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The Heart of Batman
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is probably the single best portrayal of the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman I've ever seen. While not as stunning as Nolan's Dark Knight films, I still think that Mask of the Phantasm is the one movie that really gets to the heart of what makes Batman such a compelling character. In this film, we get a complex and fascinating murder mystery, a series of Casablanca-esque flashbacks that help tell a new side of Batman's origin story, and a frightening new villian who's creepy enough to rival the Joker (who also shows up, voiced by the delightfully hammy-yet-freaky Mark Hamill). Batman himself is in top form: we get to see his expert detective skills, fighting prowess, and numerous gadgets at work all throughout the movie.

This film also really delves into the specific circumstances of Wayne's transformation into the Dark Knight, and in doing so brings to light certain very powerful elements of his character: Bruce's quest to bring justice to Gotham makes him miserable and alone, but he does so out of an obsessive need to honor his parents' memory. In the early days of his crime fighting career, when offered an opportunity to abandon his "mission" and be with the woman he loves, we're shown just how desperately Bruce wants to be free of his guilt and obsession. One scene in particular - in which Bruce kneels at his parents' grave and begs them to let him live his own life - gets me a tad choked up every time I see it. This is powerful, serious drama, as any Batman story should be.

Anyway, the animation is excellent, including some of the most gorgeous animated explosions I've ever seen. Shirley Walker's musical score is extremely powerful, especially the opening credits, which features an extended shot of a CGI-rendered Gotham City backed by a chilling choir rendition of the Batman: TAS theme. Most of the action isn't especially high-octane, but it is enjoyable, and the story is so well-paced and the mystery so compelling I found myself not caring. There are a few touches of humor here and there, just to balance out the blackness of the story and theme, but it doesn't detract from the gloomy atmosphere.

To conclude: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a fantastic film, reccomended for fans of Batman, the DCAU, and animation in general.
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