Recalling the animated “Superman” shorts of the 1940s, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” is a baroque, melodramatic tale of good and evil that’s a tad too sophisticated for its intended youthful audience. The shrill thriller is a throwback to a bygone time more appealing to adults. This series of misconnections doesn’t add up to terrific box office potential. Expect quick payoffs for the noble effort.
Much in the vein of the avenger’s Dark Knight persona, “Mask of the Phantasm” finds Batman mistaken for the title villain, a mysterious killer with presumed super-human strength and wiles. The evil presence is systematically knocking off crime czars, with both the police and the gangsters assuming it’s the work of Batman.
Complicating the puzzle is the arrival of Andrea Beaumont, a former flame of alter-ego Bruce Wayne. She disappeared years earlier, the night after accepting his marriage proposal. Only now is the reason beginning to come clear, implicating the woman in the lethal proceedings.
The high pitch of the drama, the earnest quality of its characters and a deafening score combine for a fun, fatal romp. The filmmakers lean heavily on Tim Burton’s first Batman feature for its German Expressionist look, but the story is pure pulp fiction. The moral underpinnings are pretty obvious, though thankfully a step up from the banal.
The outing also benefits mightily from a strong cast of voices, including Kevin Conroy as the crime fighter, Dana Delany as
Andrea and Mark Hamill as the Joker. But the level of the animation work, though acceptable, is clunky to the point of self-parody.
It’s often impossible to decipher how much of the story should be taken seriously and what part is meant to be comic relief.
A hit on television, the animated Batman does not flow to the big screen gracefully. While the script and pedigree of actors are commendable, the craft level is too close to the small-screen offering to get audiences into theaters.