that he leaked Andrea and Carl’s location to the mob after they refused to fund his first campaign. 

Why would you think asking the Joker for anything would work out well?

*** MASSIVE SPOILER. THIS IS ON NETFLIX, YOU MIGHT WANT TO JUST WATCH THE MOVIE, BUT IT’S STILL GREAT EVEN IF YOU KNOW THE TWIST***

The Phantasm tracks Joker to his hideout, where the Joker reveals he’s figured out the identity of the killer: Andrea. She intends to kill all of the mobsters as vengeance for killing her father, something that the Joker apparently did personally when he was still “normal.” Batman, who has also figured out that Andrea is the Phantasm, arrives as the Joker has her on the ropes. After saving her, Batman and the Joker fight to a stalemate, with the Joker revealing that his lair is wired to blow. Andrea grabs the Joker and holds him, telling Bruce goodbye as flames erupt around her. Later, Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) consoles Bruce, saying that he walks the edge of darkness, but hasn’t fallen in, while Andrea fell long ago. Bruce finds Andrea’s locket in the cave. Meanwhile, Andrea, who survived, leaves the country on a boat. 

END SUMMARY

I picked this one as my choice for “A Film Based on a TV Show” for three reasons. First, because this movie got screwed over and it needs to get all the respect and viewership it can get. Second, because Batman: The Animated Series was amazing. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the minds behind it, revolutionized superhero shows. Last, because most other films based on TV shows suck unless they’re comedies.  

The show gave us Harley Quinn using a bazooka against chauvinists. ‘Nuff said.

If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably remember Batman: The Animated Series. It was one of the darkest cartoons that was on TV at the time, both literally and figuratively. The animation was so dark that they frequently found it cheaper to buy black paper and draw the white parts over it. In terms of content, it frequently dealt with themes of mortality, loss, the nature of evil, and the general unfairness of life, things that children’s TV shows just flat-out didn’t address back then. It also had great action sequences, great writing, and an abundance of imagination in characters and plotlines. It still holds up as being one of the greatest animated series of all time, and I put one of the episodes on my list of the greatest television episodes of all time. This film was their attempt to bring that creativity to the big screen and it should have been the Batman movie of the decade. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite get its due, losing money at the box office.

Dark as it gets for a kids show.

When the team started making the film, it was supposed to be a direct-to-video release. Soon, Warner Brothers decided to make it a theatrical film. Moreover, they decided that it was going to be released on Christmas Day of that same year, 1993. This meant that they had eight months to make the movie. For perspective, Disney typically gives four years to make an animated film. Moreover, Warner Brothers decided, after dumping a ton of money into making the film to compensate for the short time frame, to save money by cutting the marketing budget for the film. This is generally considered a stupid, stupid move, especially when the movie already had been rushed so much that it hadn’t really had time to generate buzz. Despite the fact that it was a Batman movie based on a massive hit show right after the show’s first season ended, only a year after Batman Returns had been one of the biggest moneymakers of all time, this movie was promoted for less than two months at less than half the rate of other films. Coming from someone who was a Batman-obsessed kid at the time, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THIS MOVIE WAS COMING OUT. Hell, Siskel and Ebert missed it. Moreover, they rushed the toys from the film into development so fast that they accidentally released a figuring of the Phantasm in November… marketed with the secret identity on display. Yeah, they destroyed the great mystery of the movie a month before it even came out. Great job, WB. 

One of the best Batman suit-up sequences on film, and no one saw it.

The key to this movie is that it’s really the one threat that we never see Batman deal with: Happiness. Batman always is depicted as a dark, wounded soul who is trying to seek justice and vengeance upon the world as a way to deal with his pain. But, in this movie, we see him actually question his vow and whether it’s worthwhile because he actually finds himself being happy with Andrea. There’s a climactic scene in which he is at his parents’ grave, telling them that he can’t be Batman if there’s someone to go home to. He offers to help the city financially instead (gee, what an idea), but he can’t risk his life, and doesn’t want to, if he’s not miserable. It’s a great way to show that there are really layers between Bruce Wayne and Batman and that the interplay between them is part of what makes the character so strong.

She also is the only girl he dates with solid burns.

Possibly the greatest decision in the movie, though, was including the Joker. Mark Hamill’s Joker is usually considered to be the best iteration of the character, and adding him in during the second act, despite him originally seeming to be unconnected to the central conflict, was a master stroke. None of the mobsters or the Phantasm could possibly have justified the magnificent set piece of the “City of the Future” for the final fight sequences, and only the Joker could have provided the comic relief to off-set the violence. Plus, the final shot of the Joker laughing as he awaits his death by explosion is amazing, particularly since it’s accompanied by a powerful choir crescendo. 

Overall, this movie is amazing and I really wish it got the respect it’s due at the time, but you can at least relive your childhood with one of the few parts that will hold up well by watching this. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Batman: Hush – What Do Adaptations Owe the Audience? 

One of the most famous modern stories from Batman is adapted into an animated film and it raises a lot of questions about adapting a 2-volume long story arc into an 80 minute film.

SUMMARY

Bruce Wayne/Batman (Jason O’Mara) is at a dinner where he runs into the recently-returned Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Jennifer Morrison) and his childhood friend Thomas Elliot (Maury Sterling), only for it to be interrupted by a report of Bane (Adam Gifford) kidnapping a small child. It’s quickly revealed that someone is manipulating Bane, and a host of other villains from Batman’s Rogues Gallery, in a complicated attack upon not only Batman, but also Bruce Wayne. At the same time, Batman and Catwoman finally decide to get together, but Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are having a harder time.

Hush - 2Hush.png
No, he’s not secretly invisible.

END SUMMARY

If you’ve been liking the recent DC Animated Films up until this point, you’re probably going to like this. I actually think it’s one of the more well-paced adaptations that they’ve put out, mostly because it’s focused solidly upon Batman and his inner struggle to find a balance between his work and his growing love for Catwoman. Even more so than most of the comic books, the film also puts a lot of effort into exploring that she’s having a similar struggle. After all, she is a thief who steals because she loves it, something that doesn’t exactly make you an ideal partner for a crime-fighter. This dynamic has been featured in many of the film and television versions, but I admit that this one was especially well-done. Actually, aside from the Batman: The Animated Series version and some of the comic book runs, this might be the best take on their relationship (assuming the Arkham Games are part of BtAS). 

Hush - 1BatCat
Their babies will rule the world. 

The animation is basically the same as the other current DCAU, but I actually think they did a great job of emphasizing the differences between the scenes where Bruce Wayne is in charge and the scenes where Batman is in charge. When Bruce is considering things as Batman, the tones all darken appropriately without it really impacting the scenes, but it’s not done so blatantly that it gets annoying or feels like the artists are shouting “SYMBOLISM!!!” The voice-acting is on point, since it’s pretty much the same cast as before. 

Hush - 3Mirror
Good imagery and cinematography, too.

As a movie, I think the story here is pretty entertaining, since it contains a new criminal mastermind who seemingly attacks both Bruce Wayne and Batman at the same time. This thematically intertwines well with the issues that he’s having with being both Batman and Bruce Wayne in his relationship with Selina/Catwoman. Ultimately, he does try to resolve the conflict in his personal life, only for his vigilante life to keep driving a wedge between them. Still, having the central plot and the emotional plot both address the issues that come from breaking down the walls between the secret identity and the superhero one makes the movie feel much more coherent. One scene even shows the extent of the connection between the mask and the man when Batman savagely beats the Joker (Jason Spisak) for murdering Bruce Wayne’s friend to the point that Commissioner Gordon (Bruce Thomas) has to threaten Batman to get him to stop. Also, it’s always good to have a movie where a huge number of Batman’s rogues’ gallery make appearances that don’t feel like they’re just pointless cameos. 

Hush - 4Joker.png
HA! 

However, what I think is simultaneously the best and worst part of the movie can only come after the spoiler-warning, so I’ll just do the wrap-up here: 

This was a fun movie for me, even if it wasn’t what I thought it would be at first. It told a solid story which balanced emotional moments with action and mystery. If you’ve never read the Batman: Hush comic, I recommend this movie. If you have, I also recommend it, but for different reasons. Give it a shot if you’re a fan of Batman.

*SPOILERS*

This is really a major spoiler, so I’m giving you yet another chance to avoid this. I’m telling you now that if you think just because you read the comic book that this is based on that you can’t have things spoiled, you are wrong. 

*SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS*

This isn’t Batman: Hush. Sure, it has lots of elements of the story that are similar, but the fact is that the identity of Hush is completely different. In the comic, Hush is revealed to be Thomas Elliot, a brilliant surgeon who has been holding a grudge against Bruce Wayne for most of his life because Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, saved the life of Elliot’s mother after Elliot tried to kill his parents in an accident. The film seems to follow this for a bit, even including the iconic scene in which the Joker is framed for killing Thomas Elliot, prompting Batman to almost murder the clown prince of crime. However, while the comic shows Elliot to be alive and the actual identity of Hush, the movie directly averts this by having Batman find Elliot’s corpse a second time, decayed and rotting, revealing that no, Elliot is ACTUALLY dead. It turns out that the Riddler, who was Hush’s partner in the original, is actually Hush in this version, explained by him wanting to get revenge on both Batman and Thomas Elliot, because Elliot couldn’t fix his brain tumor. Instead, the Riddler used a Lazarus Pit and, similar to the comic, the madness that followed gave him the ability to deduce Batman’s identity. He then used a new identity to try and destroy Batman and Bruce Wayne. Rather than being threatened into silence, however, this version shows the Riddler being killed by Catwoman and that being what drives them apart rather than her potentially being involved in the plot. 

Hush - 5Harold.png
Oh, and we cut the part where Hush miraculously gives a mute speech.

So I have to ask, is it wrong to do a change like this? I actually thought it was brilliant. The plot still works with the Riddler secretly being Hush and it actually made the ending feel more interesting to me, someone who read the source material. Additionally, just setting up the reasons behind Thomas Elliot’s plot would take a lot more screen time, potentially another 20 minutes depending on how it’s conveyed, but the Riddler just hating Batman and all the other villains due to them treating him like a joke is conveyed in about 2 sentences and completely works for the character. It’s a great storytelling change, it makes the movie flow better, and, most importantly, it means that the audience isn’t JUST getting Hush. Think about the film adaptation of The Killing Joke. Aside from the awful opening act, the rest of the movie was a faithful adaptation of The Killing Joke… to the point that almost nothing about it was surprising at all. Most of the film was just the comic panels animated. The only exception that really stands out, and the best part of the movie in my opinion, is the Joker doing a musical number to torment James Gordon, because that’s at least something that is unique to the movie. So, even though this movie might not have exactly faithfully adapted Hush, it gave us something that isn’t just a carbon copy of what we could already have read. Hell, if you liked the movie, you could, and should, read the comic and find out how much more complex and elaborate the plot in the source is. 

Hush - 6JokerComic.jpg
Even the same scenes look wildly different and worth checking out.

An adaptation doesn’t have to be just a shot-for-shot rehashing of the source, but it does still need to capture the core of the source. I think this adaptation managed to do that. I know a lot of people who love the character of Hush will probably disagree, but I think this still worked. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

58) Almost Got ‘Im (Batman: The Animated Series)

Admittedly, this one is intensely personal to me. This is the episode that every Batman fan, in the back of their mind, knew needed to be done, and done well. As this series is probably the best Batman adaptation as of this writing, no one was more qualified than series creator and writer Paul Dini.

BatmanAnimated-1PaulDini
He created Harley Quinn. ‘Nuff said.

SUMMARY

It takes place at a poker game at the back of the Stacked Deck Club, a hideout in Gotham City for the members of various gangs, as well as Batman’s (Kevin Conroy) rogues gallery. The game is between Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Killer Croc, The Penguin and the Joker (Diane Pershing, Richard Moll, Aron Kincaid, Paul Williams, and Mark Hamill), who all share their suspicions about how Batman always wins, then they choose to share their best Batman-killing stories, which, of course, all end with Batman getting away using some sort of last-second bat-miracle.

BatmanAnimated-2Poker.png
The Riddler got banned for being too Jim Carrey.

Poison Ivy used a scheme involving gas-bomb pumpkins at Halloween. She almost unmasked a gas-incapacitated Batman… right until he remote-controlled the Batmobile to run her down. Two-face captures Batman during a heist at the mint, and straps him to a giant penny. During the flipping of the giant penny (it involves a catapult), Batman frees himself with Two-face’s own signature coin, and captures Two-face. In gratitude, the mint lets Batman keep the penny (one of the 3 possible reasons that Batman has a giant penny in the Batcave, depending on continuity). Killer Croc faces… you know what, I’m just gonna post the glory of this one. Nothing I say will do this justice:

The Penguin’s scheme involved mechanically and genetically altered birds of all sorts, resulting in Batman stabbing a cassowary with a hummingbird. I love that I got to write that sentence. The Joker, the one who declares himself the winner, reveals that his “almost got Batman” story involves Batman on a laugh-powered electric chair, and a talk-show audience dosed with laughing gas. Unlike the others, Batman doesn’t actually escape from this one, Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) intervenes and provides Batman the opportunity to get free. However, the Joker’s henchgirl Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) captures Catwoman, whom he’s going to kill… or would have, if Killer Croc wasn’t revealed to be Batman in disguise, who proceeds to rescue Catwoman. Catwoman, in gratitude, makes a pass at the Dark Knight, only for him to escape, smiling, while her back is turned, bringing the total of villains who “almost got ‘im” to 6.

BatmanAnimated-3Catwoman
He should have let her catch him. This is the Pfeiffer Catwoman voiced by Adrienne Barbeau.

END SUMMARY

This episode’s story segments are all very well-crafted, but it’s actually the poker game that sets it apart. It shows how the villains act when they’re not in the process of pulling off a scheme. Poison Ivy tries to act above it all, while still being her usual femme-fatale (unfortunately, her audience is rather hostile), Two-Face is actually ruled by his idiosyncrasies (he only keeps pairs of twos, or a pair of face cards, even if he has a winning hand), the Penguin has to preserve his image around his “less sophisticated” counterparts despite not actually being wealthy, Killer Croc (though he’s Batman) is anxious to show that he’s just as big of a villain as the others, and the Joker cheats more often than should even be plausible (it’s implied that the other villains are just too scared of him to call him on it). The episode depicts the things that the audience never really gets to see, the down-time of the antagonists.

BatmanAnimated-4HalfNHalf
It’s implied he wants cream, but he literally can’t use it.

It’s not that shows haven’t done world-building episodes like this, but this one really turned the concept on its head. The bad guys aren’t always scheming or crafting death-traps, sometimes they’re just having a few drinks and shooting the sh*t. The idea that these costumed sociopaths compare stories of fighting the hero in the same way people talk about their fishing trips is… well, brilliant, because it’s both completely logical and yet something that you usually wouldn’t think about. It’s like finding out that John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer were on the same bowling team. It’s a level of subtle character development that earned this episode a spot on here.

Also, “it was a big rock,” will make me laugh until the day I die.

PREVIOUS – 59: Roseanne

NEXT – 57: Good Times

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.