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Based on the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank 2008 release “Superman: Brainiac,” Superman: Unbound finds the horrific force responsible for the destruction of Krypton – Brainiac – descending upon Earth. Brainiac has crossed the universe, collecting cities from interesting planets – Kandor, included – and now the all-knowing, ever-evolving 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, Supergirl.
For more about Superman: Unbound and the Superman: Unbound Blu-ray release, see Superman: Unbound Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 8, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Matt Bomer, Stana Katic, Molly Quinn, John Noble, Frances Conroy, Diedrich Bader
Director: James Tucker
» See full cast & crew
Superman: Unbound Blu-ray Review
Entertaining but inconsistent. It's at least a dramatic step up from 'Brainiac Attacks'...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 8, 2013
It isn't often that adults get a chance to pull off a real, genuine do-over. We spend our childhoods declaring them, quickly erasing mistakes (often to our friends' helpless frustration) and taking a second, third or sixteenth swing, until we get the results we were hoping for. Later in life, there's failure, failure and still more failure. Screaming "do-over!" in the middle of a business meeting or performance review only elicits strange looks and unscheduled trips to human resources. And yet here we are, with Warner Bros. Animation attempting the all-impossible, bona fide do-over. Lest ye forget, Superman: Unbound isn't the animation house's first stab at orchestrating an animated Brainiac v. Superman battle-to-the-sorta- kinda-not-really-death. That would be the ill-begotten, long since disowned Superman: Brainiac Attacks, the now notorious 2006 misfire inspired by Superman: The Animated Series but produced without Bruce Timm's involvement. Unbound was also developed off the Timm grid (albeit as an official DC Universe Animated Original Movie), and essentially follows the same path forged by Attacks: Brainiac poses a threat, Superman intervenes, Brainiac teaches the Boy in Blue a brutally efficient lesson in humility, Superman fights back with brains and brawn, and... lots of super- punching and robo-madness ensues. However, this time around there's one key difference: Unbound is actually pretty good, righting a few old wrongs and giving geekdom a decent clash of the titans. How good? Read on.
With Lois (voiced by Stana Katic, Castle) yearning for a relationship she doesn't have to hide and Kara (Molly Quinn, Castle) desperately trying to strike out on her own as Supergirl, Clark (Matt Bomer, White Collar) is struggling to educate them on the dangers of a world in which supervillains routinely come gunning for superheroes and their loved ones. Girlfriend troubles and family drama have to be put on hold, though, when a deadly android rockets to Earth, goes fist to fist with Superman and tries to phone home. "Home" is an intergalactic, planet-destroying mothership commanded by Brainiac (John Noble, Fringe), a cold, merciless cyborg who attacks, miniaturizes and collects key cities from inhabited worlds across the universe. With Earth and Metropolis in Brainiac's sights, Superman sets out to uncover the seemingly unstoppable alien's weaknesses and exploit them, free the people of a lost Kryptonian city, prevent Brainiac from destroying the sun, protect Lois from a terrible fate, and take Kara under his wing. Whew. The Man of Steel indeed.
When Superman: Unbound works, it's fantastic. When it doesn't... well, let's start with the good before we move onto the bad and the big, green and ugly. Unbound's voice cast is one of the best to grace a Superman animated original movie. Bomer is a touch too serious, but there's a warmth, wisdom and optimism to his delivery that sells Clark as the unreliable reporter and loving but protective boyfriend, Kal-El as the caring older/younger cousin and innately homesick Kryptonian, and Superman as the hero Metropolis needs at its most dire hour. Noble is the perfect counter; a dash of Denethor and a slice of Walternate go a long way, and the ice in his sneer is as chilling as it is commanding. Then there's Katic, who, let be known, is Lois Lane. Or at least should be Lois Lane for the foreseeable animated future. Whip smart and vulnerable are a tough duo to pull off with one's voice and one's voice alone, but Katic excels, with just enough Castle snark to give Lois an endearing Margot Kidder swagger without making her sound unrealistic, ungrateful or, worse, irritating or too demanding. Her quiet moments with Clark and Kara are both convincing and full of heart, and her reactions to danger of any kind, domestic or interplanetary, are priceless. Quinn rounds out the excellent voice cast, nailing a tricky blend of teen angst, tenacity and tenderness with eerily effortless ease. This is the most effective animated Supergirl to date, and Quinn's performance is right up there with Katic's. In fact, the two give Bomer and Noble a run for their money.
The animation is strong too. Much has been made of Superman's gaunt face, but it works, as does the dynamic explosiveness of his punches, heat vision and more creative fisticuffs. The character designs are a striking match to the voicework, particularly with Lois/Katic and Kara/Quinn, whose expressive eyes, body language and gestures really seem to tap into the actresses' performances. The animation for Lois and Supergirl is so terrific it almost makes the superpowered dust-ups between Supes and Brainiac a purely action-oriented spectacle. Still, you can read Superman's feelings on any given matter quite well and, despite the big-brained maniac's emotionless drone, there's palpable pride and seething rage swirling behind Brainiac's beady skull eyes. Movements are fluid, bodies are only stiff and stilted on occasion (Lois and Clark's argument is an animated low point), action beats and beatdowns are fast and fierce, and the look of the film generally comes together without a hitch. Superman's blues are often a touch too green, but who's nitpicking?
Story is where Unbound languishes. A string of terrific character-driven bits are soon sacrificed in the name of a short runtime, and it isn't long at all before action subjugates emotion. There are moments when the movie is more Dragon Ball Z than Superman, and others where the superheroics are more rock-em, sock-em than inventive or awe- inspiring. The third act doesn't hit with much impact either. Brainiac's robots are super-fodder (while the first of hundreds of bots Superman encounters is a force to be reckoned with, those that follow drop by the dozen with a flick of a laser eye), the ship has shields and missiles and all the stuff of a six-year-old's imagination, and Brainiac and Superman's final showdown feels like a first act tussle rather than a climactic live-or-die battle for the planet. It doesn't help that Supergirl doesn't really have a defining hero moment, Superman's one-eighty with Lois is forced (Brainiac's attack supports his argument, not hers), shrinking cities and nail-biting peril are definitely not synonymous, and any dialogue that isn't spoken by Clark, Lois, Kara or Brainiac isn't memorable in the least.
Superman: Unbound makes Brainiac Attacks look like the chintzy, old-guard relic it is, and flies circles around lesser DCU animated original movies that feature the Man of Steel. But it also falls short of All-Star Superman, still my hands-down favorite, and Superman vs. The Elite, which is a bit more solid and a bit less problematic. It's good, but only good enough. It isn't great, it doesn't live up to its shining moments (all of which come early), and it needed another fifteen minutes and a third-act script rewrite to rise to the heights of Warner Bros. Animation's best and brightest DCU outings. Maybe it's time to shelve Superman and Batman for a while. Give the DC heroes in their shadows a chance to step into the light. If this had been a Supergirl movie, with Superman in a small supporting role and Lois playing mentor, Superman: Unbound would have soared. Imagine Superman trapped in one of Brainiac's shrunken cities for the duration of the movie. Imagine Kara left to fend for Earth on her own. Kara trying to stop Brainiac. Kara reeling from the emotional and physical failures her hard-fought victory would hinge on. Kara learning to become a hero without a stronger hero to guide her. Kara saving her homeworld's last surviving city. Kara reuniting with her parents, freeing Superman and saving Metropolis from an alien maniac. Now that would be a DCU powerhouse I'd sign on to see, especially with the likes of Quinn, Katic and Noble delivering the level of performances they do here.
Superman: Unbound Blu-ray, Video Quality
Superman: Unbound's 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation has its share of issues, and all of them are the usual Warner Bros. Animation suspects. Aliasing pops up throughout. Lines pixelate and the image softens ever so slightly whenever the virtual camera pushes in or pulls out from a hand-drawn element. Mild to moderate macroblocking and banding haunt the backgrounds and, sometimes, the animated characters in the foreground. And the razor-thin line art -- a departure from the thicker comic book lines in most other DCU animated movies -- only exacerbates the problems. Some of it is inherent to the source (particularly the instances of static banding), some of it is the product of the encode. But all of it is a distraction. Yes, the Blu-ray presentation pounds its DVD counterpart into the ground. But aren't we past the "it's better than the DVD, so it deserves a higher score" line of thinking? Yes, colors are bold and vibrant, blacks are rich and inky, contrast is striking, and detail is revealing. Be that as it may, dazzling sequences are constantly undermined by unsightly anomalies, and while most viewers will scratch their heads and declare the presentation perfect or perfectly fine, videophiles will be left knowing exactly what the video presentation is: less than what it could or should be. Need further evidence? The issues are visible in this review's screenshots, and I wasn't actively trying to capture them.
Superman: Unbound Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Punch for punch, pound for pound, Superman: Unbound's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is more impressive. While its sound design is limited and a touch two-dimensional -- even for a DCU animated original movie -- I'm not sure its crisp, clear voices, hearty explosions and exciting soundscape could sound much better. The LFE channel is given ample opportunity to show off, with crunching robot heads, erupting flames, alien invasions, sacked cities and more superpowered throw-downs than most, all backed by assertive low-end oomph. The rear speakers are engaging too, having their fun with the aforementioned chaos and delivering plenty of sonic thrills. The soundfield isn't as immersive as I hoped, or at least as consistently immersive, and quiet moments aren't home to much in the way of ambience, subtle directionality or convincing acoustics. Still, for an action-oriented animated movie, Warner's lossless track satisfies and almost saves the day.
Superman: Unbound Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Superman: Unbound Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Dynamic animation and terrific voicework can't save Superman: Unbound from its lagging story and somewhat anticlimactic third act. It does make for an entertaining, action-packed 75-minutes, though, so Superman fans will enjoy its punchy popcorn-n-comicbooks sensibilities. Warner's Blu-ray release is hit or miss too, with a problematic video presentation, a commendable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and a solid selection of special features. All told, and at such a reasonable pricepoint, you could certainly do worse. Comic junkies and Superman fans will enjoy the movie well enough to even warrant a blind buy, just don't raise your expectations too high.
Superman: Unbound: Other Editions
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Superman: Unbound Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Superman: Unbound Blu-ray (Updated) - February 21, 2013
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has officially detailed the Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet Combo Pack release of Superman: Unbound, the next entry in the DCU Animated Original Movie series. Featuring the voice talents of Matt Bomer as Superman, John Noble as the villainous ...
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