Batman: Mask of the Phantasm - A Critical Review
Length: 1787 words (5.1 double-spaced pages)
This paper will break down the elements of the critical process using the three critical methods that were discussed in class. Also included in the paper will be the notes that were taken from the conversation I overheard at Hardees, about the movie “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” between Seiter, Thompson, and Meehan. This critique will discuss the several components to each of the three critical methods including cultural codes in the movie, gender roles, and advertisement placement with in the movie.
The syuzhet begins with the opening credits of the film showing Gotham city with a red backdrop as opera music plays in the background. Then the picture fades to black and then Batman appears on top of a building in front of the Shady Lady casino. A fight ensues, and later Batman is seen at the scene of the confrontation where he finds a piece of glass with some form of rare chemical on it, perhaps this is a form of compositional motivation-setting up something to come later in the film. This is also the first time in the film where Batman is accused of being a criminal (vigilante). The second time Batman is accused of being a criminal (vigilante) is in the very next scene when Councilman Reeves protests against Batman’s usefulness against the criminals of the city. In the very next scene Reeves yet again describes Batman as a criminal (vigilante), but this time in the media. Thompson would agree that these patterns are a hermeneutic chain of events that pessimists (or an ideological critic) would ask about (why doesn’t batman get into trouble from the police, or the courts?).
The fabula starts when Bruce Wayne starts to reminisce about the first day that he met Andrea. Wayne and Andrea met at the graveyard where both of their parents were buried, they started minor chitchat and Wayne falls for her. They go on a few dates and encounter a mugging in progress Bruce makes his decision to give up on his promise of protecting the city from evil, because he cannot be a crime fighter if he has someone waiting for him to come home. This starts another pattern in which the characters must choose between their love for each other and the promise they swore they would uphold in the event of their parents demise. Bruce and Andrea both make this decision at the end of the movie and neither of them picked love, both or them would rather be alone and uphold their morals and truths to themselves.
The first thing a sanitation would do would be to analyze the first word of the title “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” and all the signs associated with it. The signifier or the word “Batman” is an iconic sign, because everybody knows what or who Batman is or looks like. Sure different interpretations of him surface all the time but the costume remains relatively the same and his symbol never changes. The signified of the “Bat symbol” is also an iconic sign because everybody knows that it stands for Batman, distress, or even help. As Ellen Seiter says signs are the smallest unit of measure, and we are always translating signs into other signs. Another signifier is the casino name “The Shady Lady”, which leads the viewer on a long thought process about the behavior that the women in Gotham city have.
This film would be very easy to analyze using binary opposition, because of all the other forms the Batman franchise has. The movies differ quite drastically from the cartoon, and comic books. For instance Batman for sure kills the Joker and the Penguin in the first two movies, but in the comic books and cartoons Batman cannot kill off all the super villains because they need to resurface in later episodes and editions. Another difference between the movies, cartoons, and comics is the size, and physique of Bruce Wayne. Bruce is incredibly huge and muscular in the cartoons, while in the comics he is built and ripped, but not as massively large. It was interesting to see that Warner Brothers choose Michael Keaton to play Batman, when they could have just as easily had picked Sylvester Stallone or some other action hot-shot with large muscles. A semiotic critic could look even deeper and see the similarities in the costumes between the old Batman T.V. series with Adam West, the DC comics, and the WB cartoon series, and see that those Batmans do not wear body armor, gauntlets or a prosthetic mask, like the movie Batmans do. In comparison the Batman cartoon is a much closer adaptation to the rest of the Batman franchise than the Tim Burton movies are, even though the first two Batman movies predate the cartoon series by a couple years.
The easiest parts of the movie to analyze and pick out are also the hardest to write about because of the lack of historical knowledge the movie gives away. While using the vague, and almost laughable references to the Gotham’s Worlds Fair exhibit the “world of tomorrow” along with the styles of cars that are being driven, and the way the gangsters look and act, it would be a safe bet to say that this movie is set in a time period between the fifties and sixties. We can also just assume that Batman will have greater technology and better toys in his arsenal then that of any super villains or police officer.
The role that Andrea plays is not typical of any woman at the time I conclude this movie is being set in. Andrea plays dual roles and has some personality traits that are typical of men in that era. She is outgoing, adventurous, nurturing, smart, mentally and physically capable to commit acts of vengeance, able to defend her-self from attack, stubborn, defenseless and yet still very feminine, vulnerable and dainty at the same time. She is totally content and would be completely satisfied to be Mrs. Bruce Wayne and live with Bruce in his big castle, yet at the same time she wants vengeance against the mob that murdered her father. In the end she is faced with an ultimatum from Bruce and chooses to avenge her fathers murder and be alone.
Aside from her character there were no other signs of dominant feminism in the entire movie. For example before Bruce goes into a private room to have his first flashback about Andrea he is at his party and is surrounded by beautiful women, trying to get him to commit to marriage. The flashback ends when Alfred says, ”Miss Bambi is dancing on the piano”. Mixing Semiotic analysis, gender criticism, and cultural codes you can imagine Bambi being a tall slender attractive blonde. Another thing to notice is the fact that there are no female police officers, doctors or mobsters.
Looking deeper into the movie a viewer can see that the sexes are for a majority naturally dissimilar even in the decisions the females are supposed to make. For instance when Batman tries to convince Andrea that vengeance will not solve anything, then later in that scene Joker says to Batman “You’ll kill us both!” and Batman replies, “Whatever it takes!” Using trans textual analysis, critics know that everybody else knows that Joker killed Bruce’s parents, and Bruce is willing to do anything to stop Joker, even if it means death. Batman seems to think that just because he is the dominant male it is all right for him to fight and attempt to stop Joker, because he is following societies codes.
When watching the film I noticed only one major blatant advertisement, and that was for Warner Brothers, which is the company that produced the film. It was a small “WB” insignia placed on an object in the foreground, in front of the hero Batman, then the screen pans across placing the insignia in the middle center of the screen, but only for a moment. The only other possible advertisement I noticed was for bologna, but that is associated with the villain Joker and his half torn apart robotic display “wife” from “the world of tomorrow”.
This movie has hidden underlying cultural codes that are being broken in today’s society. Batman seems to get away with it, this only happens because the mystique of Batman is that the franchise seems to be in a separate world other than our own. The franchise does not seem to be bound by time frames, or eras. This is good because it gives the owners to the franchise name, the flexibility to create and recreate Batman’s image, world and demeanor as many times as they see fit. Because of the lack of dates and historical accuracy this also entitles the owner of the franchise to create other “spin offs” from the original, like the comics based on Batgirl, Robin, the movie “Catwoman”, or the animated T.V. series Batman: Beyond. These spin offs allow the owner of the rights to attain most of the time free advertising and major endorsement deals for toys, apparel, school supplies, movie posters, and whatever else they can slap the Batman insignia on.
In conclusion after hearing what the three critics had to say about the movie and using notes from class, and the other readings it is my conclusion that in all, the movie used free motifs well to delay the action until the final battle and the surprise ending. Along with using the myth of Batman, with all of Batman’s signs and codes-like assuming the audience knows more than the movie tells the listener-allows for the movie to smoothly progress without having to give the entire back story about Bruce Wayne. It is for this reason only that I think that the animated movie, which came out shortly after “Batman Returns”, was made to build off the commercial success of the previous movies, produced by the same company. A neo-formalist would argue that this movie is art, because it de-familiarizes the movie to the viewer. The movie gives us additional in sight to the character of Bruce Wayne and Batman, like where he got the idea for the Batmobile, or how he found the Batcave. Because of the back-story the fabula sets up, this movie serves more as a prequel to the other two major motion pictures than a continuation to the series. This movie gives some clues to the major questions that surround Batman’s origin, but are not a substitute for what anybodies imagination could think up. This movie does not serve the story line of the franchise well enough for me to give this movie a good grade: C+.