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Superman Unbound (Blu-ray Review)

8 May, 2013 By: John Latchem

$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, and a rude gesture.
Voices of Matt Bomer, John Noble, Stana Katic, Molly Quinn.

Superman’s rogues gallery isn’t exactly an all-star roster, but the man of steel has faced his fair share of memorable villains over the years. Lex Luthor and General Zod get the lion’s share of screen time in the live-action films, which surprisingly have yet to use Brainiac, much to the chagrin of the fans.

But animation is a different story.

Brainiac is a classic Superman villain probably best known to mainstream audiences through the old “Super Friends” cartoon and “Superman: The Animated Series.” Superman Unbound re-imagines Superman’s first encounter with the robotic menace, making for a solid entry in the DC Universe line of animated superhero movies.

Based on the Superman: Brainiac comic by Geoff Johns, the film presents a very good Superman character story, not only because he gets an opportunity to learn more about his Kryptonian heritage but also in how he’s still figuring out the boundaries with his relationship with humanity. In particular, his romance with Lois, whose desire to go public with her relationship with Clark Kent is vetoed by his fear of putting her in danger (not that Lois doesn’t do just fine putting herself in harm’s way, as evidenced by an opening sequence in which she’s rescued from terrorists attacking Metropolis).

After Superman neutralizes a drone that crashes in Arizona, his cousin, Supergirl, warns him that it’s a scout for Brainiac, who studies the universe by visiting new planets, shrinking their largest cities, encasing them in bottles and destroying the world left behind.

Superman sets off to find Brainiac, and he discovers the lost Kryptonian city of Kandor among Brainiac’s collection. However, in his effort to locate Brainiac, Superman inadvertently informs him of the location of Earth, and finds himself miniaturized and transported to Kandor (a visit that was not part of the original comic).

As Supergirl tries to fight off Brainiac’s forces, Superman must find a way to escape Kandor and help defend his adopted homeworld.

The voice cast is terrific, Matt Bomer (“White Collar”) brings a nice balance of authority and emotional vulnerability to his Superman, while Stana Katic (“Castle”) is a particularly good Lois. Katic’s “Castle” co-star Molly Quinn makes for a defiant yet uncertain Supergirl, and John Noble (“Fringe”) imbues Brainiac with a cold arrogance that suggests a superintelligence without being robotic. The is one of those rare voice casts where you could imagine the actors playing the parts in live-action as well.

Visually, the HD is so crisp you can see the roughness in the animation lines. The colors are bright and lively and really make the film a treat to look at. Plus, the animators added one gag for Lois that is easily the funniest scene and somewhat of a shock to see in an animated movie.

As is typical for a DCU movie, the extras shed more light on the subjects of the film. In this case, the Blu-ray contains some great historical background featurettes about both Brainiac and the Bottled City of Kandor. The set also includes four Brainiac-themed episodes from the “Superman” cartoon series and a preview of the next DCU movie, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.

The bulk of the behind-the-scenes material is found in the commentary by director-Producer James Tucker, screenwriter Bob Goodman and creative director of animation for DC Entertainment Mike Carlin.

Also neat is a sampler of the digital comic for the original Superman: Brainiac. The artwork for the piece is particularly noteworthy for the way it depicts the characters using their likenesses from 1978’s Superman movie.

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