Batman: Mask of the Phantasm [1993]

Although the live-action Batman franchise faltered artistically after Tim Burton gave up control, the slack was taken up by the Saturday morning cartoon show, whose creators are responsible for this feature film. Though a cartoon, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is less cartoonish than the popular '60s TV show (which spawned its own movie, Batman: The Movie). Mask of the Phantasm combines the noir of the original comic book, the violence and dark humor of the Dark Knight comic book revision, and Burton's two movies. In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, everyone's favorite schizophrenic billionaire crime fighter is investigating the murders of several prominent gangsters. Meanwhile, his ex-fiancée and her father are back in town. Through flashbacks, these two death-obsessed kids are shown falling in love (she lost her mother; he lost both parents--of course, they meet in a graveyard), until she leaves quickly and mysteriously. Along the way, there's a short course in the origins of the Batman costume and the origins of the Joker (voice of Star Wars' Mark Hamill!), a big fight with the smoke-enshrouded Phantasm character, who is suspected of killing the gangsters, and an even bigger fight with the Joker at the abandoned Gotham World's Fair grounds. Altogether, a good ride. --Andy Spletzer

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