While Hollywood studios adapt comic books with changes to what their essences are, Warner Bros. animation (DCAU) chooses to adapt stories straight from the comic books. After the impressive two-part adaptation of Frank Miller's “The Dark Knight Returns”, I do have to admit that my hopes have been elevated to the point where I wish that each adaptation would match it in terms of quality.
“Superman Unbound” is the first animated film without Bruce Timm and is loosely based on Geoff Johns’ “Superman Brainiac” story arc. The source material’s core plot remains the same, but of course due to editing, storytelling and pacing purposes, areas of dialogue (or lack of them) and scenes have been changed in the film. Director James Tucker and the screenplay by Bob Goodman keeps the flow of the story pretty brisk with such fluid animation to match its tempo.
We all know that Superman has been called “the last son of Krypton” before, but really he isn’t. The story takes place shortly after his cousin Kara (Molly Quinn) had arrived on Earth and is now known as Supergirl. Kara may be older than Kal-El by birth, but because she had arrived almost without the aid of a wormhole and she has laid in suspended animation, Kara had arrived the same age as she had left Krypton; she is a teenager. Kal-El (Matt Bomer) may be a Kryptonian by birth, but he had really adapted to the ways of the Earth. He is called Clark by his loved ones and friends and is even romantically involved with Lois Lane (Stana Katic).
However, before Krypton’s destruction, a universal menace called Brainiac (John Noble) had spirited away its city of Kandor for the purpose of gaining knowledge and keeping records. Now the threat of Brainiac is about to land on Earth, can even Superman and Supergirl be able to give him pause?
Newbies to the story arc who are really interested, may find it beneficial to pick up “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” since it chronicled the arrival of Kara Zor-El on Earth. But really, the screenplay is pretty solid enough that it would be easy to pick things up as the film progresses. The film’s themes are pretty much straight-forward, as an articial being seeks to be superior and yet due to its limitations, it cannot learn what sentient beings can through experience. I guess there is no greater teacher than the school of hard knocks, and “Superman Unbound” presents its themes of humanity pretty strong. Much as the source material, it is about experiencing and living life rather than studying from a distance. The script also incorporates certain ideas as to how one learns and accepts what he has grown into. Kara knows more about Kryptonian culture while Kal-El knew more about Earth. I suppose it was a subtle attempt to bring forth the differences between artificial intelligence and sentient life forms. People grow while machines are limited to their programming.
A month or so ago I reviewed “Superman Vs. The Elite”, and while that film brought forth the definition of a hero and how a hero must stand for something, “Superman Unbound” brings forth what someone stands to lose. When one has a life, one stands to have something that he wants to protect, and something truly worth fighting for. This is what makes the action sequences in the film have the needed emotional content behind each hard-hitting punch and eye beam. I was glad to see just how a machine fought without any emotion, and while Brainiac is equal to Superman in power, Superman’s emotions and attachments to the human race gives him much more vigor to take on the evil intelligence.
The battle sequences in the film may have the same staples as other Superman animated features, but I saw those as a signature as to how Superman actually used his powers to fight. The fight sequences can be rather brutal at times, and there is a little blood, it all served to elevate the stakes in the battles and add to its intensity. Explosions and effects were handled well into the animation. I did notice that the battle sequences may have that light anime influence since some camera angles felt a little hokey. The robot/ship designs had the influence of “Superman the animated series” around them and Brainiac looked a lot sinister thanks to the influences of Gary Frank’s artwork from the source material.
One thing that is really noticeable with the film is the way the character designs have been rendered. I am a fan of Gary Frank’s artwork and I would’ve loved his style to have made the transition from paper to animated movie. I am not used to Superman having such slender face features that I almost thought ‘anime’ but I immediately got used to it. Kara and Lois did have that ‘teen’ and adult features that made them different from one another (Lois has make up and Kara doesn’t). Steve Lombard (Diedrich Bader) did look more like a brute than what I am used to, and he almost looked like a wookie. The voice cast were pretty good for the most part but I expected more mechanical power from Brainiac’s voice.
I guess “Superman Unbound” had a lot of good things going for it, that I could overlook some slight transitional issues with the script’s flow. I missed the humor, intricacies and tragedy brought forth by Johns' original writing, and this film felt very watered down. I also thought that some areas felt a little too convenient, but the film did leave me interested as to how Kandor and the other ‘bottled’ cities would fare now that Superman had found them. I guess DCAU may have a chance to adapt “New Krypton” and “War of the Supermen”. DCAU still had what it took even with Bruce Timm’s absence, and I have to say DC has been kicking Marvel’s butt when it came to animated direct-to-dvd films. “Superman Unbound” is no exception to that rule. Recommended! [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
I read my first Superman comic in 1970. (Yes, I’m THAT old.) I’ve always loved Superman as a character. Superman fans have suffered a bit of disparagement over the years due to the fact that most non-regular Supes readers think that the Man of Steel isn’t quite a legitimate hero because he’s invulnerable. He can do everything. “It’s always so predictable,” critics gripe, “because, in the end, you know that … more