HomeEntertainment NewsHow Arnold Schwarzenegger Saved This Superhero Movie From Complete Disaster

How Arnold Schwarzenegger Saved This Superhero Movie From Complete Disaster

When it comes to world-famous characters possessed of myriad interpretations, how excited you are for a new take may well depend on how satisfied you are with the existing options. I’d be happy to see Batman put into a 15-year hibernation from any more movies, TV shows, video games, spinoffs – any media activity at all, really – but my preferred take on Batman has largely made it onto the screen already. Between Tim Burton’s two films and Batman: The Animated Series, all the key ingredients of his personality and world have been handled in the way I’d most like to see. There’s no rush to see any other Batman story on the horizon when you have your fix readily available on Blu-Ray and the newest offering doesn’t seem up your alley. And when you already have your flavor of a character, you can also be more forgiving toward certain aberrations – 1997’s Batman & Robin, for instance.


Still your fingers, keyboard warriors. This isn’t a hot take about how Batman & Robin is actually genius. It’s about as objective a mess as you can find at that budget with that kind of high-profile material. The movie was rushed by executives, helmed by a filmmaker happy to use “it’s a cartoon!” as a direction, is rarely funny when it’s supposed to be, and never convincingly sincere when it tries to be. But I’ve never been able to dislike Batman & Robin. It’s always been a good source of cheesy fun. No doubt nostalgia plays a role in this; I was seven when it came out and took it as one of many Batman offerings at the time I was happy to watch. It’s also such an obvious trainwreck that there’s no pain left by wasted potential, unlike the far more excruciating watch that is Batman Forever (not helped by the copious amount of neon green in that film, which leaves me nauseous). Apart from that, however, is the contribution brought to the movie by one Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger is about to jump from big to small screen in Netflix’s FUBAR. The action-comedy series, which the star has also produced, follows Luke Brunner (Schwarzenegger) and his daughter, Emma (Monica Barbaro), as they find out about each other’s secret life as a CIA operative. The show will hit the streaming service Friday, May 25th. And with that, now is the perfect time to look back at one of his weirdest and most memorable performances.

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Who Is Mr. Freeze?

Batman TAS Mr Freeze

Arnie’s casting as Mr. Freeze is all the proof you need that no one involved in producing this movie was that interested in the substance of Batman and his villains. As reconceived for the modern age by Paul Dini in The Animated Series, Dr. Victor Fries was a sensitive cryogenic scientist desperate to cure his dying wife, Nora. The accident that left him unable to survive outside subzero temperatures was caused by the heartlessness of those who would have left Nora to die to save money, and it was this more than the accident himself that embittered Fries – now Mr. Freeze – and drove him to criminal and murderous schemes as he continued his efforts to save his wife. Sensitivity isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you hear Schwarzenegger’s name, and with all due respect to the man’s talents, it isn’t something much in evidence in his acting career. He’s the archetypal muscle-bound, one-liner-spewing action star more effective as a personality than as an actor.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze Is the Most Entertaining Character

Image Via Warner Bros.

And boy, does Batman & Robin lean into that personality. The Arnie accent is still present. The costume is completely impractical for keeping his body submerged in frigid temperatures, but it adds extra bulk to his physique. Every other word out of Freeze’s mouth is a cheesy pun or one-liner tied to ice or snow, and he attacks these lines with gusto. I have no idea what Schwarzenegger’s on-set experience on Batman & Robin was like, but it sure looks as if he had the time of his life tossing these groaners out. On paper, Freeze’s actions and intentions toward Gotham put him further down the path to supervillainy than his animated counterpart, but between the sparkly suit and the wisecracks, it’s impossible to take this Freeze seriously as a threat. To its credit, the film (usually) seems aware of this. You don’t have the bad guy lead his henchmen in a singalong to the Snow Meiser song if he’s meant to have menace. With George Clooney stiff and uncomfortable in and out of the Batsuit, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone saddled with some of the most unlikable incarnations of Robin and Batgirl around, and Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy a shallow vamp compared to the source material, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze is easily the most entertaining and likable figure on the screen.

For all his goofball antics, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze still has the tragic origin Dini wrote for the character, and his ultimate goal remains the cure of his wife. As with any sense of danger, the silliness works against taking this pathos seriously, and there doesn’t seem to be any self-awareness of this. The film simply tries to have it both ways on this score, however reconcilable the elements. In this case, though, the damage isn’t quite as bad. Freeze is so charming as a baddie that it supports the idea (if you can, for a minute, regard the film as a coherent narrative) that he would have a happy, loving marriage so deep that he’d preserve his wife in stasis and chase after a cure for her. If Schwarzenegger doesn’t have the greatest depth or range as an actor, he is still able to sell Freeze’s concern for Nora. To the extent that this movie has a heart, it’s found in Freeze’s motives, and in Bruce Wayne’s affection for a dying Alfred (Michael Gough).

Mr. Freeze Should Be Allowed to Redeem Himself

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman and Robin
Image Via Warner Bros.

It’s in the way those two threads dovetail that Batman & Robin stumbles upon its own genuinely solid story element. At the end of the film, Batman decides to try and reach the Fries within Freeze. As it happens, Alfred is sick with the same condition as Nora, in a less advanced stage Fries had been able to cure. Appealing to the doctor and the man, Batman asks Freeze for that cure. Freeze, having been manipulated and betrayed by Poison Ivy, agrees. He provides the cure, gets facilities in Arkham Asylum to continue his research, and ends the film a reformed man. (To an extent, at least; there’s one last gag with him promising to make Ivy’s life in Arkham a living hell as her cellmate. So, baby steps.)

This is a good idea. More than that, it’s a better idea than anything the comics or the DC Animated Universe have come up with to keep Freeze going. For whatever reason, the thinking seems to be that Freeze can only be a viable character if he’s also a villain, no matter how many narrative knots it takes to keep him in that role. If one timeline cures his wife, he needs to catch a body-ravishing disease and be left so embittered that he wants to destroy humanity. Or why have him be in a loving marriage at all – when it comes time for a contrived continuity reboot, they can rewrite the character so that he became obsessed with a frozen woman he never knew outside her capsule. Have him act as a mercenary for other villains, turn him into a diamond thief, or damn him to an appearance in Teen Titans Go!, but whatever you do, apparently, don’t let him reform.

How Do Other Batman Stories Depict Mr. Freeze?

Image Via Kids’ WB

The Animated Series seemed to find a way to do the same kind of redemption story for Freeze seriously in the direct-to-video Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero. There, too, Freeze rediscovers his humanity after nearly committing heinous crimes. It’s a more bittersweet finale for him; he’s presumed dead and left to live alone in the Arctic with his pet polar bears, but he learns that his wife has been cured thanks to Wayne Enterprises. But when The New Batman Adventures came around, he wasn’t back as a potential ally and friend; he was a murderous head on mechanical spider legs, used for a single episode and eventually killed off in Batman Beyond. It’s the one thing that Dini, Bruce Timm, and company were ever bested at vis-a-vis Batman by Joel Schumacher. The closest anyone has come to taking the idea of a reformed Freeze and running with it is Batman: Arkham City, but even there, Freeze is still a criminal.

I don’t know if it’s the fear of association with Batman & Robin that’s kept writers and artists from letting Freeze turn over a new leaf or if the idea just doesn’t grab them. But I’ll tell you now and see you later: an earnest approach to that concept would be more likely to get me to the theater or the TV set than more degrees of grimdark angst in Bruce Wayne’s psyche or one more super-psycho take on the Joker. I’ve had my fill of each in the proper amount. And taking the saving grace of a bad movie and expanding upon it, seems a more worthwhile use of creative energy than incessant variations on success.



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