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.

DCUniverse Mini-Review: Harley Quinn – So Close To Nailing It

Harley Quinn gets her own television show and it had all the parts to be amazing without quite getting them together… yet.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) is the Joker’s (Alan “Curse this sudden but inevitable” Tudyk) girlfriend. After he uses her to escape from Batman (Diedrich “The Brave and the” Bader), she is locked in prison with Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). The pair break out and Harley realizes that the Joker doesn’t really love her, so she sets out on her own and get her own crew. She picks the baddest of the people who couldn’t do better than her: King Shark (Ron Funches), Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (Alan “Were I unwed I would take you in a manly” Tudyk), and Sy Borgman (Jason “I was also Duckman” Alexander). Together, they help Harley get into the Legion of Doom in order to show the Joker that she’s the real villain.

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Nope, no HammerTime jokes.

END SUMMARY

Dear readers, I wanted to love this show. I wanted to scream of its success from the rooftops. I wanted to be able to say, “there is a property in which Harley Quinn is the badass that we all deserve her to be since Paul Dini had that stroke of genius.” Unfortunately, Birds of Prey ended up doing that better than this show, but this show has the potential to do so much more.

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There’s a lot of viscera in both.

This show fell into the same trap I felt like Titans fell into in its first season. You can practically hear the writers’ thought process: It’s rated-R, it’s a mature show, so naturally that means we have to justify it, right? Let’s put in a lot of f*cks and a ton of gratuitous violence and such. I mean, let’s have the Joker wear another guy’s face and rip it off like a mask, because that’s a thing we can’t show on any other cartoon? If we haven’t done it before, that makes it original and therefore good!

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Robin thinks this show is the height of comedy.

Well, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Putting a bunch of people saying “tits” on screen doesn’t make a show mature, it makes it what a 14-year-old boy thinks is mature. Now, I will say that the show definitely got better about this as the series went on, with the violence and the language feeling more organic, but the first few episodes felt really like they were straining to justify a red band trailer. I love some good old ultraviolence as much as the next droog, but make it count, people. Or make it funny. Your main character and her primary antagonist are both derivations of clowns, so I would hope you could make it a little more enjoyable to watch them go apesh*t.

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Admittedly, sometimes it’s hilarious.

It also doesn’t help that the emotional journey Harley is on throughout the season really seems like she’s just going around in circles a bit. I mean, she claims to be over the Joker, but then spends a season defining herself by trying to outshine him, which is NOT being over someone. Ultimately, I think she learns that lesson, but it feels like they stretched the arc by like half a season in order to make it land on the finale. 

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It lands pretty hard.

And, of course, as several people have brought up online, the show has some issues with how it handles certain topics. Mainly, there were accusations of being anti-Semitic, something that seemed to fly in the face of the fact that Harley Quinn is typically represented as Jewish (and is revealed to be in this series as well). In the second episode, which takes place at Penguin’s nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, Penguin’s sister-in-law is represented in a manner which was accused of being stereotypical. The same is true of Sy Borgman, who even the creators referred to, jokingly, as “half-man, half-Jew.” Harley’s parents are also not particularly flattering. I think these jokes probably were intended to be part of the “edgy” vibe of the show, but the fact is that they not only will upset people, they just weren’t that funny to begin with. I believe comedy should challenge and, at times, offend, but part of the reason stereotypes have been dropped from comedy routines isn’t just that they’re often inaccurate and offensive, but that they were the basis for comedy for like 50 years and they’re not funny anymore. Just write a real joke, people.

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That said, “Sy Borgman” being half-robot is… well, it’s up there with Victor Fries being cold.

However, aside from these issues, I thought this show did a great job. The animation style is fun. The supporting characters are amazing, mostly because they all have their own fun quirks. Poison Ivy develops an embarrassing crush on a fellow super villain, King Shark is a computer nerd despite being a giant mutant shark/human, Clayface (presumably the Basil Karlo version) is a terrible actor despite having the ability to become anyone, and Doctor Psycho is a misogynist who loses his previous supervillain status for calling Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) the “C-word” on live television. Some of the commentary in the show, particularly the discussions of female villain inequality, are on point. The Queen of Fables (Wanda Sykes) is freaking hilarious. This is one of my favorite versions of the Joker because he seems even more self-aggrandizing and random than usual, while simultaneously having more normal habits, such as loving Reese Witherspoon. Also, just having Alan Tudyk in something gives it an additional Star in my ratings. 

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And they shamelessly mock other properties.

The thing is, this show has all the pieces to be great and, at times, is, it just needs to figure out better what’s actually good for a mature show and what’s just pretending to be mature.

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.