Superman: Unbound is based on the 2008 comic book miniseries “Brainiac” by DC Entertainment creative head Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank. The story re-imagines the titular Brainiac – one of Superman’s most iconic villains – as an alien-turned-cybernetic organism seeking to catalogue and control countless alien cities, which he shrinks down and keeps as mementos aboard his ship, before destroying the very planet he robbed.
When a Brainiac probe droid lands on Earth, Superman intercepts it and learns from his cousin, Supergirl, that Brainiac once attacked Krypton and made off with the city of Kandor – an attack Supergirl barely survived. Determined to free Kandor and stop Braniac, Superman flies off into space; however, Brainiac is stronger and more cunning than the Man of Steel could’ve imagined, leaving Metropolis vulnerable for theft, and Earth facing destruction.
Quite possibly one of the most faithful DC Universe animated feature adaptations, Unbound captures the imagination and emotional arc of Johns and Frank’s story pretty well (sans the subplot involving Ma and Pa Kent). Especially well adapted is the story of Kandor and Supergirl – her struggle with the powerlessness she felt on Krypton, versus her new identity as a super-powered heroine on Earth. Also well conveyed is the sub-plot about Superman’s need for control over his life with Lois Lane, which is cleverly juxtaposed to Brainiac’s delusional hope to control and comprehend all life in the universe.
In short: like Johns’ tale, Unbound offers a story that has plenty of depth – but don’t worry, there’s plenty of action, too.
Fans have gotten to the point where they like to see Superman facing off against an antagonist who’s as much of a physical threat for the Man of Steel as he is an intellectual one (Lex Luthor) – and Brainiac certainly combines both of those elements. Johns and Frank introduced the notion that “Brainiac Prime” is a being that Superman has never met before – an organic organism extended through a cybernetic network – and in this film that organism is pretty formidable.
Fringe star John Noble is the perfect voice for the robotic villain, and his familiar barritone seethes menace and calculated intelligence in every melodramatic line he delivers. The film certainly has fun with the full range of power at Brainiac’s disposal – from remotely controlling hordes of robotic soldiers and other machines, to drag-out hand-to-hand combat, to a suit of armor that contains a nice array of weaponry. Superman is certainly put through the ringer several times – much to the entertainment of the viewer.
With a good villain in place, a good hero is needed – and White Collar star Matt Bomer certainly fits the bill. Bomer has been approached in the past to play Superman on live-action film, and while that job has ultimately gone to other men (see: Man of Steel star Henry Cavill), Bomer demonstrates in Unbound that he certainly has the voice for the job, and is a suitable substitution for fan-favorite cartoon Superman, Tim Daly.
Unfortunately, the character design by James Tucker doesn’t really favor Superman or Lois, or Supergirl – or any of the human characters, for that matter. Brainiac and all his technology are wonderfully designed and visualized, but the human characters are all sketched in the stretched-face skinny look of Ninja Scroll anime. It’s pretty distracting in the more mundane scenes of say, Clark and Lois having a heart-to-heart conversation, or scenes between Supergirl and Ma Kent. Once the action moves into battle scenes or off-planet exploration, the animation is much easier to take.
Along with the primary players, the supporting cast of ladies - Lois (Castle‘s Stana Katic), Supergirl (Castle‘s Molly C. Quinn) and Ma Kent (American Horror Story‘s Frances Conroy) are all very well cast and have great voice chemistry(?) with the other actors. All in all, the scenes in the film are engaging and believable to the ear.
In terms of violence: Superman: Unbound could definitely be scary for kids under double digits. While the Superman fight scenes aren’t anything especially bad, there are several sequences of Brainiac’s merciless murder and destruction of worlds that are pretty intense, even in animated form.
If anything, Superman: Unbound just proves that Brainiac would be a fantastic antagonist for a Man of Steel sequel, offering both a worthy storyline and threat for Superman that could (and will in this animated feature) thoroughly entertain fans.
Blu-Ray Special Features
- Standard and high definition versions of the feature film
- Featurette – “Kandor: History of the Bottle City” – An all-new featurette. Kandor: a peaceful scientific community dedicated toward the preservation of all that is good on Krypton, the home world of Superman. That is, until the city was ripped from its world and placed into a small glass bottle! This is the short story highlighting the shrunken city of Kandor. Its history just as fascinating as it is unique, here is how it ties in directly with the Man of Tomorrow.
- Featurette – “Brainiac: Technology and Terror” – An all-new featurette. Mostly machine, but part sentient being, Brainiac steals cities and destroys worlds. Is he the most vile of Superman’s villainous foes? Experience the Brainiac mythology and find out why Superman barely stands a chance!
- Audio Commentary – Featuring members of the creative team: Mike Carlin, Bob Goodman and James Tucker.
- Four bonus episodes from Superman: The Animated Series (“The Last Son of Krypton, Part 1”; “New Kids in Town”; and “Little Girl Lost, Parts 1 & 2”), all handpicked by producer Alan Burnett.
- Digital Comic – Excerpt from the graphic novel Superman: Brainiac by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.
- Sneak Peek at Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, the next DC Universe Animated Original Movie [CLICK TO WATCH]
Superman: Unbound will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and Digital Download through streaming providers, on May 7, 2013.