RETRO REVIEW: 25 Years Later, ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ Never Counted on Us Being Happy

The 1993 film set a standard that still looms large to this day.

25 years ago. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm opened in theaters.  While it was a box office disaster of epic proportions, it still remains one of the best Batman movies of all time.

Initially planned for a direct-to-VHS home video release, Warner Bros., upon seeing cuts of the dailies, decided to make a bold move: To give Mask of the Phantasm a theatrical release instead, which condensed its production into an arduous, eight-month schedule.

The film was released through Warner’s Family Entertainment division on December 25, 1993 to positive reviews from critics, but due to the decision to release it in theaters on an extremely short notice, Mask of the Phantasm failed at the box office, opening to merely a little over a million dollars.

This dire opening had a lot to do with Warner Bros.’ marketing of the film. At the time (and perhaps, still to this day), they had no clue how to market animated features… especially one that was targeted toward children, who, by this time, had been watching nothing but repeats of the famed Animated Series for close to a year.

But, box-office receipts not withstanding, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm remains one of the best films ever made within the canon of the history of the character. It’s a pretty simple story, really: “What if Bruce Wayne fell in love with his soul mate, before donning the mantle of The Dark Knight?”

In Mask, after making a pledge to be Gotham’s greatest protector, before he’s even created a costume of any kind, he falls for the beautiful Andrea Beaumont. Producer Alan Burnett says that he “wanted to do a big love story with Bruce because we hadn’t really done it on the TV show. I wanted a story that got into his head.” And what a love story he had in mind:

Despite Bruce not becoming The Batman, something meddles in the way.
He finally decides to abandon crime-fighting — instead pledging part of his inheritance to the Gotham City Police Department, to amp up the war on crime that plagues the city.

What meddles in the way of Bruce’s happiness is none other than The Joker. Andrea, by now Bruce’s fiancée, breaks off the engagement to him, to ultimately settle the score with The Clown Prince of Crime, having found out that he had a hand in the death of her father.

With Love’s Labor Lost, Bruce Wayne becomes the man he always was. This is easily the most haunting scene in the history of Batman. After failing at gaining a wife, a woman that could have turned him around, he ultimately does what he was always meant to do: Become the man he was destined to be.

A truly invigorating finale takes place later, where we learn the truth: The antagonist of the story isn’t The Joker. It’s Andrea Beaumont herself. She’s The Phantasm. A dark version of Batman, The Phantasm persona was only meant as a weapon of revenge against those against her and her family.

While this is a stark contrast from the ethics code of Batman, it completes the story in so, so many ways: Opposites Attract. While both Batman and The Phantasm have common goals, they do it in separate manners. But at the end of the day, they’re still a couple who were meant to be to be together.

But, just on separate paths.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is currently streaming on the DC Universe application.

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