The Matt Signal: Batman and Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero

Plot summary: A desperate Mr. Freeze kidnaps Barbara Gordon in hopes of saving his wife Nora’s rapidly-fading life.

Once again, I know this is a film, but it’ll be ranked as an episode with all the usual segments, as it explicitly continues the continuity of both the series and Mask of the Phantasm.

Notes

Movie Title: ‘Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero’

Original Release Date: March 17th, 1998

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (22)

Written: Randy Rogel (10) and Boyd Kirkland (1)

Intended as a straight-to-video tie-in to Batman & Robin, the critical evisceration of said movie meant that despite completing production in 1997, Warner Bros. sat on it until halfway through The New Batman Adventures. Hence me reviewing this first despite the release dates.

The delays also meant that Freeze’s appearance in upcoming episode ‘Cold Comfort’ spoiled some parts of the film’s plot.

Bruce Timm became too busy with Superman the Animated Series to oversee the film, so Randy Rogel & Boyd Kirkland were mostly left to their own devices. Timm was later shocked to learn they’d brought Nora Fries ‘back to life’, as he not only felt it undermined Freeze’s character, but ruined plans he had to adapt part of the tie-in Holiday Special comic.

Veronica Vreeland’s hair colour was temporarily changed from red to blonde, likely because of Barbara Gordon. A similar thing happened in the comics with Summer Gleeson (remember her?), and some have speculated Timm has a bit of a thing for redheads, hence there being so many of them in the show.

Recap

Mr. Freeze is living happily in the Arctic Circle (following the events of ‘Deep Freeze’) with two pet polar bears and an Inuit boy named Koonak for company. Oh, and Nora on ice too, of course!

Unfortunately a military submarine smashes through the cavern Freeze & co. had made their home, damaging Nora’s tube! The bears dig their master out and he takes revenge by freezing the submarine crew.

Two weeks later in Gotham, Batman & Robin take out a pair of thieves before attending a fancy party in their civilian identities. They talk with Jim Gordon about what a lovely young woman Barbara is, spliced together with her as Batgirl kicking a mugger’s ass. Very cool.

Bruce leaves early to escape Veronica Vreeland and her gal pals, leaving Dick and Barbara to continue their recent courtship (lots of teasing from Jim on that front.)

Unfortunately, after consulting with an old colleague Mr. Freeze has determined Barbara is a match for Nora’s rare blood type, and kidnaps her during one of the couple’s dates. Dick tries to fight the villain off, but two polar bears turn out to be quite the advantage. Weird, right?

Jim Gordon naturally flips the eff out, ordering the GCPD conduct an enormous search. He and Bullock visit Dick in hospital (he almost died in a pretty cool chase scene), providing Bruce with the exposition he needs to start piecing the mystery together.

Meanwhile, Barbara makes a plucky escape attempt, evading Fries and his bears, but discovers they’re on an abandoned oil rig out at sea, leaving her nowhere to run.

Bruce and Dick continue their investigation, learning Dr. Belson is the city’s foremost expert on cryogenics, having worked with Fries years ago, but has been missing for a week. They eventually get to his stockbroker, who receives a message from Belson that they’re able to use to locate him.

Talk of the devil, he and Freeze forcibly prep Barbara for surgery, distressing Koonak enough to set her free (something Babs previously failed to talk him into doing). Belson and the bears chase after her, with the bad doctor shooting wildly, despite the risks of harming the patient and blowing them all to hell due to all the oil.

Batman & Robin arrive via Batwing and trick the bears into leaping into the sea. A huge fire spreads through the rig, with the trio of heroes rescuing Nora and Koonak from the flames while Belson ostensibly perishes in a cowardly escape attempt.

Bruce attempts to go back for Victor, but the combination of a broken leg and the effects of the extreme heat on his body make him highly immobile, and he ultimately falls into a fiery abyss with Batman unable to save him.

The heroes fly away with seconds to spare and two weeks later Summer Gleeson (remember her?) reports on Nora’s life being saved thanks to a combination of Bruce’s fortune and Victor’s research… and naturally the very much alive Freeze witnesses the report and sheds of tear of joy before hobbling away with his bears.

Best Performance

Michael Ansara gives by far his best acting performance in the role of Mr. Freeze here, even if he has seemingly changed the voice for the second time compared to his iconic debut. His brief warmth towards Koonak and melancholy as he presents Nora with a flower juxtapose nicely with his all-business mission. He manages to sound aggressive and forceful without getting too emotional as it was Timm & Dini’s mandate that he should be devoid of feeling as much as possible. I particularly enjoyed his work during the fire, as it’s clear to everyone else that they can’t stay there any longer, but he calmly insists Belson remain and perform the surgery.

Mary Kay Bergman replaced Melissa Gilbert as Batgirl, and would in turn be replaced by Tara Strong. I have to admit, she’s pretty excellent, from her teasy flirtations with Dick, to her heroic determinism during the escape and her little bond with Koonak.

Bob Hastings puts in his best shift as Jim Gordon to date, especially when reacting to Barbara’s kidnapping. Everybody else is aggressively fine, from Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester, to George ‘The Ventriloquist’ Dzundza as Dr. Belson.

Ranking

This film is most famous for widely being declared superior to the live-action film it was tying into, which isn’t hard given Batman & Robin is one of the most reviled major releases of all time. But it is good in its own right! A step below Mask of the Phantasm, but with a greater sense of grandeur than the series. I would have loved to have seen them produce two or three more of these, but alas.

The intro featuring a fancy pants logo treatment and partially-3D underwater sequence demonstrated how much animation leapt forwards in the 90s. Indeed, the visuals are greatly improved over the series and it’s a shame it wasn’t an option to achieve this look going forward instead of the (mostly) inferior design overhaul of The New Batman Adventures.

This is never more apparent than the exceptionally fun action scenes, including Dick’s motorcycle chase and Barbara’s two escapes. I really liked the oil rig as a setting for the final showdown, particularly the brief shot of the multi-levelled game of Cat and Mouse Bat and Polar Bears as the heroes approach by air, but also how it leads to the shockingly dramatic fire rescue.

Where it falls down compared to Mask of the Phantasm is the lack of a big emotional plotline beyond Freeze’s quest to save Nora. There is an effort made to pull off a compelling investigation (including a cool scene where the heroes break into the stockbroker’s bedroom), but it’s a bit too contrived.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Almost Got ‘im
  4. Heart of Ice
  5. Harlequinade
  6. The Trial
  7. Riddler’s Reform
  8. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  9. I Am the Night
  10. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  11. Baby-Doll
  12. Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero (New Entry)
  13. The Man Who Killed Batman
  14. Perchance to Dream
  15. Two-Face Part I
  16. Bane
  17. Batgirl Returns
  18. A Bullet For Bullock
  19. Joker’s Favor
  20. Read My Lips
  21. Feat of Clay Part II
  22. Harley’s Holiday
  23. Catwalk
  24. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  25. Harley and Ivy
  26. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  27. House & Garden
  28. Beware the Gray Ghost
  29. Second Chance
  30. Mad as a Hatter
  31. Heart of Steel Part II
  32. Appointment In Crime Alley
  33. Two-Face Part II
  34. Pretty Poison
  35. Deep Freeze
  36. Lock-Up
  37. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  38. Feat of Clay Part I
  39. His Silicon Soul
  40. Off Balance
  41. Vendetta
  42. Birds of a Feather
  43. Heart of Steel Part I
  44. On Leather Wings
  45. See No Evil
  46. The Clock King
  47. It’s Never Too Late
  48. Make ‘Em Laugh
  49. Joker’s Wild
  50. Eternal Youth
  51. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  52. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  53. Zatanna
  54. Day of the Samurai
  55. The Lion and the Unicorn
  56. Avatar
  57. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  58. The Mechanic
  59. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  60. Terror in the Sky
  61. P.O.V.
  62. Christmas with the Joker
  63. Fear of Victory
  64. Be a Clown
  65. The Worry Men
  66. What is Reality?
  67. Fire From Olympus
  68. Night of the Ninja
  69. Mudslide
  70. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  71. Nothing to Fear
  72. Prophecy of Doom
  73. Tyger, Tyger
  74. Blind as a Bat
  75. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  76. Dreams In Darkness
  77. The Last Laugh
  78. Cat Scratch Fever
  79. Moon of the Wolf
  80. Paging the Crime Doctor
  81. Time Out of Joint
  82. Sideshow
  83. The Under-Dwellers
  84. The Forgotten
  85. Showdown
  86. The Terrible Trio
  87. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) (third appearance)

Listen, I know Bruce Timm is 50% responsible for Mr. Freeze becoming the character we all love, but I respectfully disagree with his assessment about Nora. Isn’t the entire deal that he devotes every waking moment to trying to cure her? The series established that he has no interest in petty crime or world domination, so without that goal to work towards, wouldn’t he just… sit still forever? Perhaps he meant that in his opinion she was essentially a vegetable, but the film concludes with her fully restored, and to me that opens doors.

Anyway, his willingness to kill Barbara without a second though in order to save his wife is simultaneously stone cold (lolol) and completely human. The whole ‘how far would you go to save the person you love?’ thing. Likewise, his happy little life caring for two bears and a boy, transitioning to swift and brutal vengeance against the submarine crew who accidentally ruined everything is a nice little demonstration of his two extremes. There’s definitely a bi-POLAR joke here somewhere…

The polar bears were a stroke of genius, because we’ve already seen that he doesn’t play well with generic henchmen, but everybody needs muscle, and it gives him a little extra something compared to the other villains while still fitting his design theme.

With a suspicion that his treatment in New Batman Adventures is likely going to push him right back down again, I’m going to move Freeze back into the top three.

  1. The Joker
  2. Harley Quinn
  3. Mr. Freeze
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. Two-Face
  6. The Ventriloquist
  7. Catwoman
  8. The Riddler
  9. The Phantasm
  10. Baby-Doll
  11. Bane
  12. Mad Hatter
  13. Penguin
  14. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  15. Clayface
  16. Ra’s al Ghul
  17. Lock-Up
  18. Lloyd Ventrix
  19. Killer Croc
  20. Rupert Thorne
  21. Count Vertigo
  22. Clock King
  23. Nivens
  24. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  25. Josiah Wormwood
  26. Scarecrow
  27. Talia al Ghul
  28. Sid the Squid
  29. Queen Thoth Khepera
  30. Maxie Zeus
  31. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  32. Tony Zucco
  33. Man-Bat
  34. Hugo Strange
  35. Red Claw
  36. Arnold Stromwell
  37. Mad Bomber
  38. Tygrus
  39. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  40. Kyodai Ken
  41. Condiment King/Pack Rat/Mighty Mom
  42. Grant Walker
  43. Gil Mason
  44. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  45. Cameron Kaiser
  46. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  47. Mad Dog
  48. Ubu
  49. Professor Milo
  50. Romulus
  51. Arkady Duvall
  52. Sewer King
  53. Boss Biggis
  54. Montague Kane
  55. The Terrible Trio

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, has gone back to cover WandaVision with two episodes per week before Loki begins.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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