Article By: Dan Clark
With 2013 being the 75th anniversary of Superman and Man of Steel scheduled to come out this summer it was a forgone conclusion DC would release their emblematic direct to home media animated feature this year. DC certainly has been more successful than their marvelous competition at translating their classic stories to this format. Superman: Unbound however, ends up being a mediocre entry for this franchise. With a limited scope and a stereotypical plot it adds nothing to the Superman mythos. It feels less like an extended feature and more like a pilot episode of an upcoming television series. The animation and voice acting are both handled with care, but neither is given that much to work with. The film has a number of thrilling action beats that a too few and far between. Their repetitive nature inhibits Superman: Unbound from fully taking flight. This appetizer to this summer’s tent pole leaves you wishing you could just skip to the main course.
Superman: Unbound adapts Geoff Johns and Gary Franks five issue Brainiac storyline for Action Comics. The storyline focuses on the being known as Brainiac (John Noble), who travels around the galaxy abducting entire cities and destroying any planet he finds redundant. When Brainiac sends a drone to Earth Superman(Matt Bomer) goes on a quest to stop him before he can bring harm to Superman’s adopted home. Superman’s cousin Supergirl(Molly C. Quinn), who has recently arrived on Earth herself, has witness Brainiac’s power firsthand when he attacked and abducted the city of Kandor on Krypton. She fears that even with Superman and her new found powers that Earth stands no chance against the power of Brainiac.
For a film that’s main conflict is an alien invasion its scope felt relatively small. When Brianiac descends upon these cities it is as if the entire invasion takes place on one single city street. This failure diminished Brianiac as this glooming threat for much of the film, which would not have been an issue if its restrictions were replaced with a more intimate setting. Opportunities certainly presented themselves, but they were never seized upon. Moments like Superman interacting with Kryptons for the first time were strikingly hallow. Not an ounce of insight was sought within the development of Superman’s character. It came and went with no longing effect whatsoever.
One of the more positive aspects was the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane(Stana Katic). Lois has been made aware of Clark Kent’s secret identity, and has begun dating the ‘Man of Steel’. Dating a superhero has its problems, and Superman is shown he is capable of being the jealous type. Their bickering could have easily become an annoying hindrance, but it showed a side to Superman that isn’t always explored—his inability to recognize when doesn’t need to come to the rescue. A key component to what makes this work is the quality voice acting. Matt Bomer has a stoic presence as Superman, and adds a tiny bit of personality. Stana Katic plays Louis Lane with a vigorous attitude and dry sense of humor. Though John Noble outshines them both, as the imposing Brainiac. His voice echoes complete control over all others that oppose him. He is not maniacal in his behavior; instead he treats all others with a dismissive whim.
Overall the animation does what the story requires of it, yet nothing really stands out. Most of it is your typical paint by numbers design. The look of Brainiac’s ship and robot drones are rather generic. No one, in my estimation, has yet to master inputting 3D animation within a 2D film so it is not surprise it does not work here either. The action scenes are crisps and easy to follow, but devolve into video game button mashing sequences. There’s only so many times you can watch hoards of mindless robots get destroyed and stay interested. With a film called Superman: Unbound and a PG:13 rating behind it you one would think there would be a more brooding ferocity involved. Blood is haphazardly thrown into moments like an unrated version of a PG:13 action film—where digital blood is inserted to up the violence count. When Brainiac and Supes finally throw down things start to pick up, but the inevitable conclusion is rather lackluster. The plot in general is one you have seen many times before–often done a lot better. Those who are desperate to get their Superman fix before this summer’s big show might be able to find Superman: Unbound a suitable warm up, but most others would be better off allowing their anticipation to naturally grow. Otherwise you’d be left with a disappointing adventure that never gets off the ground.