The passing of Kevin Conroy is testament to the legacy some actors have as a definitive role. Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine, Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man, and to many, Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman. Having voiced the Caped Crusader in Batman: The Animated Series and the Arkham games, Conroy is as iconic to Batman as Michael Keaton or George Clooney. And while I haven’t seen the show, I have seen “Mask of the Phantasm,” the movie that is set in the same world created by Paul Dini and Bruce Tim.
In it, there’s a new villain in Gotham City. The Phantasm — a masked vigilante who’s out killing old mobsters. When people are comparing the Phantasm to Batman (Conroy), he starts to investigate the enigmatic foil. Simultaneously, Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delaney), Bruce Wayne’s old girlfriend returns in the movie. The film is interjected with flashbacks highlighting their relationship and Bruce’s journey into establishing himself as Batman.
Every actor who’s worn the cowl of the Dark Knight is either a solid Batman or a solid Bruce Wayne; very rarely can they do both well. But Conroy is one of the few actors who are able to keep that equilibrium. As Batman, he is a force to be reckoned with and as Bruce Wayne, he’s playful and breathes life into the playboy billionaire. Delaney voices Andrea as the classic femme fatale and she and Bruce have an impeccable chemistry that keeps you hoping that their relationship will work.
And then you have Mark Hamill as the Joker. I remember when the Arkham games were big, I got a brief glimpse of people saying he’s the definitive Joker, and I can agree with that. Hamill chews every scene he’s in and brings the same energy that Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson brought to the Clown Prince of Crime. There are also strong performances from Abe Vigoda as an aging mobster targeted by the Phantasm and Hart Bochner (Ellis in Die Hard) as a councilman who’s on the payroll.
This has got to be one of the most mature Batman movies I’ve ever seen. Not in the aesthetically dark and brooding way, but in the psychological exploration into Bruce Wayne’s journey becoming Batman. We all know how his parents’ deaths inspired him to take up the cowl and its mission to fight crime, but this movie does something different: Show him be happy. We see him have a healthy relationship with Andrea and this makes him second guess his commitment to being Batman. There’s also a classic challenge between Batman’s view of justice and the Phantasm’s vengeful warpath on mobsters. And the final fight is nothing short of brilliant.
I’ve never seen Batman: The Animated Series, but this movie makes me consider checking it out. The animation and writing are brilliant and feel like a comic book come to life. The story has the weight of the Christopher Nolan movies, and it’s a stark reminder of what we’ve lost when Conroy passed away this year.
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