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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Off the Radar: ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ has the caped crusader and the late Kevin Conroy at their best

Off the Radar is a weekly column surveying overlooked films available to students for free via NYU’s streaming partnerships. “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” is available to stream on Max.
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Yezen Saadah
“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” is directed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski. (Illustration by Yezen Saadah)

A year ago, Batman fans around the world were left in shock as Kevin Conroy, arguably the most iconic voice actor for the Dark Knight, passed away. Among many other projects, Conroy voiced the caped crusader in the animated movie “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” which is currently available to stream on Max.

After long stints of classical stage work, the Juilliard-trained actor landed an audition for the role of Batman in the early ’90s, dazzling voice director Andrea Romano, which changed his life and the lives of many for the next three decades. He would voice the hero in “Batman The Animated Series,” a host of animated films, the “Batman: Arkham” games and beyond. By the time 1993’s “Mask of the Phantasm” released, Conroy had cemented himself as the Batman for generations to come. The film showcases Conroy’s acting chops as he gives what is arguably his greatest performance in one of the most iconic DC stories to date.

Directed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” follows the caped crusader’s investigation into a competing vigilante known as Phantasm. At the same time, Bruce’s ex-lover Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany) coincidentally returns to Gotham. Bruce, now promised to marry Andrea, must also work to determine the identity of the crime-fighting enigma. While Batman hunts down criminals on the streets, Bruce must contemplate if he is willing to give up his superhero persona in order to live a normal life with his new fiance.

Blending the comic-book genre and a film-noir style, the movie shows Batman at the height of his vigilantism and detective prowess, without glossing over his tumultuous and traumatic past. We not only see Bruce display his masterful detective skills, but we also see him at his most tortured. We are let into his psyche as Conroy masterfully harnesses his classical training to craft an almost-Shakespearean, tragic hero with only his voice. His professional acting background comes through in his intense vocal performance. Conroy delivers each word Bruce says with clarity and intention. He is not merely reciting the screenplay — he embodies Bruce’s deeply traumatized persona, and it all shines through his vocal performance.

Batman’s guilt, rage and even fear become ever-present themes in the movie, thanks to the late actor’s complete inhabiting of the role along with the character’s menacing animation. This is not some childish superhero adventure. We are thrown into the depths of the human condition — the good, bad and ugly of it all. The movie’s violence may be PG, but its narrative is absolutely not. The man behind the cowl is never overlooked. He is vengeance, he is the night, he is Batman, but he’s more than that.

“Mask of the Phantasm” takes its audience by storm, as viewers are thrown into the takedown of a crime boss. The plot moves at a pace so rapid it can be disorienting. There is no downtime and, just like the Bat, the viewer must remain on their toes. However, the piece never loses that viewer, even despite its speed. Shirley Walker’s score perfectly complements the tone and pace of the film, stacking up even to Hans Zimmer’s compositions for Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. The animated movie’s tempo and music, paired with its flawless visuals that now, 30 years later, still stack up against the best animation of today, keep the viewer hooked.

Through its nearly 80 minutes, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” humanizes the iconic hero, utilizing every aspect of its composition, from its narrative to its technical elements, and blending them together perfectly. Ultimately, though, Conroy is who gives the film its heart. We may no longer be gifted with his presence, but he lives on through Batman. What better way to remember him than in such a tragic, mesmerizing performance. In your viewing, keep his words in mind: “Everyone is handed adversity in life. No one’s journey is easy. It’s how they handle it that makes people unique.”

Contact Joseph Paladino at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Yezen Saadah, Deputy Managing Editor
Yezen Saadah is a sophomore studying cinema studies, journalism and Middle Eastern studies. He's a lover of cinema, history, art and literature, and he enjoys writing about pretty much anything. If he isn't in the newsroom or at the movies, he's probably just trying to enjoy his day off. Contact him on Instagram @yezen.saadah, Twitter @yezen_saadah and — most importantly — Letterboxd @Yezen, or just send tips to [email protected].

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