If, like Greg Rucka, you’re concerned about a Superman who’s not suitable for kids, you’ll want to stay away from this new original animated movie. Superman: Unbound is only an hour fifteen minutes, but within the first eight, it’s well lived up to its PG-13 rating (for “sequences of violence and action, and a rude gesture“). They get right to it in the credits, as Brainiac has his eyeball ripped out on camera by a robotic tentacle.
As the film opens, Lois is a hostage, but her helicopter is rescued by Superman’s cousin Supergirl (in the outdated belly-shirt costume). A strangely stretched Superman shows up (seriously, look how long his head is!), and his first lines to his cousin are “Kara, what the hell were you trying to prove out there?”
These are not the characters I know, either in behavior or visually. Clark is drawn two heads higher than Lois, which seems too exaggerated. This sounds picky, but when Clark and Superman are both portrayed with such ridiculously extreme physiques, it just makes everyone seem stupid not to notice that they’re the same person, the only one who’s that freakishly tall.
Other scenes feature obviously scratchy lines, to the point that it looks like the Xerox machine dropped out part of them. I found it strange that Lois’ eyes were colored purple (to match her really heavy eyeshadow), but maybe they picked it to coordinate with her pink laptop. Way to support the “tough reporter” character, but when she’s having her big dramatic speech in tight tank top and purple running shorts, that suggests to me that the filmmakers either are lazy when it comes to costume design or they’re really concerned with us knowing she’s a hot woman.
The two good parts of the film are the cast and the chemistry between Lois and Clark. Their relationship can be hard to comprehend, as they’re flirty and together, but keeping it a secret, then they fight a lot. She wants him to save her but yells at him for being overly protective. If the movie was longer, these conflicts could be developed more realistically, instead of being dumped at us so quickly that they seem like sudden reversals. Still, I’m glad to see them as a couple, and one with the potential for such good interactions.
The voices are outstanding. Matt Bomer has the gravity of Superman without being stodgy. Stana Katic makes for a strong and dynamic Lois. Molly Quinn sounds young without being childish, a good choice for a Supergirl portrayed as a moody teen and wearing the weight of survivor’s guilt. Frances Conroy is her adoptive Ma Kent. (Pa is shown sleeping once, so he doesn’t ever talk.) For really obvious comic relief, Diedrich Bader does what he can with the boorish Steve Lombard.
Supergirl tells Superman of how Brainiac’s ship and robots captured the entire Kryptonian city of Kandor, for additional scenes of mayhem. (The thing about using robots is that Superman can beat them to death without it seeming too violent, even though for some unknown reason they have spinal cords.)
He heads out to space (in his convenient crystal ship? I dunno, this is where not reading the original comic, Superman: Brainiac, makes it hard for me to know how this all fits together) to find another planet where Brainiac is taking over to beat up a bunch more robots. We’re a third of the way through the film, and now it’s time for a lot of fighting and watching aliens get killed. Unfortunately, this also means separating Superman from all the other characters.
I do understand that they’re trying to show what a huge threat Brainiac is, so that we fear more the idea of him destroying Earth, but Superman’s interaction with his girlfriend and his niece was what was keeping my interest, so I got bored quickly. At least it all moved fast.
The shame of these movies is that there’s a “happy ending” attached here that just cries out for followup, but we’ll never get to see it. Particularly since it contradicts the current DC continuity. As a side note, the only modern character to get a “created by” credit (Siegel and Shuster are credited for Superman) is Ron Troupe, who’s credited to Jerry Ordway and Tom Grummet (sic), which should have 2 Ts.
“Kandor: History of the Bottle City” (17 minutes) gives the history of the concept, as told by Mike Carlin, Marv Wolfman, scriptwriter Bob Goodman, Dan DiDio, and others. It’s neat to see the comic art by Gary Frank and others, but too much of this is simply retelling the concept we’ve already seen portrayed. But if you stick that out, they bring up Nightwing and Flamebird (Superman as Batman was always fun) and talk about the science fiction roots of the Kandor stories.
“Brainiac: Technology and Terror” (25 minutes) goes back to the 50s in exploring the roots of the villain’s creation but also covers the implications of a cultural fear of technology. I was surprised that they were able to say so much about this character concept.
There’s also a 10-minute sneak peek at Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, the next DC original animated movie; an audio commentary by Mike Carlin, Bob Goodman, and James Tucker (supervising producer and director); a digital comic excerpt from the source material by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank; and four Superman: The Animated Series episodes — “The Last Son of Krypton, Part 1”; “New Kids in Town”; and “Little Girl Lost, Parts 1 & 2”. (The studio provided a review copy.)