We’ll start Bat-Month off with one of the animated features. Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero is the second of three animated features spun-off from Batman: The Animated Series. The film was directed by Boyd Kirkland, and unlike it’s predecessor, Mask of the Phantasm, SubZero was released direct-to-video. Like Mask of the Phantasm, however, it continues to use the regular series voice actors for the characters, and primarily uses the same style of animation.
I say primarily, because there are several scenes, most particularly in the opening sequence but also during some chase scenes, where they use some computer animation to create the scenes. Although the CG animation is well done, this is one of the significant flaws of the film, as it is not just obvious, it also becomes rather distracting. It doesn’t blend well at all with the regular animation style that the cartoon uses, and which the film uses in most scenes.
There’s something sticking out here as if it doesn’t belong.
Also, there’s a submarine.
The slightly-jarring nature of the mixed animation doesn’t detract too much from the overall feature, though. The key consideration is how well the plot holds together. At just barely more than an hour in length, SubZero feels (again like Mask of the Phantasm) a bit more like a lengthy episode of the cartoon than a movie in its own right. However, if taken in that light, it’s a fairly good episode. Mr. Freeze (voiced by Michael Ansara) has occupied an interesting place in Batman’s rogues gallery ever since the animated series did some tweaking to his origin story. While one of the characters that occupies the science-fiction end of the spectrum, he is nevertheless one of the more human villains that Batman has to face. Everything he does is for the sake of his terminally-ill, cryogenically frozen wife, Nora. And SubZero manages to weave another decent story out of this background.
Mr. Freeze resolves to cure Nora one way or another, and with the help of corrupt surgeon Gregory Belson (George Dzundza), plots to give Nora an organ transplant even if it means killing somebody else to obtain the vital organs. Because Nora has a rare blood type, he has a limited field of candidates (pulled from the record of blood donors), and settles on Barbara Gordon (Mary Kay Bergman), unaware of her secret identity as Batgirl. There is one possible plot hole here, in that Nora and Barbara are listed as being AB-; I’ll admit I don’t know if organ transplants play by different rules, but when it comes to blood, AB is the universal receiver, so Nora should be able to take any negative blood type. Still, it’s a minor concern; the main thing is to get the plot rolling by having Mr. Freeze kidnap Barbara, setting Batman and Robin (Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester) on his tail.
How do Batman villains keep taming wild animals?
There are some good action set pieces in the film, a couple chase scenes and some good fights. Something that is particularly praiseworthy is the fact that although Barbara Gordon is the kidnapping victim, the writers don’t make her a damsel in distress at any point. Even out of costume, she’s still Batgirl, and the film makes a point of showing her resourcefulness under duress. The film also keeps an element of humanity to Mr. Freeze, even as he takes an unusually cold-hearted (pun intended) tactic in trying to care for his wife. It’s still shown as the act of a man who is desperate more than insane, and Mr. Freeze is given an additional anchor to humanity in the form of a young boy he has adopted. While Koonak (Rahi Azizi) could have been annoying in the wrong context, somehow he worked here, largely because his role wasn’t overdone.
The one character aspect I was a little disappointed in is that Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) was again sidelined for most of the picture. I realize he’s not the main character, but it was his daughter being kidnapped, so his part being so minor just struck a bit of a sour note for me. Even Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) got to contribute solid information to Batman’s investigation, so the idea of the Police Commissioner being completely helpless in the face of his daughter’s abduction really stuck out as being kind of odd. Still, even this was a minor concern, not a major one.
Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero may not have a lot of weight to it, being rather short for a feature film, but though its plot may be small, it handles it well. And the portrayal of Mr. Freeze himself is something that future Batman filmmakers should pay attention to. Being better than Batman and Robin may not be much of a stretch, and certainly nobody is going to hold up Arnold Schwarzenegger as a great Mr. Freeze, but SubZero should at least serve as a good proof of concept for the idea of using Mr. Freeze in a Batman movie.