mask of the phantasm is my second favorite batman movie of all time

for a long time this was my favorite batman movie of all time. actually, it was right up until my last rewatch of batman returns, when something clicked and i realized it was really a catwoman movie, not a batman movie. mask of the phantasm was really, really close to managing the same feat, but just wasn’t quite willing to go to the same place, re: a woman’s justified revenge being more important than batman’s militant law and order centrism.

in terms of aesthetics, i’m not pretending to be any kind of expert, but burton’s super unique take on batman seems to resonate with a lot of folks and it really appeals to me. (as does schumacher’s, though. just saying. and i actually find nolan’s pretty aestheically boring af?) but like. if you grew up in the 90s, i feel like there’s a pretty good chance your strongest association with what batman is supposed to look/feel like is batman: the animated series. i actually rewatched the entire series a couple years ago and was super, super thrilled with how well it held up. (i tried to do the same with some other 90s superhero cartoons and, well… it didn’t go as well.) so that’s an inherent advantage right out of the gates here, but the movie really expands on it with all kinds of super fun, kinda low-key (ok maybe kinda high-key) gothic settings like the graveyard (omgosh the graveyard) and the decaying world’s fair. and like, not for nothing, but i saw this in theaters as a wide-eyed kid and i remember the part where the police are chasing batman just being unreasonably epic.

although i do now prefer batman returns thanks to it following through a bit more on the whole catwoman was right aspect (and it doesn’t hurt that catwoman was a fucking bdsm goddess, just saying), it’s not really a case of mask of the phantasm being “knocked down a peg,” because it is still a freaking incredible movie. and the story between bruce and andrea and the way it’s tied into the mask of the phantasm’s conflict is actually a bit cleaner and deeper than bruce and selina in returns. it resonates and reverberates throughout the entire movie. i think there is plenty in returns that makes up for the difference but like… it’s no wonder mask of the phantasm is a trendy pick for best batman movie ever and why it used to be my favorite (and still very, very nearly is).

one other material advantage phantasm has over returns is mark hamill’s joker. and like, omfgosh? like, don’t get me wrong, i love how burton managed to infuse so much emotional resonance and tragedy into penguin’s story that just isn’t fucking there in any other version of the character, but being able to reduce batman’s greatest adversary into a third wheel between bruce and andrea and still have him have so many epic moments is just… y’know… wow??? i still think hamill’s is the best verison of joker we’re ever gonna get.

mask of the phantasm is also just so, so good at getting you to genuinely care about its characters and want good things for them. like, i was very much rooting for bruce and andrea despite being more than well aware of how things were gonna go. (also despite, y’know, straight people.) and the way everything ties into batman’s origin and is paid off with a central “villain” who is literally an original character is just such a great choice that works out so well here. it’s something that’s easy to bungle, but it just allows the movie to go to so many more risky and ultimately more rewarding places than it could have otherwise. and that’s probably the biggest factor in making it one of my favorite batman movies (one of my favorite superhero movies, really… one of my favorite movies, really) of all time.

(s-rank)

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