Time to revisit another Batman classic! After the success of the Phantasm film, it was good to see Batman make another theatrical appearance. SubZero is definitely a solid film, but it makes the controversial choice to place plot over action. This will likely work for the critics, but it definitely works against the film on this site. It’s a good film experience, but it could have been better.
Batman and Robin are enjoying themselves at a party when Mr Freeze decides to strike. He has been resting at a hideout far away from Gotham, but the villain was forced to make his move when some humans decided to blow away his kingdom. It was accidental as they panicked and crashed through the ice instead of through the water, but it was a mistake that they won’t get to make again. To restore his wife, Mr Freeze needs someone with the same blood type so that the doctor can unleash a fatal operation on her. Barbara Gordon fits the bill so he kidnaps her. Can the Dynamic Duo reach her in time or is it already too late?
The plot in itself isn’t bad. Mr Freeze has always been one of the better DCAU villains and this is a pretty good portrayal of him. As always, he’s not being evil for the lolz, but he is actually doing it to help Nora. It’s a pretty sympathetic goal although the way that he goes about it is not the best. Considering how advanced science is in the DC world, a hospital would probably be able to do something about her condition. Not a normal hospital though, he would have to get some connections to help her. Instead, he opts to just do the transfusion and naturally this makes him a villain, but one that you can sympathize with.
I’ve always had a soft spot for characters who place those closest to them at higher priority than the rest of the world. A Sword Art Online example is Kirito basically saying that he’ll leave everyone to die so that he can take Asuna to safety during one of the final battles or Sasuke deciding to do whatever he had too in order to avenge his clan. You can tell that the acts aren’t exactly heroic, but you can still root for the characters. Naturally, it’s hard to root for Mr Freeze here since it would mean the death of Batgirl, but in his position it’s easy to see why he would make the choice. (Assuming that there is no other way) If it’s between Nora and Barbara, he’s going to pick Nora every time. For us, if it’s a stranger or a family member in a random circumstance, like a sudden fire and you can only pick one, who wouldn’t pick the family member? Naturally, a “true” hero may factor in something like who is younger, who will have a better life, or other things to decide who to save, but it would be hard not to save the family member. Thus, I don’t excuse Mr Freeze’s goal, but it’s one of the reasons why he has always been one of Batman’s best written villains.
Robin gets a bigger role here than usual. Unfortunately, it’s mostly a romance subplot for him as he doesn’t get to act as Robin for a very long time here. There’s not a whole lot of action here so that makes sense, but it doesn’t help his case as a character. I think it’s safe to say that Batman is more likable here. Robin still needs more experience so while he is a good fighter, he still has a ways to go. I would have liked to have seen some more effort from him so that he could save Batgirl. (At least he doesn’t try to throw the fight like Batman does at times) He’s still one of my favorite Batman characters, but this probably wasn’t his best appearance.
Batgirl also gets a big role, but only in her normal identity. She doesn’t put up the greatest fight against Mr Freeze and I think that she should have been able to escape at one point. Not off of the ship of course, but heading to the very top would have bought her a lot of time. She did a good job of buying time for herself, but I’m just saying that she could have done even better if she really put the effort in. Her brief moment as Batgirl made her look pretty good though so that was a preview of how the film could have gone for her. She could have probably given Mr Freeze and his minions a decent fight if she had been prepared.
Batman’s portrayal is pretty spot on as expected. He quickly starts to assemble the clues that he had gotten throughout the film and then he found out where Mr Freeze was hiding. He still is the world’s greatest detective so nothing is too tricky for him to figure out. He also looks pretty tough in the fight scenes and he’s a hero from start to finish. There’s nothing more that you can really ask for from Batman so the portrayal is just about perfect.
The animation is pretty sharp as you would expect. Batman always makes full use of the theater budget so the cape and cowl are sleek and sharp. There are no scenes where they look pale or out of focus. That being said, the film made the unwise choice of deciding to add a lot of CGI to the film. I’ve always thought that CGI is inferior to hand drawn animation so deciding to add some of it to a film because you can is still not a good reason to add it. The normal scenes look better than the CGI moments so they don’t help the film. It’s intriguing to look at since the scenes really stand out. It’s not like it’ll hurt the score or anything like that, but the film would have looked even better without the CGI moments.
Batman’s soundtrack is also about as good as you would expect. The intro theme is pretty good and it gets you in the mood for a good adventure. After that, the themes become a little more generic, but they definitely age well. It gives the film the look and feel of a theater film and that’s what I always expect. Nowadays, that isn’t always a guarantee. It’s not as good as the soundtrack was in Mask of the Phantasm, but it’s definitely good enough.
Mr Freeze didn’t have any human minions this time as he just teamed up with two Polar Bears and I have to say that this was another dicey move on the film’s part. Adding in animals means that there is a chance that they will have to fight so that’s always sad to see. The heroes are pretty passive when fighting them for the most part, but who wants to see the evil bears get blasted with water? I definitely could have done without them having to engage in the fights, but it certainly could have been a whole lot worse.
The main thing that stops this film from getting the usual 7 stars is the lack of action. We only see Batman at the very beginning when he fights a robber and at the very ending where he moves in to save Batgirl. It’s hard to call the movie a Batman film when the main star barely gets to appear. We get some Bruce Wayne scenes of course and Dick Grayson gets development, but I need action. Mr Freeze doesn’t even get to fight the heroes since it’s too late by that point. That’s definitely a missed opportunity right there. Sometimes, the gamble to have more plot than action works out, but that is very rarely and it typically only works when the action scenes wouldn’t have been enjoyable anyway. That is definitely not the case here so the strategy never really had a chance.
You could also argue that the film had a little too much romance in it. I definitely wouldn’t stop that argument since I agree with it. The romance is handled decently well at least since the scenes typically won’t leave you cringing, but it’s still a plot that I could do without. Batgirl and Robin should always stay as just friends especially when you know that it’s not going to last. It also stopped the characters from being as likable as they could have been.
Overall, SubZero is a pretty decent Batman film. As far as the DCAU titles go, it’s probably going to have to take last place, but that’s more of a “by default” thing. 6 stars is still pretty good after all so the film was still fun. The animation and soundtrack are good and Batman looks great. The brief action scenes that we do get are pretty good. The film may drag on a little towards the middle and the romance was probably too heavy as well, but it’s still a film that you will want to see as a Batman fan. I definitely recommend it to DC fans and if you want an even better Batman tale, just check out Mystery of the Batwoman.