What You’ll Like:
- Slick and smooth, vibrant animation
- Great use of characterization keeps you invested
- Intimidating and threatening villain
- Everything Supergirl
What You May Not:
- Some moments of contrived plot conveniences
- Weak soundtrack
- Modernized, tougher character personalities may only appeal to comic fans
What You’ll Remember:
- Besides Supergirl? The surprising and grin-inducing final line.
Being the 16th film in the DC animated original movie series, this action/adventure Superman epic is based on the 2008 Superman: Brainiac comic series story arc, with a good slew of modern touch-ups to also make it appealing to non-comic readers, while still thankfully staying mostly true to the characters and story of its source. While comic author Geoff Johns neither wrote or directed the small screen adaption, the job was given to James Tucker as director and Bob Goodman as script writer; both of which have worked previously on a good handful of DC television adaptations, such as Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Legion of Superheroes, and Justice League. All created and aired within the last ten years, Unbound has not been left in rookie hands, and granted its fantastic animation, direction, characterization, and entertaining action, it easily shows.
Unbound tells the story of Superman’s battle with the very powerful and threatening Brainiac, a foe who is not so much a living and breathing birthed being, but instead, as he puts it, a culmination of the strength and knowledge of 10,000 worlds. Essentially, Brainiac captures various cities and worlds all over the universe and has the ability to shrink and encase them in what look like fat glass jars, placing each one within his ship for enslavement and his ultimate dominion. While Brainiac is off at other world’s achieving his scheme’s, earth as well as the city of Metropolis is his soon to be next target, but is a scheme initially completely unknown to Superman.
The adventure begins entertainingly so with some henchmen who have kidnapped Lois Lane and are escaping via helicopter, when who else but Supergirl soars to her rescue, gorgeous animated looks and all; her real name being Kara (pronounced ‘care-uh’). When we first hear from now somewhat smarmy Lois Lane, she takes the opportunity to taunt the criminals while Superman jumps in to end the fight and spouts his own sarcastic remarks, and following suit the distress that Supergirl exhibits during some brief dialogue with Superman; overall in these opening few minutes the viewer gets an excellent and well-rounded introduction to what modernized type of people these vivacious set of characters now are. Gone is the wimpy and nerd-like humility that some may have become accustomed to with the trio as per their old Hollywood films, now replaced with tough-as-nails attitudes and sexiness that will mostly appeal to young men and women who desire a more slick superhero cast to look up to in 2013. In physicality alone, all starring males show off buffed chests and ripped muscular physiques, as well as solid sharp-angled faces; women here are now beautifully slender, donning low cut v-necks in casual business suits with short skirts and long legs. While some may hawk at these new takes on classic characters, it should generally be accepted as what will make these classic comic stars appealing in our current day. Even Supergirl herself is just a teenager, but plays a role that while brave and heroic, is also still struggling with insecurities that any teen girl would, yet in this case being her dealing with various internal scares from the harm Brainiac brought to family and people when she was just a young girl. She expresses frustrated emotions that in many parts of the film Superman must act as a crying shoulder and mentor, for which Unbound succeeds at due to its well executed chemistry. Needless to say, Kara’s also akin to a Victoria’s Secret model.
When there is news of some trouble afoot in Metropolis via televised news at the Daily Planet offices, Superman captures one of the robot henchmen to take back to his Fortress of Solitude. Enter Supergirl who then explains of its origins of the one and only Brainiac, who a few decades prior took over Supergirl’s home city of Kandor, bottling it just like he has done to many other cities before. Superman must now track this robot’s origins to find out more information on Brainiac, and from here one of the most threatening of Superman’s battles ensues, all thanks to one of the greatest villains ever written into the Superman saga. Brainiac here makes this film that much more interesting, as he exploits Superman’s weaknesses to the nth degree, almost feeling at many times that Superman will soon meet his ultimate demise (a real demise, not like that cash cow publicity stunt by DC from his supposed death by Doomsday back in the early 90s). We as the audience are treated to many good things Unbound grants us, but does ultimately prove that animated action adventures can be engrossing and involving if they are done right. What lies at the base of what makes Unbound so pleasing to watch is that despite its short length of 75 minutes, it can still give us moments of interesting character dialogue, molding personalities to make the entire gang feel like real people with real insecurities, worries, and struggles. This in turn makes us actually care about their well-being amidst all the trouble going on with Brainiac. One example of this great use of characterization is when Lois Lane argues with Superman on a few occasions regarding his desire to help her yet always coming off as a control freak, as well as her stresses with wanting to have a real future with Kent. In that scene it is interestingly implied that they both are actually doing things modern couples tend to do, such as spend nights at each other’s apartments and perhaps, I dunno, have sex? The voice actors in Unbound also walk just the right tightrope of making the characters feel real, but not so real as to become too complex; this does after all have to still maintain the tone of a comic book, with lines delivered steadily yet remembering that small magical flair of exaggeration to let audiences know this is not to be taken too seriously. In a nutshell, it works impeccably well. Even Supergirl herself also gets just as many personal moments of her own, and is the one character in Unbound that displays the most growth as a person. While this is a Superman film, it could be argued that Supergirl is the biggest star of the show here, and does just as much to steal the show as Superman does. If anything, maybe a tad more. A smart move by DC would have been to market more greatly her particular role in the film, as doing so perhaps would have widened the demographic for as to who the aim of the film was for, and perhaps increase sales to an otherwise left out audience of young women?
Yet even within all the greatly edited entertaining action sequences and well-written dialogue, Unbound seems to downplay much of its tension, perhaps inadvertently, by getting Superman out of some harrowing situations by some eye-rollingly contrived conveniences that are so easily and readily available it makes Brainiac feel weaker than he really is; yet they do work quickly to keep the plot moving. While I will not explain what these are in detail, they almost make it feel at times that defeating Brainiac really won’t be as much of a problem as originally anticipated. Still, the film does not let up on entertaining and even being genuinely thrilling at some parts. It would help much more if the one film tool to build tension and atmosphere here would have gotten more attention than it did. That is, the musical score. In Unbound, the soundtrack tends to stay too far in the background as well as just not be that melodious. Once the film is over though, it is a pleasure that during the credits the music finally does get memorable, as that particular tune is pleasingly sweeping and epic on its own level. Would have been great if just as much creativity and ambition was put into the music during the film, but at the very least the good that Unbound has does achieve successfully, making this a more minor complaint.
So what makes Unbound a worthwhile action film is mostly what any animated film would require, and that here being its wonderfully eye-catching presentation. The action for one is very well directed, giving just the right camera angles to let the audience know exactly what is partaking on screen, with editing done with just as much care, never being too quick to take us out of the action, or too slow to break up the good pacing. Everything from fist-fights to explosions are genuinely fun to watch, and the film never relies on the usual action movie crutch of constant guns to keep things interesting, nor does it ever make any two action sequences look or behave in the same manner, maintaining its comic tone overall, and staying true to how readers view the still action on vibrant comic pages. By being able to mesh television cartoon fluid movement with slo-mo in and out panning during intense action scenes, it becomes subtly apparent that the creators of Unbound purposefully kept worthy respect to the art of graphic novels. It is also a major plus that the animation is simply gorgeous, incredibly clean and moves with water-like fluidity. Much work was put into Unbound despite its more script-based flaws, and has the potential to create a greater fan base that will look to future film releases as well as maybe picking up previous videos.
A good amount. Besides commentary, there are two featurettes that include interviews with the film’s creators, informing us of the origin stories from the comic book series, which can give newcomers some background on how Unbound differs from its source. At both 16 and 24 minutes long, fans are definitely not going to be cheated. Aside from this there are 4 episodes from ‘Superman: The Animated Series,’ two of which feature Supergirl (yet are not in widescreen). Lastly there is a excerpt from the Superman: Brainiac graphic novel as well as a good handful of trailers, including one really nice one for the recent game ‘Injustice: Gods Among Us.’
Graphics and Sound:
As stated earlier, the animation for Unbound is fantastic, and what helps it look that way is the fact that the HD transfer is beautifully clean all the way through. There are never any distorted spots whatsoever during the film itself, although some blacks during the extras featurettes can show a bit. Colors are natural and solid, never being too vibrant but never at all dull or lacking contrast. The film is bright and satisfyingly pleasing to look at the entire way through. On the sound front are where things unfortunately are too underwhelming. For some odd reason, the background music has a constant muffled tone to it, almost like it were being presented with a pillow resting on top of the speaker, yet the dialogue and action sound effects themselves are perfectly clear. While the effects do much to bring the action to the forefront, it is a wonder why the music was kept at such a low volume. Raising the volume on your set will not bring it out further considering then the dialogue and action just becomes too loud. This is a minor complaint considering all other sounds are perfectly audible, but the music could have helped to make this a more epic affair than it was.
Superman: Unbound is a greatly directed, well-edited, action-packed, engrossing, involving, and sometimes thrilling animated film. Filled with interesting characters and modernized dialogue, the movie will appeal to a much wider audience than just comic book fans, and may also be liked by many who are not even into animated action films nor care for comic superheroes at all. It’s brief 75 minute length keeps it on just long enough to not overstay its welcome, and works well as a nice short viewing, being able to tell all it needs to without having to get carried away with itself. This gets 3 Kandors out of 4.