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Superman: Unbound (2013)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/7/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/9/2013

With Man of Steel opening this summer, we are most likely going to be seeing a lot of and hearing a lot about Superman. While the character has been a comic book stalwart for decades and has had exposure in television shows and movies for nearly as long, he doesn't seem to stay in the public consciousness as often as other superheroes like Batman or Spider-Man for instance. But, when a new Superman project is in the works, the character does see renewed interest and we often get discussions on the pros and cons of the character and whether or not people like him. Personally, I've leaned towards the "don't like" side, as Superman's invulnerability makes him somewhat dull and the character lacks personality at times. Still, I'm a fan of Superman: The Movie and I've found that some of the unique things done with the comic icon in the DC Universe animated films to be interesting. Will this trend continue with Superman: Unbound?

It's just another day in Metropolis when a group of terrorist kidnap Lois Lane (voiced by Stana Katic), as they know that Superman (voiced by Matt Bomer) is out of town. They didn't count on Superman's cousin, Supergirl (voiced by Molly C. Quinn) coming to the rescue. While Superman has his hands full with the typical crime-fighting, his job as Clark Kent and his relationship with Lois, he's also helping Kara (Supergirl) adjust to life on Earth. When a strange meteor hits the Southwest, Superman goes to investigate and finds that it's actually a robot, which attacks him. He decides to track the robot's origins and goes on a mission into space, leaving Metropolis in the hand's of Supergirl. Superman discovers the skull-like spaceship of Brainiac (voiced by John Noble), a creature who travels through the universe collecting information on planets and then destroying them. He miniaturizes some cities and keeps them in bottles -- Superman is shocked to learn that he did that with the city of Kandor from Superman's home planet of Krypton. Superman finds Brainiac to be a very formidable foe, and as the ship heads for Earth, Superman must think of a way to stop him.

As noted above, Superman stories can be a bit repetitive and cliched, for unless a villain is going to use kryptonite or block the sun to weaken Superman, the story isn't going to go very far. The other problem with Superman is that he's often played as being morally superior. This often seems like a calculated move to fly (no pun intended) in the face of Batman's nihilism, but it can make Superman come across as judgmental and somewhat naive -- It's easy to feel like the right way is the only way when you have superpowers. However, there are certain writers who don't mind given us a somewhat flawed version of Superman and these stories are always interesting. The powers that be at DC Comics do a great job of choosing graphic novels and comic book series to adapt for their line of animated films, and with Superman titles like Superman vs. The Elite and All-Star Superman they wisely chosen some stories which give us a more multi-faceted version of the character.

Superman: Unbound doesn't go quite as far as those stories (one of which shows Superman getting very violent and the other of which offers an alternate universe in which Superman dies), but it still delivers enough variety to hold the viewer's interest. The nice thing about this tale is that it serves as sort of a mini "kitchen sink", as it brings in many different elements from the Superman universe (and actually works very well as the backbone of a movie.) We get Supergirl, Clark Kent/Superman struggling with his relationship with Lois Lane, a cameo from Ma Kent (voiced by Frances Conroy), and Braniac, one of Superman's oldest foes. We also get the backstory of the bottle city of Kandor, a legendary piece of the DC Universe, which has even gotten a shout out on The Big Bang Theory. The story does a nice job of mixing action and drama, as Superman is forced to make some choices about who or what he will save first. Again, this movie isn't all that dark, but in the third act Superman certainly decides that violence is the best way to deal with Brainiac.

The DC Universe animated films are typically stories which can appeal to non-comic book fans, and Superman: Unbound is no exception. Other than some vague dialogue about how Superman and Supergirl arrived on Earth from Krypton, the movie doesn't get bogged down in history or factoids from the comics. This is an easily accessible superhero/action piece which offers decent animation and good pacing. As I'm not a Superman fan, so I don't know how the die-hards will react to it, but I found it to be a tad bit light, but still entertaining.

Superman: Unbound does a few things to earn that PG-13 rating on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 18 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, especially the reds and blues (as one would hope) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The movie doesn't feature the most detailed animation ever, but the HD transfer doesn't reveal any gaps in the drawings. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a muscular track which offers good stereo and surround sound effects throughout. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and show good separation. The surround effects really come to life in the action scenes and occasionally highlight individual sounds. The subwoofer effects drive home Superman's punches and the explosions.

The Superman: Unbound Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director James Tucker, Writer Bob Goodman, and DC Comics Director of Animation Mike Carlin. "Kandor: History of the Bottle City" (17 minutes) contains comments from DC Comics writers and editors, as well as panels from Superman comics. It uses these elements to explore how Kandor has been featured in the comic books over the years. In a similar fashion, we learn the history of one of Superman's greatest villains in "Brainiac: Technology and Terror" (25 minutes). This does a nice job of showing how the look of Brainiac and his ship has changed over the years. Themes similar to those shown in Superman: Unbound are featured in two bonus TV episodes from Superman: The Animated Series. We get to see pages from the original Superman: Brainiac graphic novel.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.