Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993) *****
A mysterious phantom is killing off old criminals and is somehow connected to Bruce Wayne's past.
This film is based on the excellent 1992 animated television series. And it's almost note perfect.
Maybe animation serves the world of Batman best because larger-than-life elements don't seem so out of place. But what is really striking in this movie is how good the story is and how well its written. I haven't seen this in many, many years and yet it remains just as good as when I first saw it. In some ways it's darker than the 1989 live-action film and in many ways it's much more respectful of the original source materiel. It's also quite adult and serious minded, far above practically anything being done in animation of the time and it still works today. I'd also argue it's a better story overall than the '89 film. It also reminds me of one of the comics' stories, "Night Of The Reaper" or something like that.
Another thing that strikes me here is how the main characters are more fleshed out than the '89 film. We come into this story some years after Batman has already emerged into Gotham City. There's no flashback to the death of Bruce's parents. There's no flashback to the origins of the Joker. We all know who these characters are and they're simply there without further explanation.
I think Alfred comes off well. Unlike his live-action predecessor this Alfred has an edge and seems more like the Alfred we'll get later in the Chris Nolan films.
This film also doesn't feel small. It does take a stylistic cue of sorts from the '89 film, but it forgoes the Gothic elements. Here it's not just Gotham City, but the whole setting is a mixture of the contemporary stylized with an 1940's Art Deco aesthetic. This might have been weird as live-action, but it works well enough in animation.
I could argue that the story didn't really need the Joker, but he doesn't steal the show here. And thats part of the interesting wrinkle. I said the '89 movie was as much a Tim Burtonesque film as much as a Batman film. Mask Of The Phantasm
is unquestionable a Batman film.
And a damned good one at that.