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By Bob Marshall
Superman Unbound Cover

Back Story

This film is based off of the Geoff Johns story arc simply titled Brainiac, which was released back in 2008. The story centres on the one true Brainiac coming to Earth to submit our planet to the same fate he left Krypton where he stole the entire City of Kandor, bottling it up for his collection. After one of Brainiac’s probes comes to Earth, Superman is told by his cousin Kara aka Supergirl about what happened on that fateful day on Krypton, instead of waiting for Brainiac to come here to his adopted planet he decides to meet Brainiac head on and take him down once and for all.

Review

****As always I will try to avoid spoilers****

Firstly, I’d like to mention that this was the start of a new era for DC Universe original movies, as you will (probably) be aware Bruce Timm stepped down as producer on these films after years upon years of success. It was then announced that James Tucker (Legion of Super-heroes, Batman: The Brave & The Bold) would be stepping up as producer. Now I love what Bruce Timm has done for us and I feel he stepped down at the perfect time, with the culmination of his reign ending with the impeccable Dark Knight Returns two-parter. But I was ecstatic when James Tucker was announced as the new producer, being the big Superman fan that I am I’ve always felt Tucker got Superman better than Timm did. Now don’t get me wrong Timm’s Superman the Animated Series and the Justice League shows were some of my all-time favourites but it always seemed Superman had to be made to look weak or had to come second fiddle to Batman most of the time. Yet watching Legion of Superheroes and the two guest starring Superman episodes of Brave & the Bold, you can see how Tucker just gets it. He seems to know how to use the character without having to tone him down and he just seems to get Superman’s world that bit more for me. That’s why I think it’s apt that his first movie was a Superman movie, (you may or may not be aware that Tuckers favourite superhero is the Man of Steel), not only does he get Superman he seems to get, shall we say the lesser known characters and I think Brave & the Bold made him an expert in using the big heroes to promote the lesser ones. So I guess that’s why the next film; Justice League: the Flashpoint Paradox is more Flash focused yet still gets to use the bigger heroes (most notably Batman). I’d like say thank you to Bruce Timm but I think new exciting times are ahead for the DCU on film (well in animation), change in this case is a good thing in my opinion and I will say right off the bat that Tucker starts off with a bang. Now I’ve got that out the way on to the review.

I’ve been excited about this film ever since I first heard about it, the story arc by Geoff Johns is one of the best Superman graphic novels I have ever read. So this animation had a big task at hand, in some ways it failed to live up to the comic but in others it definitely did.

From early on I knew this was going to be less serious than the previous movies (not that it didn’t get serious when it had too, there was plenty of blood and devastating action) but it seemed there was a definite desire to make this one tad more family friendly. Unfortunately, that’s kind where the film let me down mostly. Some of the more comical moments came across a little off, I don’t think the score helped in these areas though as it took a very silly tone during these. wherever this happened it just completely took me out of the film, thankfully though that wasn’t too much of that.

If I were to say what the best thing about this film was, I would have to say the action. It was at times incredible, maybe even the best we’ve seen for one of these movies. The animation definitely excelled in these scenes, in fact Tucker fans look out for some Brave & the Bold styled blows, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

To kind of put a downer on the action side though I will say they did have a little too much action, which I know is a random thing to say but some parts of the film seemed slightly repetitive at times. You’ll know what I mean when you watch it. I kind of think they may have been better off making this one a little shorter and doing a DC Showcase short to fill out the run time (man I miss those).

Another negative I’d say was the Lois / Superman side storyline, it just felt a little forced with him not wanting to get serious in public with her as Clark. something I felt they kind of already went through in Superman Doomsday. But they did kind of end that on a nice note.

But back on the positives, there are some great nods to Donner’s Superman in the fortress and crystal tech, which I loved. I also loved seeing the bottled city if Kandor and moments on Krypton (can’t help feeling they weren’t allowed to use General Zod or Jor-El in any if this though).

As usual it’s always great whenever Supergirl gets showcased in animation and fans of her character will not be disappointed. She’s portrayed very well and has plenty of screen time, although I was disappointed they omitted a certain Superman to Supergirl speech in the finale which would have been beneficial to this movie.

This film’s version of Brainiac was definitely one of the more interesting interpretations of the character (Superman TAS is still my favourite version however). I do love the Coluan version and I for one don’t think we’ve seen enough of that version so it was great to have that here. The end result of his final battle with Superman is both cool and shocking.

Some of what I said may seem like I’m been harsh on the film but it really is a good movie. It’s very fun and if you like a Superman who takes no BS this is the Superman film for you.

superman unbound - Punching robots

Animation

The animation was superb, it had a very anime feel, in fact some of it really reminded me of Dragonball Z. The detail on the muscle of characters like Superman and Brainiac was immense. For me personally seeing the S on the back of Superman’s cape is always a big win and I hope it remains on there from now on. Most of the character designs were spot on, Superman, Brainiac and Supergirl especially. On the negative side I really didn’t care for Lois Lane’s design, the short hair and oversized lips were a bit off-putting.

Voice work

If I had to describe Matthew Bomer’s performance as Superman in this I would simply say WOW, that’s Superman. The guy sounded incredible, it’s interesting that he was Brett Ratner’s top choice for the role in live-action for the undeveloped Superman Flyby project. Having read several drafts of the script for that project (by JJ Abrams of Star Trek and Lost fame) I have to say the film would’ve been a mess. But one things for sure (at least for me) Matthew Bomer would have owned as Superman, so I’m glad he got to finally tackle the role. I really hope one day he returns to the role because he’s up there with Tim Daly, George Newbern and Mark Valley as the absolute best in Superman voice work.

John Noble’s Brainiac was without a doubt one of the best villains that’s been in one of these films, he looked so menacing and his calm calculating voice was downright creepy. I’d love to see him voice the role again too, very different to Corey Burton’s android Brainiac in Superman TAS but in a good way.

Molly Quinn did an excellent job as Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl, she did a great job of getting the range of scared, obnoxious (not a dig, very typical teenage girl) angry and confident Kara. Stana Katic didn’t really blow me away as Lois but she wasn’t necessarily bad. Diedrich Bader (I love that guy) was superb as Steve Lombard. In some ways he kind if reminded me of how he portrayed Guy Gardner on the Green Lantern animated series, which if you haven’t seen is another great performance from Bader. I felt Wade Williams was a poor choice for Perry White, I just didn’t buy into his performance at all, but it’s such a small role it doesn’t really matter. All the other voices were fine.

Superman Unbound - Supergirl in Space

Score

The score wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t great. The music for the comical moments was very kids cartoon to me but the stuff during the action scenes was decent. I will say my favourite aspect if the score was the theme they had for Superman, very nice. The score on the opening credits (which were awesome by the way) was superb.

Extras

I have yet to see all the extras but the one I have seen was the sneak peak at the next DCU movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. Now I’ve never read the book(s) for Flashpoint but I’m actually glad to be going into a film without having read the source material. As usual we don’t see too much of the actual animation (mainly storyboards, images from the comic etc) but what we do see looks awesome. Hearing the voice talent they have for this one, I’m really excited and judging by this little sneak peak I’m going to go out in a limb here and say this could be best the animated film yet. But we’ll have to wait and see.

Summary

All in all a very good film but it didn’t quite reach the heights of All Star Superman or Superman vs the Elite. Still it was a superb watch with some unbelievable action and probably the best animation for an animated Superman film. I would mark this down as highly recommended and say James Tucker gets a definite thumbs up for his first film in the DCU original movies animated line.

superman-unbound- Braniac #2
Overall Grade: 8.5/10
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