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COVERAGE - ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: May 7th, 2013
Synopsis: Based on the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank 2008 release “Superman: Brainiac,” Superman: Unbound finds the Man of Steel aptly handling day-to-day crime while helping acclimate Supergirl to Earth’s customs and managing Lois Lane’s expectations for their relationship. Personal issues take a back seat when the horrific force responsible for the destruction of Krypton – Brainiac – begins his descent upon Earth. Brainiac has crossed the universe, collecting cities from interesting planets – including Supergirl’s home city of Kandor – and now the all-knowing, ever-improving android has his sights fixed on Metropolis. Superman must summon all of his physical and intellectual resources to protect his city, the love of his life and his newly-arrived cousin.
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Superman: Unbound Feature Review
By James Harvey
Action-packed and well-written, with a great sense of humor about itself, Superman: Unbound is yet another success in the ongoing DC Universe Animated Original Movie line from Warner Home Video. A solid (though flawed) adaptation of the Action Comics “Brainiac” storyline from a few years ago, originally written by Geoff Johns with art by Gary Frank, Superman: Unbound finds Superman dealing with the threat of Brainiac, a terrifying alien creature with his sights set on Earth. Supergirl and Lois Lane feature prominently in this tale, Supergirl still reeling from her own experience with Brainiac and Lois Lane trying to navigate having a relationship with the Man of Steel. While it doesn’t come off perfectly, it still winds up being a pretty mature and interesting Superman adventure.
An unstoppable android on the horizon. A mysterious fireball hurtling toward Earth. A fearless – and beautiful – reporter who will stop at nothing to get her story. It’s just another day for the heroic Man of Steel… only this time, for better or for worse, he has his unpredictable cousin, Supergirl, by his side. The adventure begins as Superman learns about the ruthless force known as Brainiac, who has seized and miniaturized Krypton’s capital city of Kandor. Determined to liberate the captured metropolis and protect his home planet from Brainiac’s increasing power, Superman takes on his most menacing enemy yet in this DC Universe Animated Original Movie based on the gripping Action Comics tale "Superman: Brainiac."
Brainiac is a great Superman villain, even if they never quite nailed the character properly until Superman: The Animated Series in the 1990s. The idea behind this villain, an alien being who consumes knowledge and destroys all in his path, is a great gimmick. It provides a credible threat and counterpoint to Superman, and can instantly raise the stakes in any situation. And we get pretty high stakes here in Superman: Unbound. While it doesn’t exactly hit the ceiling, the crew behind this latest DC Universe Animated Original Movie go the distance with this considerably enjoyable albeit flawed effort.
As the synopsis above goes, Superman meets the real Brainiac in this 75-minute adventure, and while that may be the main plot point to the feature, it’s only a portion of the film’s overall story. In fact, we have an abundance of story here, and it unfolds at a great pace. Superman and Lois are having relationship issues and Supergirl is still getting used to Earth customs and dealing with the recent (for her) fallout of Krypton’s end, so naturally things are a bit stressful around the main cast. Supergirl is easily the heart of the story, as she has to not only deal with the loss of her homeworld, but coming face to face with the threat that played a role in the destruction of Krypton (resulting in a type of PTSD-like symptoms). She has a great story arc, gets plenty of both of awesome action beats and nice quiet moments, all leading to a very cool conclusion (which I’m surprised they kept in). The same can be said for Lois and Clark’s arc, full of some real pathos and great humorous bits. And, of course, Superman and Brianiac pummel the holy heck out of each other.
The animation style is mostly a hit for me. The slight 60’s edge to it (a bit of a Mad Men feel, as director James Tucker calls it) actually gives the movie a fresh vibe and, surprisingly, makes it look incredibly modern. Supergirl looks fantastic, probably the best animated design she’s ever had. Lois Lane’s design is a fantastic update on her classic ‘short hair’ look, and it matches the voice work of Stana Katic perfectly...it’s uncanny how well it synced up. Superman also looks great, even though the animators aren’t entirely consistent with his look. At times his head will look too thin, resulting in a very bulky, almost puffy looking body. Other times, it’s nailed down just right. Brainiac looks appropriately menacing and slightly off enough to look a bit more alien than his humanoid design would suggest (the opening credits give us a horrific look at the creature’s creation, and makes for a very stirring watch). The rest of the character design work just effortlessly fits into place, with a deserved nod going to the diverse design work done on the Daily Planet staff. Oddly enough, the design work here slightly reminds me of Tucker’s work on Legion of Super-Heroes. No idea why, and the design work here in Superman: Unbound doesn’t even actually match of that underappreciated Kids’WB! toon, but there seems to be a hint of similarities shining through.
My only complaint of the movie is that I wish it tried to lengthen its reach a little bit. Some of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies have fallen into the dangerous trap of just not being epic or large-scale enough. I don’t mind the small, intimate stories – they can be quite effective. Batman: Under the Red Hood is a great example of that. But here, Superman: Unbound can easily pass as just another episode of a television series. It doesn’t seem as grand, as epic, as massive enough. While Brainiac and his robots are a great threat, there are times when it just doesn’t feel ... enough. The scale falls a bit short, but that’s not a fatal blow to the movie, just a little knick on an overall great adventure story.
While the animated movie does a great job at adapting the source material, even the same basic climactic battle between Brainiac and Superman, it just seems to never really hit that peak. But, honestly, some of that likely has to do with how the film sets up at least three very cool potential ideas for a sequel. Direct sequels are hugely unlikely for this movie line, but this film is begging for one. Without giving away any specifics, Superman, Lois, Supergirl and Brainiac are all left at moments that could be considered solid wraps to their respective stories, but they could also be spun out to some very cool storytelling possibilities. I imagine this was intentional, it has to be, and I’m sure it’ll leave some viewers really wanting new installments of this particular iteration of the Man of Steel.
The casting here is, unsurprisingly, right on the nose. As I mentioned above, Katic is ideally cast as Lois, and that sentiment can be shared with the rest of the cast. Everyone hits their respective mark so perfectly that there’s just nothing to complain about. Matt Bomer sounds sublime as Superman, bringing out the character’s human side while not forgetting that Supes can be a bad-ass sometimes. John Noble is spot-on as Brainiac, and is sometimes terrifying in his cold, dead delivery. Molly Quinn perfectly embodies Supergirl and helps sell her character as the heart of the movie. Not a miscast in the bunch. Even some of the smaller roles, like Deidrich Bader as Lombard, are handled wickedly smart and with amazing accuracy. It just goes to show why voice director Andrea Romano is considered the best in the business.
Following his one-two punch with the two-part Batman: The Dark Knight Returns animated adaptation, writer Bob Goodman skillfully brings the original source material to life here in Superman: Unbound. Adapting the “Superman: Brainiac” arc from Action Comics, Goodman gives the script a nice, steady pace that allows for scenes to play out with some breathing room, never rushing. We also get a share of awesome character moments and action beats that don’t overstay their welcome. Tucker’s directing is skillful, and adds some great dynamic punches to the action scenes. More than a few of those moments play out somewhat like Batman: The Brave and The Bold, and you’ll know exactly what I mean when you see it (and don’t worry, it’s awesome). The score is also worth noting, as it feels so...alive. It’s hard to describe, but the score almost has a classic feel to it, and actually reminds me of the recent theatrical film Oblivion. The score feels like a powerful compliment to the action. Never overpowering, always complimenting, and really paying off some of the bigger moments.
Overall, Superman: Unbound is a great yarn that Superman fans will enjoy, especially the diehards. Plenty of great moments from the comics come to life here, and the respect it pays to the source material is welcomed. Brainiac is a great threat, Supergirl gets excellent character development, and the relationship issues being dealt with by Lois and Clark are handled pretty well for the most part. Again, the movie’s not perfect, but it’s a solid hit that I imagine will pass the time easy enough for Superman fans as we all await Man of Steel.
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