Directed by: James Tucker
Starring: Matt Bomer, Stana Katic, John Noble, Molly C. Quinn
DC/Warner Brothers has a group of collaborators to craft these direct to DVD/blu-ray/VOD films that previously crafted some of the best animated super hero television shows of all time. As great as Marvel’s films are their animated movies have been failures. DC on the other hand has released a string of great animated feature films based on their classic super hero characters. Superman Unbound is the latest release featuring this familiar craftsman.
Superman has a shortlist of classic villains including Doomsday, Lex Luthor, and Brainiac. These three baddies in particular are the only ones that have found ways to take out the Man of Steel in spite of him being nearly unbeatable. So, it’s inevitable that DC would eventually bring us a Brainiac film considering there has already been a Doomsday film and Luthor has permeated Superman’s animated life from the beginning. Brainiac is similar to a Borg from Star Trek; he’s mostly made of machine but there’s just enough bio matter to piece him together. He travels the universe taking the knowledge bio life forms and then destroying them in an attempt to better the universe. Along the way he takes samples of the most interesting life forms and stores them in bottles. Most notably, and a classic story in the DC comics, he took a single city from Superman’s home world of Krypton Via a probe Brainiac discovers the existence of Earth and of course the existence of Superman, so the battle begins.
On top of Superman vs. Brainiac there are a few subplots happening; Supergirl’s struggle to find her place on a world where she only has one other of her species and Lois and Clark finding their way in their relationship. Brainiac should be a truly scary character and for the first time in a Superman animated film the villain is horrifying. He’s cold, uncaring, and unstoppable. As powerful as Supergirl is she is frozen in fear at just the thought of Brainiac because she was on Krypton when he came, when she and no one else on her planet had any power to stop him. The film is edgy featuring a good bit of murder and bloodletting and that sense of fear is buffered by a much more adult atmosphere featuring strong language and even some hand gestures not common in animated films.
Superman faces off against Brainiac with no previous knowledge of the villain and of course he underestimates Brainiac leading to even bigger and more dangerous battles. The sad thing about the film is the story does such a good job of building the atmosphere of feat that the failings of the artwork are painfully apparent. It’s not that the art is completely horrible but it just doesn’t always match the adult vibe of the story. Brainiac definitely has a much better design in this film than the character originally had in comics when he was first introduced but in later years he actually comes off scarier than he does in this film. Overall though this film is a solid success, the directing, acting, and story execution is outstanding. This is an adult story and the characters are complex and multilayered, Supergirl in particular. The action does devolve at a few points to Superman’s basic punch punch heat vision and punch again but the final act action works well. DC comics are much more sci-fi than Marvel’s more grounded stories and that trend continues here with some on the nose science fiction themes wrapping up the story. While this thematic choice does soften the horror elements of the film it does fit with the overall DC universe. The biggest failing of this film is the name. Superman Unbound is just a dumb name and it doesn’t really have any impact on the story.
The film is presented in widescreen in 1080p HD and colors and lines look great with no major aliasing issues, something that often plagues animated films. The artwork is just bizarre though. DC’s animated films have always gone for a retro sort of 50’s art deco approach and while that does continue here it’s augmented with some bad choices. Some scenes with Clark Kent in particular feature him having and enormous body and a tiny little pin head, it just looks dumb. There are also a couple of human characters that are just Daily Planet employees that are built identical to Superman. That just doesn’t make any sense. When in full on Superman mode the character looks a little like an old character from videogames called Vector Man. The important thing to know about the character is that he’s just sort of a stack of balls that make up his shape, Superman is the same.
The Surround sound audio is fairly basic in design. The overall dynamics of the audio are almost flat lined, no explosive bass or ringing score here. On the upside dialogue is crisp and clean and special FX are distortion free and they sound exactly as they are meant to sound, not a spectacular presentation but it gets the job done.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The Blu-ray is presented in a standard amaray case along with a digital copy and DVD of the film. The holographic slipcover featuring some action from the movie is quite eye catching and it feels much more special than the case itself actually is. There are a few good supplements on the blu-ray that actually enhance the movie watching experience. The best featurette is one that covers who Brainiac is and what impact he has had on the DC universe. The featurette has interviews with some of DC’s pros as well as those involved in the film. It’s a simple talking head affair but it features some great archival images from the comics. Speaking of archive there’s another featurette called “From the DC Archives” which sort of follows Brainiac’s timeline. On top of all that there’s actually an audio commentary that also features some great behind the scenes information. What we have here isn’t very deep but it’s so much better than we’d expect from a direct to home video animated film.
Superman Unbound is another solid entry in DC Entertainment’s stable of well executed super hero animated films. If you’re a fan then this one is a must see. It’s not as good as Superman/Batman Public Enemies but it’s better than Superman/Doomsday. Also thank you DC for avoiding the celebrity name dropping and just bringing back the voice actors that originally made these characters great.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 8/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10