Anaheim’s WonderCon 2013 played host to the world premiere of Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment’s Superman: Unbound. Directed by DC veteran and new supervisor of DC’s animation James Tucker (Legion of Super Heroes), Superman: Unbound was adapted by Bob Goodman (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Parts 1 and 2) from Geoff Johns’ five-part comic book arc, Superman: Brainiac. The story centers on Superman (voiced by Matt Bomer) and his battle against Brainiac (voiced by John Noble) who is attempting to learn what he can from Earth and its intelligent life before destroying the planet. Also highlighted in Superman: Unbound are the relationships of Superman/Clark Kent with his secret girlfriend Lois Lane (voiced by Stana Katic) and his recently-arrived cousin Kara/Supergirl (voiced by Molly C. Quinn).
Though Tucker’s version makes some changes from the original comic arc that may displease some fans, Superman: Unbound was pure Saturday morning animated fun. The animation is bold, bright and unafraid to splash a little blood here and there. Superman: Unbound, which will be available on Blu-ray/DVD/VOD on May 7th, is rated PG-13 for violence, action and a rude gesture (which elicited a great crowd reaction). DC Entertainment continues its great track record of animated fare with this newest installment. Hit the jump for my review and be sure to check out the panel recap from WonderCon.
With the exception of The Dark Knight Trilogy, live-action DC films have struggled a bit in recent years. Thankfully their animated contributions have been more consistent, both in their regular intervals of arrival and in their quality. Superman: Unbound continues this trend as a big and bold throwback to Saturday morning cartoons. The heroes are burly, the women are slender yet busty (and scantily clothed whether they have a speaking part of not) and the action scenes keep the adrenaline pumping. The straightforward story takes a little bit of license with the source material and changes the ending, which may come as a slight to comic purists but should be more than adequate for viewers just looking to enjoy a Superman flick.
The movie opens with an extended credit sequence that shows the creation of the villainous Brainiac, an alien who enhances his mind and body with technology and rampages throughout the universe attacking planets with sentient life in order to assimilate their knowledge. Having done so, he destroys their planet to insure that he alone retains the information. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Superman is busy saving Lois Lane yet again, though this time he gets a hand from an adolescent Supergirl. It all seems to be what you expect on the surface, but it’s soon revealed to be a bit more complex than that. Lois, who allowed herself to be captured in order to uncover some information, gets on Clark’s case for hiding their relationship from co-workers at the Daily Planet and for Superman’s overprotective nature. Superman also hears it from his younger cousin Kara who is dealing with her new-found powers in addition to living life as a teenage girl. Before long, Superman is almost thanking Brainiac for starting trouble so he has an excuse to travel off-world.
While Goodman and Tucker have managed to round out Lois and Kara’s characters as more than just a “damsel in distress” or “Superman in a short skirt,” there is an overtone of sexuality throughout the picture. Usually it’s in the form of a joke here or there, such as a co-worker hitting on Lois and hinting that he thinks Clark is gay. The most obvious presence of sexual stereotypes is in the design of the characters themselves, but like I said, Superman: Unbound is a definite throwback to older comics and cartoons. It’s not necessarily demeaning in any way, but it’s an unfortunate aspect of a story that otherwise paints Lois as feisty and capable, with Supergirl getting an arc that allows her to develop as a character and play more than just Supe’s sidekick.
The voice-acting in Superman: Unbound is spot on. Bomer plays a perfect Superman from the outset and Quinn is perfectly suited to voice a Supergirl who ranges all up and down the emotional spectrum. Katic provides great sass to Lois. Noble surprised me with how well his voice matched up with Brainiac’s bigger-than-life presence on screen, especially since I still hear the 64-year-old actor as Fringe‘s Dr. Walter Bishop.
What would any Superman movie be without copious amounts of action and fight scenes? Superman: Unbound definitely does not disappoint in this department. The Last Son of Krypton gets to level up his opponents over the course of the movie, starting off with your common mercenary riffrraff and then graduating to Brainiac’s drones and eventually Brainiac himself. Fights take place everywhere from Metropolis to outerspace to Brainiac’s ship and even in Kandor, the former capital city of Krypton (though I won’t tell you how he got there). The settings are as varied as the sequences themselves. The action never gets stale and rarely takes a breath at all unless it’s to let Superman’s relationships develop a bit more over the course of the story.
Again, the creative team behind Superman: Unbound chose to take a different tack on the ending of their picture versus that of Johns’ comic arc, so I’m curious to see how fan’s receive it. As someone who wasn’t familiar with the Brainiac arc, I found Superman: Unbound to be an enjoyable 75 minutes of animated comic book fun. Be sure check it out on Blu-ray/DVD/VOD starting May 7th, where you’ll also be treated to a ten-minute behind-the-scenes making of DC Entertainment’s next animated film: Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. Also, be sure to stick around for the post-credits scene which hints at events that may be following Superman: Unbound.