Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero [retro review]

“Come on, people! A guy in a weird suit with two polar bears can’t be hard to spot!”

The Scoop: 1998 NR, directed by Boyd Kirkland and starring the voices of Kevin Conroy, Michael Ansara and Loren Lester

Summary Capsule: Bald old man kidnaps hot redhead to perform “medical procedures.” Where I come from, we have a term for stuff like that.

Drew’s Rating: Batman versus Subzero from Mortal Kombat… who ya got?

Drew’s Review: Pop quiz, hotshot — you’re a renowned cryogenics researcher and occasional involuntary guest of the state. One day while minding your own business, a submarine bursts through the glacier floor of your arctic hideout and shatters the tube containing your frozen wife. This causes her fatal disease to reactivate, meaning she’ll be dead within two weeks. You:

A) Scream your unfettered rage to the heavens, pausing occasionally to wail and beat your breast; then search for a sharp icicle in order to follow your beloved into the great unknown

B) Shake your head and lament the cruel hand of fate that taketh the just and the unjust alike; then start brushing up on pickup lines and prepare to hit the singles bars

C) Grab your freeze gun and pet polar bears and head for your old stomping grounds. Check hospital records for organ donors with the same rare blood type as your wife. Find one who’s both the police commissioner’s daughter and occasional crimefighting ally of your greatest enemy, then kidnap her and prep for a quickie organ transplant

Time to grade yourselves, kids. If you answered “A,” congratulations — you’re a deeply emotional, melodramatic individual with the soul of a poet and the brains of a trout. If you picked “B,” you’re Kyle. And if you chose “C”… well, sounds like you’ve got a date with a Batfist to the face, my friend, perhaps followed by a Robin kick to the nads. Enjoy!

As you may have guessed from the above, SubZero chronicles Mr. Freeze’s attempts to kidnap Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl, and transplant her organs into his dying wife, as well as Batman and Robin’s efforts to thwart same. The second feature-length film to spin out of the Batman animated series (after Mask of the Phantasm), it also carries the distinction of having been released in the wake of the terrible live action Batman and Robin, starring many of the same characters, and yet being infinitely better. That said, while SubZero is probably what you’d call a decent film, it’s really not in the same league as Phantasm.

Don’t get me wrong — there are some really strong elements. While SubZero doesn’t delve into Batman’s emotions much, it provides great insight into Mr. Freeze and what makes him tick. Like most Batman villains, he’s not a bad person at heart, but rather the victim of an unfortunate accident who allowed it to turn him into a monster. It makes a nice contrast with Batman, who rose above his personal tragedy and made his demons into a force for good instead; plus it gives Freeze depth and keeps him from being a one-note bad guy (*coughSchwarzeneggercough*), lending credibility to his somewhat noble actions in the climax. The animation is also strong (though the brief 3-D computer animated segments are a bit jarring), and the voice actors remain impressive. Loren Lester gets a chance to shine as Dick Grayson/Robin, furious at the kidnapping of his girlfriend, and Michael Ansera excels at the flat, emotionless tones of Mr. Freeze.

But when all’s said and done, the entire thing feels a bit drawn out, like it might’ve been better served as an episode of the animated series rather than a feature length movie. The plot’s pretty straightforward for a Batman story, and the ending has a definite streak of deus ex machina to it. There’s plenty of action, but you’ll find yourself wishing for fewer explosions and a little more character development. Still, as a bridge between the original Fox cartoon and “The New Batman Adventures” that aired on the WB, SubZero serves its function well.

Stephanie Brown was a better Batgirl than Barbara Gordon.  There, I said it.

Nope, no creepy subtext here. Moving right along...

Intermission!

  • Mr. Zero, AKA Mr. Freeze, was one of Batman’s goofier comic villains. Reimagined from the ground up for the animated series, Victor Fries became a cryogenics researcher whose efforts to cure his wife of a fatal disease were sabotaged by his employer. Whipping up an ice gun, Fries (now calling himself “Mr. Freeze”) went after the executives responsible for his wife’s seeming death, only to be stopped by Batman in the classic episode “Heart of Ice.”
  • Unlike many comic supervillains, who call themselves “Doctor” despite not having earned that title (I’m looking at you, Doom), Victor Fries actually holds a doctorate yet simply calls himself “Mister.” That’s class.
  • The climax takes place on an abandoned oil rig, yet there’s tons of oil spilling out and catching on fire. Why would a drilling company abandon a site but leave tons of oil behind?
  • Supposedly SubZero was originally slated for release in 1997, but was pushed back to 1998 to minimize comparisons with Batman and Robin, which used many of the same characters but was critically panned.

Groovy Quotes

Robin: Thank you, Alfred. I don’t know what we’d do without you.
Alfred: Frankly, sir, neither do I.

Commissioner Gordon: Come on, people! A guy in a weird suit with two polar bears can’t be hard to spot!

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3 Comments

  1. •Unlike many comic supervillains, who call themselves “Doctor” despite not having earned that title, Victor Fries actually holds a doctorate yet simply calls himself “Mister.” That’s class.

    Heh. My eighth grade social studies teacher had a doctorate in education, and he would throw a hissy fit if you ever referred to him as Mister. Meanwhile, a chemistry teacher I had in college had a doctorate in chemical engineering, and wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you referred to him as Mister. The lesson is that the lamer your doctorate, the more insecure you are about it.

  2. Pingback: Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman [retro review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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