It’s now almost a hipster cliche to say that your favorite Batman movie is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. After all, it’s the spinoff of a 1990s animated series that sank without a trace upon its small theatrical release back in December of 1993. However, in my opinion, it really is the best Batman movie made thus far.
For one, it tells a wholly original story about a mysterious masked figure killing off Gotham’s most prominent gangsters, while also showing a Year One style Bruce Wayne dealing with unexpectedly falling in love. The film finds him questioning whether life as a masked vigilante is really what his parents would have wanted for him, and the resultant story represents the high point of the Diniverse in terms of style, score and animation.
It’s also got some incredible voice acting, with the highlight being Mark Hamill’s Joker. The character only enters the movie at the beginning of the third act, but quickly dominates the proceedings, with the final sequences in the abandoned Gotham’s World Fair being one of the best Joker moments in any media. After having been beaten half to death, Mr. J realizes that the building’s exploding around them and – certain he’s about to die and take Batman and the Phantasm with him – falls to his knees and launches into the most terrifying and manic Joker laugh Hamill’s produced to date.
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Now, in an interview with THR (as part of an excellent retrospective article about the movie), the actor’s spoken about his experiences with the film and his thinking behind that climactic scene in which the Joker apparently dies.
“Sometimes you have to play the scene like he’s dying, but anyone that knows comics knows that he’ll never be completely dead. I was falling off bell towers, out of airplanes, I even landed in shark-infested waters. I thought it was funny when the mainstream media picked up on when they killed Superman in the comics. All of us comic fans laughed, we knew they were just rebooting it and wanted attention, but that made it on the evening news!”
He also commented on the pic’s famous flop at the box office, saying:
“We were living in New York at the time and I was so excited. We got to the theater and there were maybe twelve people! The people that were there were all diehard fans of the animated series and they recognized me.”
Thankfully, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is now widely available. It was recently released on Blu-ray and is included in the remastered box set of Batman: The Animated Series. If you’re a Bat fan and you haven’t seen it, be sure to check it out (just get a hold of the uncut Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker while you’re at it, too).