Saturday, September 9, 2023

Stubs - Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
(1998) Voices of Kevin Conroy, Michael Ansara, Loren Lester, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., George Dzundza, Robert Costanzo, Bob Hastings, Mary Kay Bergman, Marilu Henner, Dean Jones. Directed by Boyd Kirkland. Screenplay by Boyd Kirkland, Randy Rogel. Based on Batman by Bill Finger and Bob Kane Run time: 66 minutes. Color. USA Direct-to-video, Animated, Superhero

Following the relative success of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), a second film was ordered by Warner Bros. That film was Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, which was made to tie-in with Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin (1997), but delayed a year when that film received a poor reception. The last Batman direct-to-video film to use cel animation, SubZero was released on March 17, 1998.

Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara), swimming with polar bears Notchka and Shaka.

Since his last encounter with Batman in the “Deep Freeze” episode of Batman: The Animated Series, the universe in which this story takes place, Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) has made a home for himself in the Arctic. He is introduced while swimming and fishing in the frigid waters with two polar bear companions, Notchka and Shaka.

U.S. Navy sub on patrol.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Navy Submarine is on patrol under the icecap maneuvering towards an assigned point to surface.

Freeze brings the catch to Koonak (Rahi Azizi).

Mr. Freeze takes the catch back to the cave that he calls home with his adopted Inuit son, Koonak (Rahi Azizi). His wife, Nora, remains in her cryogenic chamber while he seeks a cure for her illness.

Nora Fries' containment chamber is shattered.

Suddenly, the submarine surfaces through the frozen floor of the cave, shattering Nora's containment vessel and causing her to rapidly deteriorate.

The Navy crew has been frozen by Freeze.

The landing team exits the ship and heads out on their mission. When they reach the cave, they find that the rest of their crew is already there and frozen in ice. When they turn, Mr. Freeze is there with his freeze gun.

Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Robin (Loren Lester) catch jewel thieves.

Back in Gotham, Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Robin (Loren Lester) chase down and capture robbers after a jewelry heist. It’s just another day for them as in the limo, driven by Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), the heroes dress in tuxes for their arrival at a Children’s Hospital Fundraiser as their real selves, Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson. Dick’s date, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (Mary Kay Bergman), is late.

In her superhero persona, Batgirl, she is helping a woman who has been attacked in the park. Her assailants get away, but the woman is safe and Batgirl hurries for her date.

Dr. Gregory Belson (George Dzundza) has a talk with his broker, Dean Arbagast (Dean Jones).

At the event, Dr. Gregory Belson (George Dzundza) has a talk with his broker Dean Arbagast (Dean Jones) and the word is not good. He has 24 hours to come up with a large amount of money or else be bankrupt.

Belson leaves just as Barbara arrives on the scene; they literally pass each other on the steps out front. While Barbara enjoys some time alone, Belson’s car crashes into a mysterious ice bank, turning his car over in the process. Mr. Freeze is apparently behind it and removes the doctor from the wreckage, demanding that he help with Nora.

Dick and Barbara make plans to get away for the weekend.

Alone on the terrace, Dick and Barbara make plans to get out of town that weekend, starting with dinner out.

On his way home, Bruce’s car ends up in a large pool of water. They see the overturned car and he and Alfred go to investigate. They find the car empty, but find the registration for the car. It is Belson’s, but the name means nothing to Bruce.

Meanwhile, Mr. Freeze takes Belson to an old abandoned drilling platform off the coast where Nora is. Belson determines that the only thing that can save her is an organ transplant. However, the issue is her rare blood type. There are no suitable donors available, so Freeze decides they’ll use a live donor. Since this would mean death to the donor, Belson refuses to go that far.

However, his financial problems make him vulnerable and Freeze promises him enough money to get him out of trouble. They go back into Gotham, where Belson logs into the computer looking for a suitable donor by blood type. Barbara Gordon’s name appears on the list and Freeze chooses her randomly.

Freeze takes Barbara from a nightclub by force.

They manage to track Barbara down, thanks to her roommate, to a nightclub where she’s having dinner with Dick. Using his Freeze ray and with the help of Notchka and Shaka, Freeze terrorizes the club until Barbara comes forward. Dick tries to stop them, but he gets overpowered. Barbara is taken away and thrown into the back of a truck with the polar bears.

Dick “borrows” a passerby’s motorcycle and takes chase. The police also get involved. Using his freeze ray, Freeze causes a traffic jam, which thwarts the police. However, Dick manages to get by and keeps following. On a twisting mountain road, Dick is about to catch the truck when again Freeze uses his ray to cause Dick to lose control of the bike, which breaks through the rails and goes over the edge, exploding at the bottom of the cliff. Dick manages to grab a tree branch and save himself.

Barbara fights back as Dr. Belson and Freeze try to subdue her.

On the oil platform, Barbara refuses to take any medicine Dr. Belson offers. She fights back, but Freeze manages to control her. He’s stopped from hurting her by Belson and they leave her locked in the room.

Back in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) rallies his troops. He wants his daughter to be found.

He then goes to the hospital where Dick is being cared for. Bruce Wayne is already there and when the attendants leave, Bruce manages to get onto the hospital computer and sees that Barbara and Nora Fries have the same blood type.

Meanwhile, back on the platform, as Dr. Belson and Freeze are on their way to give Barbara an injection, she manages to escape by bouncing from the bed up to a vent. During the chase, Barbara finds herself in the room where Nora is being kept. Freeze and Belson show up and try to convince Barbara that they need her for a blood transfusion to save Nora. She considers helping, but only if it’s in a real hospital, which Freeze is against. Barbara manages to elude them again until she gets trapped. There is no way off the platform and she gets recaptured.

The next day, Bruce and Dick go to GothCorp to find out about cryogenics. They learn that Dr. Belson is the expert but that he hasn’t been around for several days. Breaking into Belson’s home, Batman and Robin rifle through his things, finding a list of medical items. They also find out from a phone conversation between Belson and Dean Arbagast.

On the platform, Barbara meets Koonak when he brings her dinner. He tries to convince her that Freeze is great man after rescuing him. But Barbara is still skeptical. Koonak tries to convince her that Freeze wouldn’t hurt her and, after the encounter, even asks Freeze, who is adamant that she won’t be.

Batman and Robin pay a visit to Arbagast, who tells them about Belson’s financial woes, but claims not to know where he is. As luck would have it, Belson calls at that moment and Robin manages to record the call with the answering machines’ tape. Belson tells Arbagast to put off the SEC for a couple of days because he’ll have the money. Batman manages to take the recording and disappear, even before Arbagast realizes they’re gone.

In the Batcave, Batman and Robin use the background noise on the recording to place Belson off shore at the abandoned oil platform. Meanwhile, Alfred finds out the use for the items on Belson’s list could be used for an organ transplant.

Belson and Freeze prepare Barbara for the organ transplant.

Meanwhile, Belson and Freeze come for Barbara, who is overpowered and taken to the transplant room. Koonak sees her being dragged by and tries to stop them from hurting her. His efforts are rebuffed by Belson, which causes Koonak to be angered. Once again, Barbara manages to get away.

Batman and Robin, using the Batwing, fly out to the platform and go looking for Barbara. They confront Freeze and Belson, the latter of whom accidentally sets a fire when he fires at Barbara and hits an oil storage tank.

Despite the fire, Freeze traps Batman and Robin and insists Belson do the operation, but instead Belson tries to escape. He is killed by falling debris from the resulting explosion.

Freeze likewise gets trapped by similar debris and his leg is broken. Batman and Robin find Freeze, but he tells them to save Nora and Koonak. Batman sends Robin back to the Batwing while he and Barbara go get them.

The Batwing manages to take off before the oil platform blows up.

After carrying Nora to the Batwing, Batman goes back for Freeze, but he’s unable to get to him before Freeze seemingly plummets to his death. Batman makes it back to the Batwing and they fly away just as the rig finally explodes.

It is revealed later that the polar bears are swimming away and they're joined by Freeze.

Sometime later, news reports talk about Nora Fries' life-saving organ transplant surgery funded by Wayne Enterprises. The news is being watched on a television set in an arctic research station. Freeze stands out in the freezing arctic and sees the report through the window before retreating back into the cold. With him are his polar bears.

The story overall is pretty good and interesting. Nora Fries, who never speaks, is the center of the story. She is the reason Dr. Fries turned to a life of crime. His love for her is so strong that he would do anything for her, including using any means necessary to save her.

I also enjoyed the exploration of a relationship between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. They’re depicted here to be of the same age and they obviously have a lot in common.

The animation tries hard to recall the look of Hollywood films of the 1930-40s. Even though this would be the last of Warner Brothers’ Batman direct-to-videos to utilize cel animation, there is too much use of CGI. It is most notable when the Batwing is present and scenes at the oil rig. The use is noticeable and slightly jarring.

The voice acting is good. Kevin Conroy’s voice is almost synonymous with animated Batman/Bruce Wayne, having played the character beginning with the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series. Because of his popularity, he would voice the character in such features as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014), Batman: The Killing Joke (2016), Batman and Harley Quinn (2017), and Justice League vs. the Fatal Five (2019), as well as The New Batman Adventures television series.

Seeing how this film takes place in the Batman: The Animated Series universe, it is no surprise that Loren Lester, the voice of Robin and Dick Grayson would reprise that role here as well. Lester would voice Dick Grayson in many of the same films as Conroy’s Batman, as well as Dick Grayson/Nightwing in The New Batman Adventures.

Michael Ansara also voiced Mr. Freeze in Batman: The Animated Series. Born in the Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, Ansara may best be remembered not for his voice work, but for his portrayal of Cochise in the television series Broken Arrow (1956-58). He brings a certain gravitas with him as the voice of Freeze, a role he would reprise in episodes of The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond.

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl was voiced by Mary Kay Bergman. 

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl was voiced by Mary Kay Bergman. While Bergman appeared in over 400 television commercials and voiced over 100 cartoon, film, and video game characters, I believe this might have been her only turn as Barbara Gordon. Her voice work helps to flesh out the character and help with setting the film in the right time period.

Overall, while not quite as good as its predecessor, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is still fun to watch. It is more enjoyable than the feature film it was made to cross-promote, Batman & Robin and proves again that animation is the best medium to tell Batman stories.

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