Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013) Blu-ray review

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What You May Like:

  • Unique and engaging storyline
  • Great action with unapologetic violence factor
  • Vivid, smooth and slick animation

What You May Not:

  • Not too significant of a villain present
  • Some substandard voice actors
  • A few story details are a bit convoluted

What You’ll Remember:

  • The darker and grittier version of Batman

From the fantastical minds that have brought us a vast library of ambitious feature length films featuring Marvel and DC Universe heroes comes the latest installment centered primarily on the Flash character and his Barry Allen alter ego. Staple DC film creator names such a Jay Oliva, Geoff Johns, and James Kreig carry the roles of director, story, and screenplay respectively, all of whom have a steady and respectable resume of comic and various children’s animated features, and with their new creation matters are taken down an unapologetic path of a more complex yet engaging storyline, darker characters, and more explicit bloodshed. The Flashpoint Paradox gives us a refreshingly original screenplay that absolutely earns its PG-13 rating, not simply for the violence factor, but also for direction to present a story with a good variety of interwoven character story arcs that give a great balance of history and the present character personalities fans have all come to recognize, but not necessarily told in a manner that non-adolescents will easily comprehend; a characteristic of Paradox that both helps and limits it just enough from a true breakthrough in animated action.

Paradox stars a hefty handful of DC Universe names with mostly good, if some sub-par voice performances that eventually become unimportant considering how gripping the story soon becomes. Names include Justin Chambers as the Flash, C. Thomas Howell playing nemesis Professor Zoom/ Eobard Thawne, Michael B. Jordan as Cyborg, and more famous ones with smaller roles such as Nathan Fillion as the Green Lantern, and Ron Pearlman as Deathstroke; yet the cast is pretty vast considering the amount of DC stars who make an appearance. Judging from the front cover, one thinks they’re in for a story involving the Flash, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg, but to our surprise other heroes give some cameos, as well as some fairly significant roles, such as Superman and the Green Lantern. Upon opening, we get the background behind Flash himself, and how his mother was murdered by a home intruder when he was just a boy. Immediately being taken into his adulthood visiting his deceased mother’s grave, Barry Allen woodenly expresses regrets as to how he should have done more to save his mother, however exaggerated a grown man could be about something he obviously had no control over at just 8 years old; soon the thankfully brief introduction to him is quickly forgotten when we meet Flash’s nemesis Eobard Thawne terrorizing a local city Flash museum along with his own posse of greedy but dimwitted thugs such as Boomerang and Captain Cold, otherwise known as the Rogues. Here is where Flash is aided by his own Justice League posse that we are also introduced to – your standard Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg – all working as a cohesive team to settle the matter. A good and solid opening, even if some characters appear a bit rushed in production.

The story takes a strange turn fairly quickly and may even go over a few viewers’ heads; suddenly we see Flash at his city news offices where word is spreading about the world’s apparent Armageddon, to which Flash suddenly and unexpectedly runs into his mother, who wonders why Barry is acting to strangely. His mother being alive is not the only strange difference, as we then see Barry’s love interest Iris as a wife and mother to another man, as well as are introduced to far more bitter, sinister, and unforgiving version of Batman, who apparently now forgoes any of the moral ethics of crime fighting we know him so well for. Lastly, and perhaps the biggest strange change to Barry’s seeming dreamworld is the fact that not only are Wonder Woman and Aquaman enemies, but their respective Amazon and Atlantis kingdoms have waged war against each other which is breaking down the world around them, nearing the end of it, all due to Wonder’s murder of Aqua’s wife after an extramarital affair between the two gone array. When Barry tries to make sense of matters he goes to visit the Batcave to get some answers, only to be beaten and questioned by this new darker version of the Dark Knight. Yet it is there that Barry discovers that his opposite “reverse-Flash” nemesis Professor Zoom, or Eobard Thawne is behind the strange set of circumstances in a way Barry cannot yet piece together. Then in an action-packed subplot, we meet Lex Luthor as he is trying to take control of a doomsday weapon aboard a military ship; a rather quick subplot that is there just to tie up the main villain of this new reality, that being Aquaman and yet another surprise that he will use as the weapon to defeat Wonder Woman’s Amazon kingdom, as well as the world around it. While everyone is downtroddenly helpless in accepting of the world’s fate, Cyborg seems the only one trying to take genuine steps to save it, unfortunately he gets orders from the president of the United States – an interesting animated impersonation of current president Obama – to stand down and be relieved of his duty. In a mild setback to the film itself, actor Michael B. Jordan (I guess not to mistake him with THE Michael Jordan), gives too stale of a voice-acting performance, yet due to the constantly growing story, this is similarly forgotten as Flash’s intro was. There is yet another plot twist involving the whereabouts of Superman, whose backstory no longer has him crash landing and meeting up with his rural country farm parents, but instead locked away by a government conspiracy experiment. Relatedly so, another subplot exists involving Lois Lane and her investigation of Wonder Woman’s Amazons, yet she soon meets up with a small band of resistance fighters who act as a third side to the war, desiring to stop the fighting that will inevitably destroy the planet.

What follows there on in is not only Flash’s mission to figure out his jogging memories of both realities clashing in on each other, but also his now smaller team’s task to figure out who and what will bring about doomsday, as well as what could be done to stop the war between the Amazon and Atlantis. The characters in Paradox are ever evolving, constantly changing in circumstances and also the motivations of each small or large band of armies, keeping the audience constantly engaged; and thanks to some greatly edited action sequences, completely enthralled as to the conclusion of each superhero, even those who have not necessarily turned evil, but whose priorities have gone astray due to old flames and hurts still held onto. The sheer amount of DC characters are so vast here in fact that the viewer is best recommended to get at least two full viewings to not only miss things lost during the first, but also appreciate how well balanced the story is told to us. A negative may be that some elements can come off as a bit convoluted, but the redeeming factor being that upon a second viewing there is lots to catch missed the first time around. Even minor characters such as Lois Lane’s resistance team, namely leader Grifter, are quick to impress, to whose credit should mostly go to not only the great use of voice-acting (the good talent does in fact outweigh the stale), but also each character’s presentation. The newer version of Batman himself is a thoughtful welcome treat, and though he is the best aspect of the film in terms of a character, it is all due to some greatly written dialogue. Sarcastic quips, strong personalities, and just enough slick animated acting to not let matters become too lighthearted, the way each character speaks is constantly focused on the story and matters at hand, never pandering the audience to cheap gags or childish jokes; moments of comic relief are perfectly placed. Director Jay Olivia displays absolute mindful skill, not only in his great pacing of the story, but also how well he is able to balance each story arc in such a limited 80-minute running length; such a task is much more difficult to achieve than perhaps thought. What should also be mentioned is the more ruthless violence factor present. While the film is nowhere near an R-rated level of blood, there are some fairly hardcore scenes that may surprise viewers, even those who have had experience with PG-13 animated features prior. Had being done with real actors in live action, the film would have easily gotten an R, yet it seems it is only the animation which keeps it suitable for teenagers. Yet for everyone, the shining star here is the story itself, which gives us one of the most unique and creative takes on time-travel plots to come along in a long while, even for an animated film. There is much in terms of originality, and not once does there feel any instant where we can argue logic problems, keeping an open mind of course.

So while the story does most to grant us one fantastic action feature, the focus on Flash himself brings a heap to the table. Since Flash experiences two different realities, his memories begin to widen out of nowhere and eventually clash in on themselves, only to come to a certain point of peace later on, but it is his character struggle alone during all the circumstances that keeps him growing as a man. Sure, while initially his voice work was a bit stale, it seems to actually improve as the film goes on, so such a complaint is definitely minor in the long run. Though not all characters go through a change or grow during the film, most of the main characters do, and again, to do it in such a limited running time only makes us wish the film could have run about 15 minutes longer. This also helps to keep the viewer engrossed in every detail of what is going on, even if the film presents some of the story points a bit too quickly, so as stated almost forces more than one viewing; not a setback given the worthy entertainment value. What some may dislike is that since there is so much focus on time travel and character growth, there is not too much of a villainous presence. Sure, while Aquaman and Wonder Woman are the main causes of what is bringing about the end of the world, their conflict is more one-to-one, not with the world so much, and as we learn later on, Flash’s arch nemesis Eobard Thawne has less of an involvement as we had initially hoped or could foresee. Therefore, the villain aspect of Paradox is not so much absent, but meets almost the minimal amount required to be appreciated. Yet due to the nature of the story itself, a more ruthless and present villain may have taken away from the grand intentions, especially at a shorter time length. Had this been a full two-hour feature, there could definitely have been some great possibilities to beef up the good we already have, as well as give Flash a more threatening situation than he is already in. Even if the end of the world does seem pretty drastic, there is not too much intensity here when thinking of Flash’s actual survival. In the end, it’s more of a superficial setback that as good as the film it, could not really help unless broadened to a longer running time.

Quick and thrilling edits during battles, vibrant animation (as expected), satisfying bloodshed, and a vividly in-your-face effects soundtrack that will have audio aficionados scrambling to turn up their speakers, Paradox can arguably be the named as the best Marvel/DC films to date. Jay Oliva has easily put a great achievement to his resume, especially for a main superhero who can sometimes be seen as a more uncared for underdog in the DC Universe as the Flash, but he definitely does get his just do in the action-packed, truly ambitious, and wholly satisfying Paradox.

Extras:

As usual from Marvel/DC original films, we get a good handful, but moreso lacking in the department of this actual film itself. There are two full featurettes; in the first, “A Flash in Time” is a 22-minute feature with some of the film’s creators interviewed about the process, possibilities, risks, and improbabilities of time travel itself, with some more historic information about famous philosophers and their take on it as well; some of the comic canon is mentioned to boot and keep discussion grounded. Next is “My Favorite Villain: The Flash Bad Guys,” with some interviews with the same film creators commenting on some of Flash’s most famous enemies in his own comic book history, including a few in the film itself; more to the liking of Flash fans, this may not entirely appeal to those just interested in the DC movies. Otherwise there is a DC vault that we usually get of 4 cartoon episodes, standard commentary track, a fairly long 8-minute sneak peak at the next DC Universe film iteration entitled War, and a preview sample of one of the Flashpoint comics in the new series. For a Target store exclusive feature there is one downloadable 34-page comic, being #1 of The New 52, of the new Flashpoint comic series. Unfortunately there are no features that talk about the making of this particular film itself.

Graphics and Sound:

Paradox displays a mostly stellar presentation of a blu-ray transfer. Being an animated feature, there is as usual not enough demand to detail as to live action films, but given that, the animation is still super clean and vibrant. While things can always be better, to nitpick would be to mention that colors could have been given a bit more vividness, as some more naturally loud colors such as Flash’s red or Green Lanterns greens are not super flashy as some may wish. To argue, giving them more of a popping effect may run the risk of overdoing the amount of color saturation; again, that would be to nitpick. There are virtually no instances of distortion and an unnoticable amount of pixelation during fast-moving scenes, therefore the frame rate is beautifully smooth and well kept. Yet as great as the picture is, the sound production is where Paradox put all its HD cards on the table. To mention how crystal clear the dialogue is would be just the start. The core of how grand or epic any action feature is sound-wise would be to measure how well sound effects come through, and to this Paradox does one of the most stellar jobs that yours grinch truly’s ears have ever had the pleasure of making out. The film effects are loud, robust, full, bombastic, detailed, and exciting. Every punch, explosion, gun shot, smack, and even footstep are placed to a perfect level of balance, and never do things become too loud or too low, much less ever obnoxious or irritating. The sound on its own brings a whole new level of engrossment to the film that any flaws within would have harmed the whole, and yet Paradox keeps things fantastically produced all the way through. This is truly animated sound gold.

Final Verdict:

The Flashpoint Paradox is chock full of great production values and other top-notch technical achievements, such as animation and sound design. It doesn’t end there, as the story elements are so vast and detailed that it only could leave room for further investigation if a sequel were ever considered, but not that it would be practical. If there is any setback to the story itself is that the film did not run long enough for a fuller story to be produced, one where some of the villains could have had a better role or taken a greater lead, such as Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Being that The Flash himself was the center of attention, as well as his own character development, the film could only do so much. Still, these complaints are mostly superficial and hypothetical “could be’s,” as Flashpoint can still maintain itself as one of the greatest DC Universe films, if not THE best DC film to date, of course disregarding any live action ones, many of which this can still easily trump. Though not intended for younger children, it’s a grandiose action-infested treat of a film for anyone else. While not being an animated action classic, there is still enough great here that shows true passion and determination to the characters stories as well as the fans by the filmmakers. It’s a welcome breathe of fresh air that though having released about 20 films so far, DC still holds just as much integrity and commitment to fans as ever, without ever resorting to cheap sellout tactics or quick cash-ins. Many newcomers will also easily appreciate how accessible the story is, granted if they know even the most basic backstories to the main characters (namely those of Flash, Superman and Batman). A definite recommendation for casual fans and an absolutely strong one to DC ones, a solid 3.5 Armageddons out of 4. Yours Grinch truly is absolutely looking forward to the next film Justice League: War set for this coming winter season.

Lego Batman The Movie: DC Super Heroes Unite (2013) Blu-ray review

What You’ll Like:

  • Excellent direction gets you enthralled
  • Fantastic animation
  • Very cute characters and personalities
  • Great voice acting
  • Very cool and unexpected final act

What You May Not:

  • Genuinely funny moments are too few and far between
  • Too short, and takes a little bit to get really good
  • Those who played the game (Lego Batman 2) may not need this as it is mostly a meshed collection of in game cut-scenes

What You’ll Remember:

  • Killer old school John Williams and Danny Elfman Superman and Batman themes

Lego DC nerds hail! What could possibly be counted as the next iteration in the DC animated original film series (making this the 17th film, preceded by the recent and very fun Superman: Unbound), is the film version of the recent video game Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes Unite. Being the first Lego game in the franchise with actual voice acting, creators Jon Burton and David A. Goodman thought it would be a good idea to create a film, even if it wasn’t to be an all original story as many may have been led to believe when viewing its trailer. Goodman having worked previously on hit TV shows such as Family Guy and Futurama is no stranger to tongue-in-cheek self-aware humor, as well as Jon Burton making a career of video game directing and programming, certainly knowing how to weave storylines into an epic visual style; the two let most of their talent shine here, in this very surprisingly enjoyable family-friendly action/adventure comedy.

To begin, but not to go on record, Lego Batman The Movie seems not an entirely all original story. Instead, this film looks to weave all or most of the video games cut-scenes together into a 71-minute movie. The reason for this vagueness is due to my own personal playing of the game but not yet completing it; thus far though, all the cut-scenes are almost the same as the film’s plot and scenes. The good news here is that all these scenes are meshed together so meticulously with such flawless precision, most players will not even be able to tell where one scene ends and where the proceeding gaming segments begin. While this fact may not make Lego Batman a must-see for all fans, especially those who have already played through the game, it is mostly definitely a shining plus to any DC fan’s collection.

Lego Batman brings together all of your favorite Batman heroes and villains together in an animated Lego tale where Batman and Robin must stop the Joker and Lex Luthor from taking over Gotham city; exceeded by not only Lex’s plan to run for president, but also his new invention called the Deconstructor, a powerful ray gun that is able to deconstruct, or break apart, any object it hits. Or as this film would have it, any object’s set of Lego pieces falling completely apart. By the way, yes, that is Superman’s Lex Luthor, as Superman himself plays a primary role here as well, flying in randomly to aid the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin despite Batman’s stubborn insistence that Superman is not of need; more of a jealousy thing really, but as a cute running joke does add character to Batman, as well as being cute. Since Bruce Wayne initially wins Gotham’s very treasured “Man of the Year” award at the opening gala, Lex is understandably envious and is granted the motivation to take over Gotham through political means; he brings the Joker along as an aid, as well as gets a request to be vice president right beside Luthor. Moreover, Lex gets the help with almost all of Batman’s classic villains, such as Bane, The Riddler, Two Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy, and even Catwoman. Although these characters play more secondary roles and add very little, if anything, to the whole of the story’s plot, they still work for a bit of fan service as well as a couple of comedic moments of slapsticky buffoonery. In fact, granted the greatly chosen voice actors, most of these characters become more likeable as the film progresses, notably the Joker, who stands out as lead and makes a fantastically threatening villain. Although never too threatening as this is after all, primarily a kid’s film. Given Lego Batman’s aim towards mostly young boys, our beloved purple clad bad boy still has enough showmanship to stand out as the one who really steals the show here. Plus just like everyone, his Lego version is just so cute.

Each character’s cute-o-meter Lego personalities are just the beginning of what eventually makes Lego Batman so entertaining. While the film initially starts a bit slow, making the viewer feel as if this may just be another very average and run of the mill animated action film, things thankfully soon pick up due to director Burton’s absolutely excellent directorial style. No, there are no wishy-washy dramatic moments giving any sort of emotional connection with the character’s deeper struggles, such as many of the real live Batman films, but instead we get to know each one through their comedic reactions to various situations; you know, simple character traits that are easy enough for young kids to grasp, but still cute enough to charm adults. For example, Batman we get to know as stubborn and proud due to his constant irritation by Superman’s more bold and upbeat expressions, not to mention that the duo really needs his aid despite Batman’s insistence that they don’t. Robin we know as very likable in all his boyishness due to his continuously content and clumsy personality, as well as his desire to become closer partners with Batman. Superman, whilst displaying constant bravado plays the All-American charmer we’ve come to love, he is also somewhat air-headed in his exaggerated pompous approach, almost a superhero parody of himself really, and in direct contrast with the darker and deeper Dark Knight. The two do not hold much great chemistry but in all fairness they do not seem intended to. With excellent voice actors playing each part, there are no drab or boring people here in Lego Batman, and any secondary characters do keep their places and none are ever over or under utilized.

So what else makes Lego Batman so pleasingly enthralling? Quite easily, the action-focused directing and incredibly smooth and vivid animation. Burton has certainly acquired hefty experience programming and directing video game cut-scenes, and in Lego Batman such experiences thrive as Burton chooses only the most perfected shots to bring both suspense and awe in livening up all of the more intense scenes. Excellent use of camera work give the viewer an impressive sense of height, depth, and epic style still shots, as well as all the moments where sweeping and establishing shots are needed; this coupled with what feel like downright perfect editing makes Lego Batman better and better as the story moves along, gripping the viewer all the more. So would I consider this just as good as epic live action films? Not necessarily, but it is a comfort that here that while Lego Batman does not come in close range to ever being too violent, it still has enough integrity and respect for its genre to not water down its action approach, this given its demographic of perhaps mostly elementary school boys. But again, adults will not mind watching right beside. It all makes for something very surprising, and it is definitely a disappointment that the film simply runs too short, especially since you get the feeling that even if they added worthy subplots involving the more secondary villains and heroes (yes, more heroes, as some very cool surprise cameos make way for DC comic fans in a very fun enjoyable final act), it could have added significant excitement. Even if the main story itself were beefed up, it certainly wouldn’t stand as the end of the world if Burton and Goodman fleshed out and expand on the main story more than they already have. That being said, as an action/adventure film, Lego Batman has all it needs, and enough to invoke entertaining suspense, but seems to miss a key element for a Lego film. Though this is just one last small complaint, it should be stated that Lego Batman seems missing that self-aware charm past games and even the hysterical Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace film had. That is, Lego “in-jokes” that comically poke fun at the limitations the characters have for being Lego figures, or just snickering at Lego themselves. In watching Lego Batman, I counted one of these jokes in total, but it only stands as the beginning. Genuinely funny moments are too few as well, even if the rest of the story will keep you mostly entertained. But again, not the biggest complaint this side of Gotham; Batman has certainly been treated to far worse.

It is good news that Lego Batman has such an excellent director at the helm, who truly boosts things to a winning level with a straight-forward yet greatly effective style, meshing such a fast-paced set of game cut-scenes together, weaving them all in such fluidity that this easily passes as a genuine film to both gamers and non-gamers alike. The plot picks up fast, even if it does happen to take a few minutes to get genuinely interesting and involving to the viewer, therefore do not expect any drawn out dialogue or even Bruce Wayne to be in non-Bat attire for much of anything past the opening awards ceremony scene. While Lego Batman may enthrall children more than adults, those that at least appreciate comic or superhero films will get a very significant value here.

Extras:

One 14-minute segment that is really on the fence of being a real behind-the-scenes bonus, featuring just one animator of the film showing a small group of elementary school kids around his small production studio. Here we learn a tidbits of what it takes to do stop-motion animation, and wouldn’t you know, the kids (who are a fairly boring but sweet bunch) get to help create one full scene themselves. Would have been nice to see a real behind-the-scene segment here. Besides this we get three full cartoon episodes, two from the ‘Batman: The Brave and the Bold’ series as well as one from Teen Titans. Rounding off is one stop-motion short exclusive that only runs about thirty seconds, and the top five fan-made stop motion shorts from the national Lego DC Universe Super Heroes contest; none of which last longer than a few minutes. A good hefty extras set if you don’t mind being without any sort of behind-the-scenes footage; it would have been a nice plus to see how Burton created all the stellar action sequences.

Graphics and Sound:

Absolutely gorgeous both visually and audibly. The HD blu-ray transfer has not a single hint of any sort of distortion throughout. The colors are fantastically vibrant and blacks are incredibly deep with none of that distortion noise that feels so prevalent in many HD transfers of film’s darker moments. The shine off the character’s Lego parts are incredibly detailed, and though that is mostly on the part of the great animation work, the HD transfer never hinders from showing us exactly what the creators intended. Just looking at the film would be proof to anyone as to why blu-ray is an easy trump over the DVD version. The technical visuals here only add to the experience and make this even that much more fun to watch. As far as sound, the balance could not be any more perfect. Music is up front and epic when it needs to be, not to mention that using the original Batman and Superman scores were a brilliant if simple idea by Burton. Dialogue is very clear and effects sounds never overtake any scene or become even the slightest bit obnoxious; it keeps itself clear but still very much a part of the film’s whole of its vision.

Final Verdict:

Lego Batman will appeal mostly to either children or DC comic fans, and although any other party aside from that will definitely find much to enjoy about the film, it holds itself up mostly to those demographics. It is a fun, action-packed, sometimes funny, and involving adventure that only seems to get better as it goes along; yet it never really delves into A+ status. Even if some do not find themselves as engrossed as others, the film definitely doesn’t go overlong at a time length that is barely over an hour. Sure it would have been even better to see an all original story, or perhaps a beefed up video game storyline that could expand this to an at least 85 or 90 minutes, Lego Batman is still a great value, even if at least it would be at the sale price of $13.99. Unless you’re a die-hard DC fan, I would not recommend paying more than that. I would give this an honest but very strong 2.5 batarangs out of 4, and you can add a half a batarang if you’re a more die-hard DC fan. A regular run of funny jokes or even a deeply detailed story would have gotten this a higher score by yours grinch truly, but I hate to say that these flaws are a bit too significant to go for a 3.

Superman: Unbound (2013) Blu-ray review

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.

Extras:

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.

Final Verdict:

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.