The discussion around Batman on screen usually revolves around the real action. In which actor best embodies the idea of the Dark Knight or best handles the duality with the human part of him in Bruce Wayne, or which director shows the closest approach to the ideal of the character (that everyone has one). However, this leaves out that the best versions we have seen of this character are not in the flesh.
One could speak of the referential whirlwind of ‘Batman: The LEGO Movie‘ What a more thorough study of Batman than live-action movies do. However, there is also something special about how the voice of the recently deceased Kevin Conroy has helped shape the character’s image in recent pop culture, doing so through ‘Batman: The Animated Series‘ and the different movies that have come out over the years.
Voice acting has a very special art that we are not always able to dissect exactly. It’s easy to point it out when it doesn’t match what we see, but it’s more complicated to detail what it specifically does that manages to magnify what we are seeing and make it seem easy. Conroy had that ability, helping us get into the complex psychology of the vigilante in his different projects. Where he got it the most was, without a doubt, with ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm‘.
the ghosts of the past
A detail that usually marks live action movies is the fascination that filmmakers tend to feel for the villains that surround Batman, and for this reason the conversation usually revolves around them. Batman is left almost as a figure set in opposition to them, with less room to grow on his own and more focused on establishing an ideological and moral counterpoint. Matt Reeves has been one of those that has brought us closer to Wayne’s psyche, but ‘The Mask of the Ghost’ manages to have a thorough exploration and also offer, a perfect adventure.
The project was born between the two seasons of the series, initially intended as direct to video by Warner Bros Animation. But being his first big project in feature film format, the studio decided to give it a theatrical release, which increased the budget but also the pressure of having to meet a specific date that was not too far away. What could have been an extended episode of the series it had to be something else.
Eric Radomski and Bruce W Timmnevertheless, they were up to the challenge. Taking inspiration from the story told in Year Two, as well as structural details from ‘a christmas tale‘ by Dickens, the film pays special attention to the story of Bruce Wayne, allowing itself the luxury of entering his emotional complexity, the trauma produced since the death of his parents (without falling into repeated clichés that would make later films). and in the impossibility that he has of aspiring to a full emotional life away from the nights of night watchman.
That is why he introduces us to the figure of the romantic interest in an interesting way, turning the film into a kind of tragic gothic romance as well as an action movie. The villain also functions as Batman, with an enigmatic spectral figure many assume to be the dark knight pursuing the same goals in Gotham’s criminal underworld. But this ghost executes them, making an important moral difference that leads Wayne to consider what separates him from becoming the same, which leads him down a bittersweet memory lane.
Not many of these animated projects derived from successful series allow themselves that depth, that emotional richness that gives a particular life to the characters we are seeing. Batman has never been so developed and fascinating as in the corners of this film. And, furthermore, it is a formidable 76-minute action piece that works like a shot, taking advantage of the cinematic possibilities that they give a special texture with respect to the already remarkable animated series.
‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’: The Exposed Knight
Just the presence of other major figures in Batman lore feels like a concession to make him more commercially viable, because in most of his footage he’s shaping one of the most special Batman stories we’ve ever seen on screen. Ironically, its commercial viability was nil.
The marketing department couldn’t give the necessary event status to its release, and the hasty decision to make it theatrical did not instill confidence, even though the creative teams clearly rose to the occasion. They had to settle for the condition of work of worship that has been acquiring over the years.
The incredible care put into the story of Wayne becoming Batman, the great way to introduce romance into the heart of the film or the dazzling visual finish are elements that invite us to think of ‘The Mask of the Phantasm’ as the movie that best understands the dark knight of all the ones we’ve seen. And Conroy is also an important part of it, because humanity and the fragility that underlies its unimposed solemnity is what ends up propelling this great work.
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Kevin Conroy gave us the movie that best understands Batman in this tragic love story that went unfairly unnoticed.