I am so glad that I did see this animated feature in theatres twenty years ago. Being a major fan of the animated series, there was no way I couldn’t be excited for it, and it has become a very respected high mark in the DC Animated Universe. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm does tend to get lost in the mix when discussing the best Batman or even best superhero movies because it was an animated feature. The film didn’t perform well in theatres, likely do to a less than aggressive marketing campaign. Even professional film critics Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert did not see it in its theatrical run, but when they did eventually watch it, they indeed loved it. So, with this preface, I think it’s easy to deduce that this is a definite favorite of mine.
When Gotham City’s most feared gangsters are systematically eliminated, the Cape Crusader is blamed, but prowling the night is a shadowy new villain, the Phantasm, a sinister figure with a vengeful agenda. Meanwhile, Andrea Beaumont, the one time love of Bruce Wayne’s life, returns to Gotham City stirring up memories including those of how he almost didn’t become Batman. As all of this unfolds, and the Phantasm becomes a more imminent, lethal threat, the Joker is brought into the fold as a major wild card. Now, can the Dark Knight elude the police, capture the Phantasm and clear his name?
If you’re unfamiliar with the 1990’s animated series, you need not worry. This film works entirely as a standalone feature, but for those who were serious fans, there’s a great sense of expansion and increased depth that this film offers. This is a great story interweaving all threads into an excellent Batman origin, romance, and superhero action movie. The heart of it is the romantic and heartbreaking story between Bruce and Andrea. It starts with so much hope and passion, but as with many of Bruce’s loves, it ends in despair and some tragedy. It’s a beautifully crafted tale that does touch an audience’s heart, and truly shows the emotional depth and humanity of Bruce before and after he becomes Batman.
This film shows us the events leading directly up to Bruce Wayne actually becoming Batman. I love seeing his first outing as a crime-fighter. It’s just him in black street attire and a ski mask. He has the skills, but not the persona, yet. Batman hasn’t been born, and thus, the key essentially elements of intimidation and mystique aren’t in play. He’s not the haunting creature of the night that will frighten the criminal element, and afterwards, Bruce realizes that is what he’s missing. It’s a thrilling action scene as Bruce takes down a group of thieves, and then, hangs off the back of an open van during a police chase. Yet, the very moment where Bruce Wayne dons the cowl and becomes Batman for the first time is a quintessential moment in my Batman fandom. No other film has ever matched this moment for me. Done wholly in shadows, it is a purely simple scene, but perfectly effective and iconic in my eyes. When he turns to reveal himself to Alfred, the reaction from Bruce’s loyal and lifelong butler is pure shock and fear. That still sends chills all over my body.
Now, I absolutely love how the stories of Bruce and Andrea intertwine. The flashbacks to their hot and fast romance are beautiful and classy. You can see that Bruce is ready to give up the vigilante nightlife to be happy with Andrea forever, but the shady elements of her father, Carl Beaumont’s business dealings forge an inevitable wedge between Bruce and Andrea. Smartly, these elements are the core of the present day story between Batman and the Phantasm. It’s also a great turn that the Phantasm’s murders are framed on Batman simply by misidentification. This forces the Gotham Police to begin a manhunt against Batman, but strongly true to his character, Commissioner Gordon refuses to be apart of it. He knows that Batman doesn’t kill, and that little moment shows the bond of trust between Gordon and the Dark Knight. It’s only a shame that that is Gordon’s only scene in the film. Every aspect of this story flows organically and tightly. With a 76 minute runtime, it could move at no other or better pace.
By no doubt, Kevin Conroy has been the definitive voice of Batman for over two decades now for legions of fans. Whenever I read a Batman comic book, it is his voice that I hear as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Conroy reflects all the best qualities of the character from the upbeat playboy, the serious businessman, the dark, brooding man in the shadows, and the powerfully imposing Dark Knight. The most important thing is he brings life, depth, and intelligence to Batman. Producer Bruce Timm and co-writer Paul Dini perfectly understood the character, and throughout this DCAU from Batman: The Animated Series to Batman Beyond to Justice League Unlimited, they stayed true to the core of Batman. The ideals of justice, humanity, and undying determination have always thrived in this animated interpretation. Beyond anything else, we see the world’s greatest detective at work, which is something none of the live action films have ever fully embraced. Batman unravels the mystery of the Phantasm and these crime bosses with cunning and perceptive intelligence. Conroy embodies all of these subtle, inspiring, and engaging qualities of Batman with a lot of heart and care. It might only be voice work, but this still stands as the best adaptation of the character to date.
And I couldn’t discount Mark Hamill’s Joker. Much like with Conroy, he has been a definitive voice for the character to many fans for so long, but has had real competition from great actors in this role. I am a fan of all versions from Ceasar Romero to Jack Nicholson and beyond. With the Joker, there’s almost no wrong way to go with him because he is such a radically unpredictable character that he could be very Romero one day and very Ledger the next. What Hamill does is make the Joker this insane clown who will do whatever hits the biggest punchline in his own twisted mind. He will still likely kill you, but he’s going to laugh his ass off doing it. Hamill brings the jovial zaniness meshed with a lethal intimidation that forges a colorful maniac that is endlessly fun and entertaining while still being a major threat.
Beyond the fact that I do really adore Dana Delany, I believe she was a perfect choice to voice Andrea. She brings a touching beauty of heart and soul to the character. As the younger Andrea, she’s very optimistic and vibrant. She’s a young woman with everything to love and embrace in life. In the present day, she’s a little more heartbroken and tender. There’s a great emotional complexity to her by the end which is very sad and sympathetic. Delaney is a wonderful, charming actress, and she does a remarkable job voicing Andrea Beaumont.
The animation style of this feature film is definitely a solid step upwards from the series with more dramatic shading, and a bit more dynamic action sequences. The opening title sequence even features a beautiful CGI fly through of the Gotham City skyline. The entire series was heavily inspired by the classic Max Fleisher Superman cartoons, and that is very evident, especially with the great art deco designs. Adapting this style to Batman pushed everything into a great film noir realm that works stunningly for him.
The main theme from Danny Elfman for Tim Burton’s Batman movies lived on in this DC Animated Universe. They were reworked by the great, and now late, Shirley Walker. For this feature, she makes it even more gothic and haunting with a beautiful chorus. Yet, that’s only just the start of her stunning work. It’s a fantastic score that rouses an audience, and nails all over the wonderful emotional beats.
And there is plenty of thrilling action throughout this movie. The Phantasm’s stalking of mob bosses are dark, shadowy, and even a little scary. They have a looming, ominous presence. The film unfolds some rousing and even explosive moments at a regular interval, but they entirely flow from the progression of the plot. Nothing’s extraneous, and it really wastes no time crashing you headlong into the action and story. The climax with Batman and the Joker at the abandoned World’s Fair is pretty fun. It shows the Joker’s dangerous playfulness, and creates an escalating sense of peril as he has rigged the whole place to explode. Yet, the movie ends on the appropriate emotional beats remembering that the story is paramount, and it treats its character with due respect.
Unlike many live action movies, this animated feature was given a lot of creative freedom to its production team, and they were able to deliver a very well fleshed out, wonderfully balanced story. This is entirely reflective of the quality that was consistently on display with the animated series and its spin-offs and follow-ups. If you’ve never seen Batman: The Animated Series, this is a great introduction to it, and if you’ve watched and loved it, this is a gem that will satisfy your fandom. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a delightful and amazing animated Batman adventure that is well worth your time.
I have never been so bored out of my skull in a theatre as I was watching this movie. I’ve never walked out on a theatrical screening, but this tempted me to. Not because it’s some atrocious motion picture, but just by how boring it is. If I was watching this anywhere other than in a theatre, I would’ve stopped watching within the first half hour. I have thoroughly enjoyed all three previous entries in the Jason Bourne franchise, and while on paper this might seem to have a lot of potential to be a decent Bourne-less sequel, it entirely fails. There are so many factors that feed into the dull, lifeless quality of this film. Not the least of which are a flatly conceived new lead character and a mess of exposition trying to impart three movies of back story which ultimately have no consequence on this story. There is nothing exceptional or engaging in the least about The Bourne Legacy. Why must my summer movie experience be filled with so much disappointment? Oh well, here we go, again.
In the wake of Jason Bourne’s dismemberment of Operation Blackbriar, the CIA discretely enlists the expertise of retired USAF Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to investigate and purge all incriminating evidence between the agency and Blackbriar. The CIA then decides to dispose of their other black ops programs, which includes the termination of their field agents. However, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an agent from Operation Outcome, escapes from being executed in the Alaskan wilderness and, with the help of Outcome scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), sets out to find a permanent solution to the Outcome physiological enhancement medication he has become dependent upon while fighting to survive those who would try to terminate him.
This is a very peculiar film. One would think that this would be a sort of fresh new beginning for the franchise without the Bourne character, but it’s weighed down to suffocating depths with back story which could easily have been excised for a far leaner and more streamlined story. If you haven’t seen the previous three films, you’re going to be so lost and clueless about what’s going on as characters bombard the audience with events that overlap with and fallout from The Bourne Ultimatum. However, after a while, the film ultimately has nothing to do with anything that happened in the previous three movies. Having seen The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, & Ultimatum multiple times, I was still lost within this maze of excessive and pointless exposition. There is such a massive volume of explanations of things that just don’t amount to anything. It’s not confusing, per se, but the prolonged complex dialogue scenes eventually blur into mind numbing ramblings very quickly. For example, Edward Norton’s character is meeting with so many people early on giving them a breakdown of what the ramifications are of everything that’s happening, but it’s so painfully convoluted and overbloated that the point of it all gets lost in the mix. I’m sure a far more focused and sharp screenwriter could’ve condensed fifteen minutes of exposition amongst numerous one-off characters into a straight-to-the-point two minute conversation. The film also gets so wrapped up in its own severe grounded realism that it forgets to clearly or efficiently relate information to an audience. Nothing is explained in laymen’s terms. Dr. Shearing fully explains what these chemicals do to Aaron’s physiology, but it’s explained in such pure clinical science terms that I would doubt that Cross himself would understand much of what she’s saying, let alone a general audience.
Some scenes are so drawn out to the point where they are counteractive to their own point. For a spoiler example, a team of undercover operatives try to off Marta by staging her suicide. They go under the guise of investigators or psychiatric counselors, and that psychiatric conversation is dragged on and on for several long, pointless minutes before they actually get around to attempting to stage the suicide. The act is only broken up when Aaron Cross shows up out of nowhere at her home, to which it’s never explained how he knows where she lives. It’s a terrible plot contrivance and a hole in logic that the filmmakers just expect us to not question. For all the mind numbing time they spend explaining everything else in this film, you’d think they could take half a minute to explain that.
This film has several great and highly capable acting talents in Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, and Stacy Keach, but there is just nothing here for any of them to work with. There are barely any proper introductions for any of these characters for an audience to even learn many of their names. If the film can’t clearly convey that simple aspect of the characters, it’s no surprise that the film never develops any substance into these characters. I barely knew anything more about these people at the end of the film than I did at the start. There is no depth and barely any diversity of emotion shown to build up an empathy with anyone. Every actor does as good of a job as they could do with what they were given, but this is such a lifeless, soulless movie with purely one dimensional characters. I was indifferent towards every single character, and that partially contributes to a lack of tension or suspense in the film. What also adds to that is the fact that Aaron Cross never sustains so much as a scratch jumping off cliffs and rooftops, fighting wolves with his bare hands, dodging gunfire, beating people up, and running for his life. Every adversary seems all too easy for him to take down, and thus, there’s no one that poses a real threat to him in any of the extremely few action scenes this film has.
The action sequences are very few and very far between. Where my review of the Total Recall remake suggested there was probably too much action and not enough character development in that film, The Bourne Legacy has an extreme lack of action in addition to an extreme lack of character development. The action sequences probably add up to ten, maybe fifteen minutes of the more than two hour long runtime. Ultimately, these are all terribly forgettable and tired action sequences. There’s nothing fresh or particularly exciting about them. Director Tony Gilroy had said that the film would not employ the use of Paul Greengrass’ notorious shaky-cam, quick cut action style. Well, he lied. While it’s not consistently as bad as what Greengrass does, it does eventually get to being that bad in the lackluster climax of the movie. As with the previous three movies, Legacy gives us another motor vehicle chase sequence. This time, it’s mostly on motorbikes, but like how some dialogue scenes drag on and on without a point, so does this climax. It seriously goes on for the better part of ten minutes where there’s barely anything at stake in it. The villain that’s chasing them is just some random hired gun who has no investment in the plot. The exposition about who he was got so jumbled up in all the other procedural dialogue that I never understood exactly who he was. I just kept waiting for this chase sequence to finally end, but it just kept picking itself back up off the pavement for more. And this ending has no pay-off. With no emotional depth to the story, there’s ultimately nothing anyone is actually fighting for, and thus, nothing to triumph over. There are no passionate principles or struggle for a new self-identity for Aaron Cross to dedicate himself to. There is no change to who he is at any point during the movie, and we barely know anything about him.
There is some back story given about Aaron Cross, but none of it mattered to me. His story isn’t tragic, it’s not conflicted, and it certainly has nothing sympathetic about it. The film takes well over an hour to actually tell us why he keeps jonesing for these meds, the same amount of time it takes for an actual semblance of a plot to develop, and the reason isn’t convincing. One of the pills he takes enhances intelligence and brain function, and his recruitment officer had to falsify his IQ by 12 points so he could qualify for service. He goes off the meds, he becomes dumb, again. So, his whole motivation in the film is to obtain more medication so he doesn’t lose his fabricated intelligence. That just doesn’t sell as a credible, relatable motivation. It lacks any self-less quality or humanity for an audience to connect with. I also find it peculiar that he has been physically enhanced to be stronger, faster, and more resistant to pain. However, Jason Bourne had none of those drug induced enhancements, and was still able to do every impressive physical feat that Aaron Cross could do in this movie and more. Not to mention, he could still do many of them while injured and beaten up.
As Jeremy Renner has demonstrated with both Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Avengers, he can capably handle a role of this nature. He can give us a strong action oriented performance fueled by a relatable and charismatic character. However, that character is not Aaron Cross. He’s a guy fighting only for himself, and is only aided by Marta because she’s being hunted by these same people. After he initially saves her, he doesn’t start inquiring about her well being after nearly being killed. He straight up, aggressively asks if she has any of the medication on hand so he can get his fix. Cross has no charm, no heart, no depth. I don’t know if there was an intention to spark a romantic connection between Aaron and Marta, but Renner and Weisz certainly have no spark. I surely wouldn’t want Aaron Cross to be a carbon copy of Jason Bourne, but it’s hard to replace such a powerfully dimensional character in Bourne. Jeremy Renner handles all the physical demands of the role very convincingly, but the character just has nothing interesting to offer. It’s certainly not Renner’s fault that the script was so overbloated and shallow. The dialogue and story give him no room to breathe life into the role, to give it charisma, levy, or emotional depth.
The one word I keep going back to in my mind to describe this movie is “pointless.” The story it tells has no point, the characters have nothing purposeful to say, and the action serves little purpose to exist. This is a film that doesn’t showcase any potential at all to be good. It’s not a steaming pile of garbage, but it just lacks passion and motivation. The script seems like something that should’ve gone through a few more drafts to chop out all that tiresome, go-nowhere dialogue, and build some strong characters and a thrilling story. Doug Limon directed The Bourne Identity, and had a great sense of gritty, coherent action and a vibrant, character driven story. Despite the cinematography drawbacks of Paul Greengrass’ style, he is an amazing director who can craft a powerful, deeply emotional story with some hard hitting drama and action. Tony Gilroy falters greatly with The Bourne Legacy. He can write and direct some great stuff. Michael Clayton was an excellent dramatic film that he wrote and directed amazingly well, and has been a co-writer on every film in this franchise. So, I don’t know what happened here. Beyond just how he made such a terribly boring, lifeless, hollow movie, I don’t know how Universal Pictures backed this script. Usually franchise cash grabs are train wrecks or just reek of second rate indulgence. This is just not trying at all, and that just hurts. I wish there was more to analyze about this movie to deconstruct it further, but there really isn’t. It has no substance or ambition to be anything worthwhile. I found nothing interesting, exciting, or redeeming in the fabric of this film. Again, it’s not a horrendous film that will make you curse its existence, but it simply had no reason to exist. I do not recommend seeing The Bourne Legacy. I found it to be a waste of time. You’ll be far more pleased re-watching The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, or The Bourne Ultimatum instead.