Unrated, but this "movie" is borderline an extended episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It was under Warner Bros.' family banner, which is interesting because it has that kind of violence that we tend to ignore. Mr. Freeze straight up freezes people and abandons them, implying that he just killed those people. Also, Mr. Freeze employs polar bears, which come across as kind of scary. I also can't help but mention that the heroes solve their problems through violence. I mean, that seems like it is obvious, but Robin and Batgirl are pretty young and it might encourage that behavior.
DIRECTOR: Boyd Kirkland
See, I was thinking that I was going to have the day off, then my stupid schedule allowed for a movie that barely clocked in at an hour. I always have a hard time justifying a movie that has an hour-six runtime as technically a movie, but the DVD disc said "Play Movie" and this never was an official episode of Batman: The Animated Series, so it had to fall under the purview of my film blog. Yeah, this is how my life is. I have to think long-and-hard to decide if Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero technically qualifies as a movie. Do you have these problems? I'm going to guess, no?
This also kind of kills my street cred. As much as I enjoyed this one (It's not amazing, but it was a fun watch), it completely throws my artsy fartsy aesthetic into question. I suppose I should give some background. Remember, there was a time when we weren't overwhelmed with superhero content. Sometimes, if you wanted a Batman story on a scale larger than television, you had to buy a direct-to-DVD story that probably received very little attention. Warner Media still makes these kinds of movies, but I'm not exactly flocking to watch a lot of these because there is so much superhero content out there that I don't need to see something that probably won't have much continuity or lasting effect. Now, I don't want to downplay the value that these movies have. I know people who religiously watch these movies and I applaud their passion. I was there once. But from the quality of movies that I'm watching most of the time, it is always a little chincy to pull something like Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero off the shelf for a rewatch. There's so much good stuff out there. This is all to confirm that I'm a snob that I wouldn't hang out with. You read that right. After reading this whole diatribe, I decided that I wouldn't hang out with myself.
But there is a certain joy that comes out of watching something like SubZero. I don't seem Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's name all over this movie for some reason, so I don't know their involvement. I mean, the character design and voices, coupled with the mythology of Dini and Timm's Batman are throughout this movie. The only thing that doesn't really feel like it might be part of the same universe is the use of Tim Burton's / Danny Elfman's Batman theme. (As far as I understand, Danny Elfman adapted his own theme to create a variation for Batman: The Animated Series.) A bunch of the other names seen in the opening credits, including director Boyd Kirkland, were fundamentally involved in the creation of the animated series, so I'm going to treat it as canon. Recently, I watched and wrote about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a movie spin-off of The Animated Series that actually was in theaters. It reminded me of how much I liked the animated series, but I acknowledged that it was more polished (but still kind of dodgey at times) than the series itself was. But something like SubZero is actually pretty cool for one reason specifically.
See, SubZero really looks and feels like Batman: The Animated Series. That might not be a big deal, but The Animated Series received a soft reboot the year before with The New Batman Adventures. While set in the same universe as The Animated Series, the characters were older and hardened. Dick Greyson had become Nightwing and Robin was young Tim Drake. (Sorry, Jason Todd. You wouldn't get attention until way later in the animated movieverse.) But most importantly, there was a visual change to the characters. Batman became clothed in black and gray. Gone was the yellow symbolled bat. It was replaced by a large black bat emblazoning Batman's chest. Everything was just a little bit streamlined. While a lot of people didn't care for this change (I did, but I also liked both), it somehow felt just a little cheaper. So with something like SubZero coming out, it kind of felt like it was like one last journey with the old style. It never actively attacked the new art style of The New Batman Adventures, but simply a celebration of the old guard. And to have Mr. Freeze as the villain is a choice.
For all of the many accolades that The Animated Series had, it also garnered attention for giving substance to genre storytelling with an episode titled "Heart of Ice". It won a Daytime Emmy Award for storytelling. While the series did so much right for Batman, it made the Mr. Freeze story so important. Think back to the worst Batman movie, Batman & Robin. Mr. Freeze came across as this goofball full of ice puns. But giving Mr. Freeze a bit of a dismount is actually pretty nice. I'm going to be critical of him in a second, but allowing Nora Fries a second chance at life is really moving in a way. So it's a great decision for its existence. It's just weird that there's just not a little more polish to SubZero.
And this is where the story kind of falls apart. While completely entertaining (and I can't believe that I'm arguing against a short runtime), the bulk of the movie doesn't really have a lot of substance. The capturing of Barbara Gordon seems very flimsy in terms of plot. It's almost like the movie needed to have a Princess Toadstool to be kidnapped. I will applaud that Barbara manages to fight off her assailants before she is killed, but it does feel like the boys have to rescue the weak woman for a percentage of the movie. Also, this movie is really a Robin movie and it's a mistake to title it Batman & Mr. Freeze, because Robin has the potential for the most growth as a character. Instead, we have a Batman who is in the background of this movie without the emotional stakes needed to make him the protagonist of the piece. With Phantasm, Bruce was the one who was driven by the high stakes. For Batman in this movie, it all kind of feels like a job. I know that he's worried about Barbara, but Dick is the one who really goes through the wringer.
And Mr. Freeze, shy of the bookends of the movie, comes across as a pretty standard Batman villain. I love the character stuff that the beginning when he's taking care of the kid and finding peace in the Arctic. I love the last shot, of him walking away in the snow. But the rest of the movie, he's this arch-villain. Part of me wants to write that off as desperation for his dying wife. But he's also this scientist who is supposed to be smarter. Instead, he's a guy who fires first and asks questions later. There's a lot more character that the series has established than what we get on screen. There's a way to show that desperation besides just anger and violence.
So ultimately, this is a movie that I enjoyed, but could never really recommend. It's more of a nostalgia piece at any rate. But every, while few, minute was making me question if I wanted to watch Batman: The Animated Series again. It was a great episode. It never really transcends to the cinematic level that other television spin-offs do, but it provided a good time reminding myself of something that I adored as a kid.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.