Thursday, April 25, 2013

Superman Unbound Blu-ray Reviewed

**SPOILER WARNING. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON'T WANT ANYTHING REVEALED TO YOU!** Writing a new Superman story must always be challenging. You've got this alien being who is invulnerable, super fast, super strong, ice breathe, heat vision, he can fly and on and on. It takes a lot to smack this guy upside the head and make him even acknowledge it happened, so for me, the most compelling Superman stories have always been about his humanity and his heart. He's an alien, so even though he looks human, he never quite feels like one of us. Just think of how he perceives the world with super amplified senses. It's enough to drive one away from all human contact, but there he sits in the middle of an overpopulated city, pretending to be someone far weaker than he really is. In the past, animated films like All Star Superman and Superman VS The Elite have explored these frailties in the Man of Steel with excellent writing alongside the super powered action we've come to expect. That is surely one way to make a killer animated super hero film. Another is to pit him against an equally powerful alien force, strong enough to make him question whether he is up to the task, and let him pound it out.

Our story unfolds with Superman acclimating a young Supergirl to life on Earth. She is young and a little quick to act, which is dangerous when there are frail humans about, not having the benefit of being raised around said humans (like Superman). Still, Superman sees a bit of himself in her and so he gives her his trust instead of more stern direction. Awww...superfamily. Soon, an alien probe comes from the sky packing enough punch to take Superman off his feet momentarily. Supergirl recognizes the robotic creature as being a tool of Brainiac and knows full well what destruction follows. Superman must find a way to shut down this menace before it has Earth in its sights or risk all out war in the streets of Metropolis on a level he may not be able to handle, even with a super sidekick.

Superman Unbound makes some daring moves in presenting us with a Superman story where those things we've come to expect are turned on their ear, just a bit. We are introduced to a Clark Kent who isn't so timid or buffoonish. In his place, we get this sort of metrosexual Clark who stands up straight and perhaps has just become known for always going after his story full speed, leaving no one to wonder where he has disappeared to. I suppose that's one way to go about it, but after years of the comical Clark being the butt of many jokes and getting his licks in with a well placed blast of heat ray as some small vengeance, it takes a LOT of getting used to. The former was clever. The latter doesn't leave much to smile about.

Standing against him is Brainiac, one of Superman's deadliest foes through years of comic books and the animated series. We'd come to know this being as a veritable force of nature...unflinching in his task to collect the knowledge of the universe...and unfeeling over the death he leaves in his wake. When Brainiac soaks up the knowledge of a planet, he doesn't leave anyone alive to continue adding to that pool of information, save for a small piece of that world he bottles up, perhaps for further study. This icy cold demeanor made him a truly evil foe for a man whose biggest weakness is his love for mankind. What's worse, all you can do to Brainiac is pound him to dust, and pound all of his machines to dust, and hope that the dust doesn't crawl away from the scene of the battle and come back one day as a fully reformed Brainiac! This thing is a living computer, and so he is not the sum of his parts...he is in EVERY part. This film's incarnation of Brainiac doesn't seem far off from the character we love to first glance. Then we see the overly hulking body, suggesting there is a vanity within him. After all, he can make whatever body he chooses. We watch his face often turn into a scowl, suggesting he can be made angry. That's already a hell of a lot of feeling for a living  computer. The last nail in the coffin...insults. As Brainiac battles Superman, it is not beneath him to explain just how insignificant Superman really is...not in a cold, logical voice, but through gritted teeth and an angry growl. This fact is a hard one to swallow, as that cold calculation is, to me, what made the character so deadly. Even when being beaten to a pile of scrap, you knew in your head the last commands of this being were probably what part of him could escape or if there was a computer nearby he could download into. No "Curse you Supermaaaan!!!"..just rebuild himself, how ever long it might take, to return and continue with his task. THAT is scary.

As I listened to the extras on this Blu-ray and played the commentary track, the film makers explained what they were going for. A Clark very different from what we were used to. A Supergirl more like a rebellious teenager. A Brainiac who, instead of feeling nothing, feels EVERYTHING, and this leads him to seek out control over all he surveys. The problem is, I get it, only after it is explained to me. What I saw was a humorless Clark always bickering with an overly sarcastic Lois Lane and a roid-ragin Brainiac just being evil, as one dimensional as any other flash in the pan powered up baddie from the comics..there for one shot and easily forgettable. Once you take the core away from these characters, what's left? I'll also mention the delivery of the voices lent to these characters didn't do anything to help me see the film maker's vision. Superman (Matt Bomer) sounded deadpan all through his performanc. Even when he is supposed to be recovering from battle, I didn't hear so much as a hard breathe. Lois (Stana Katic) conveyed little more than "snarky" all through the film, which doesn't do much to make the audience like her. She's FUNNY sarcastic..not bitchy and angered. John Noble's Brainiac was dripping with disgust and contempt, which is just fine if that were the character we were looking for in this film. Only Supergirl (Molly Quinn) seemed true to her nature and came off as having equal parts compassion, frustration, terror and strength.

There's lots of super pummeling, hordes of Brainiac robots marching across worlds and Superman using an array of powers, but only fleeting moments of humor to be found. Without humor to balance out the intensity of a story, all you are left with is a flat line. I'd actually take any emotion in this film. People and aliens drop like flies in this one and Superman just sort of goes...meh. The oddly overly-cartoony style this film was animated in kept making me think this was actually made for kids (forgetting the off camera death toll), but little "adult" moments quickly reminded me who the target audience really is. That is the most confusing point for me. If this movie is really aimed at me, the uber DC Universe fan, why stray so far from the DC Universe norms? While I don't blame the film makers for trying to do something new, I can't help rolling out the old "if it ain't broke..." line. An epic battle between Superman and Brainiac with clever writing, subtle humor and a lot of heart would have been all I ever wanted. Instead, we get a sub-text so buried in the muck and mire, I didn't even see it til it was spelled out for me, and a sort of twist ending that makes little sense, given there was no hint of this coming earlier in the film. I'm just going to chalk this one up to poor execution, odd character design and mis-cast characters. The result is something I'll easily forget about a week from now as I eagerly await the fist full of super hero projects to come.

Blu-ray extras include Audio Commentary from James Tucker, Bob Goodman and Mike Carlin, which is informative but not much fun. Kandor: History of the Bottle City takes you through the origins of this plot device through Superman's history in comics, delving into great detail and answering questions like "Why doesn't Superman just let all the little people go!?!" Brainiac: Technology and Terror also delves, in depth, into this character's all his pink shirted, booty shorted glory. You'll get Brainiac-centric Superman: The Animated series episodes including The Last Son of Krypton part 1 and New Kids in Town, and Little Girl Lost parts 1 and 2 featuring Supergirl's arrival. You'll also get a tiny taste of the Superman: Brainiac comic the film was adapted from and, cleverly hidden under trailers, you'll find a sneak peek at Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (which we teased HERE).

Superman Unbound hits May 7th, but you can pre-order it now for 30% off!

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