The Best Batman Movie Isn't Live-Action

In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series debuted to near-instant acclaim. And to this day, it's often heralded as the best Batman cartoon ever, the best superhero cartoon ever, and potentially the best cartoon ever. There are so many wonderful things about the series that listing them all would cause my family to starve, so I'll just say this: It distills the character down to his purest and most awesome aspects in a way that no live-action film ever has. It gets Batman. And in 1993, it got a tie-in movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which now comes out of Netflix on July 1.

Please, go watch this movie.

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First of all, it hits the "Maybe Batman wants to quit being Batman?" idea with more emotional potency than I've ever seen in any medium. Films have flirted with this before, but in Mask of the Phantasm, they go all in. Bruce Wayne pleads on his parents' graves that he needs "it to be different now" as he's recently fallen in love. He tells them that he doesn't want to break his promise to them but "I didn't count on being happy." So yeah. Take your kids to the fun Batman cartoon this weekend. It'll be great and also not sad at all.

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Secondly, it gives us the new villain the Phantasm, which has a simple, stellar design and also a blade on its hand. The Phantasm is tracking down corrupt businessmen and mobsters and when you combine that with its horror elements, it fits right in with the classic Batman rogues.

Third, Mark Hamill gives one of his best performances as the Joker ever. He's hilarious, reeks of madness and cruelty, and also might be screwing a robot?

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And lastly, it gives us a broad-spanning look at Batman's career that doesn't meander or fall into the trap of thinking too hard about the logic of certain things. Stuff like Batman Begins is good, but at a certain point, you're like "Okay, I get it. You told Morgan Freeman that you were taking BMX lessons or something and needed some elbow guards that could also stop bullets. Go punch the Scarecrow."

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But here, it's evident that the main thing driving Batman isn't his teachers or his secret benefactors, but his obsession with becoming a protective creature of the night. When Alfred says "My God .." after he sees Bruce Wayne don the cowl for the first time, it's not because he's frightened of the suit. Hell, he just handed Bruce the mask. No, he's in awe of the change, the fact that Bruce is no longer Bruce.

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So even if you've never watched Batman: The Animated Series (you don't have to worry about continuity or anything. The film can be watched and understood regardless of your familiarity with the show,) check out Mask of the Phantasm. Bonus fun fact: The words in the opening "Main Title" are the names of some Warner Bros. staff members read backward.

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