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Superman Unbound is the sixteenth movie from DC comics' line of direct to DVD animated feature films. This particular title is based off the 2008 "Superman: Brainiac" comics - don't ask me why the cartoon was renamed... perhaps the folks at DC marketing hope that illiterate consumers will mistakenly buy it thinking they are purchasing Django Unchained instead. As the original comic title suggests, the movie sees Superman cross swords with his nemesis Brainiac - a cybernetic alien whose goal in life is to assimilate all knowledge in the known universe (think of him as a green skinned version of the Borg from Star Trek.)
When the movie commences we see Superman tangle with one of Brainiac's robotic underlings, who is scouting for new worlds for his master to attack. Superman's cousin Supergirl warns him that the automaton resembles the machines that years ago attacked their home world of Krypton, prior to the planet's destruction. Fearing that a similar fate will befall Earth, Superman ventures forth into the cosmos to track down Brainiac (well he does follow the American way and that country does love preemptive attacks on foreign threats.) Unfortunately Brainiac turns out to be considerably stronger than the human evildoers Superman is accustomed to battling. When the two eventually scrap Brainiac comes out the victor, condemning Superman to imprisonment in a miniature city. Can our hero escape and save the day? Who knows... I'm just wondering where the Justice League are whilst all this is happening.
As I may have mentioned before, in other reviews, I'm not the biggest fan of Superman as he comes across as an overpowered boring boy scout. Thankfully this movie does a good job of humanizing the character, making him much more relatable. It seems that it doesn't matter whether you are a regular Joe or a super-powered beefcake, there's no escaping woman troubles. Superman has to act as mentor to his volatile teenage cousin, who is questioning whether she should be emulating the Man of Steel's duty of protecting the human race. Meanwhile, as his bespectacled alter ego Clark Kent, Superman squabbles with co-worker Lois Lane who is exasperated that her partner doesn't want to reveal their relationship to the world (out of fear that it may put her life at risk.)
One of the highlights of this movie has to be that Superman gets to face someone other that the overly used villain Lex Luthor. Much as I enjoy seeing the genius billionaire use his cerebral wits to challenge Superman's brawn, as a change of pace, it is good to have DC's premier hero square off against an opponent he can trade blows with. The battles between the two are satisfying, even if the spectacle is somewhat hampered by an unusual choice of art style. The elongated character designs won't be to everyone's liking, looking especially bad on still pictures you may have spied on promotional material, but thankfully when in motion the visuals don't appear to be as bad.
Audio wise things are much better, which is good news as there is nothing that takes you out of a DC movie more than hearing voice actors who do not meet the standard set by the cast of the old Bruce Timm Justice League cartoons. John Noble's vocals perfectly capture Brainiac's cool and calculated arrogance. In a similar vein, Matt Bomer is excellent as Superman, a character he is familiar with. Bomer has briefly played the hero in a Japanese car advert and was linked with the lead role in the upcoming Man of Steel live action movie, before losing the part to Henry Cavill. In my opinion however, the standout role goes to Stana Katic's Lois Lane. She offers the best rendition of the character that I have heard in quite some time convincingly delivering the sassy reporter's dialogue, injecting the confidence Lois is best known for.
Overall, Superman Unbound ends up being an average DC animated movie. It's not the worst of the line's releases, but neither is it anywhere near the best. It was a shame to see that the good character moments we get treated to early on evaporate by the end when the whole thing degenerates into a slugfest between Superman and Brainiac. The action at times is brutal so I wouldn't recommend the movie to sensitive youngsters. One sequence in particular sees Brainiac's forces attack the Kryptonian city of Kandor, slaughtering a number of innocents in the process. Although not gory, the deaths will make uncomfortable viewing for anyone who is somewhat squeamish.
Speaking of action, I found some of the later fights to be annoyingly inconsistent in terms of the power levels the writers had established earlier. The original robot scout Superman battles, for example, holds his own for a while, but later on Superman effortlessly pummels a legion of identical droids in mere seconds. It's a similar story with Superman's clashes with Brainiac. In their initial encounter it appears that Brainiac is mightier than the caped Kryptonian, but later on it becomes clear that Superman has the advantage when it comes to pure muscle. The writer's try to justify this oversight via Superman taking advantage of a flaw in Brainiac's psyche, but I found it all to be a weak excuse to wrap things up quickly.
Right now Superman Unbound is only available to purchase from the United States. The movie's quality may not warrant the hassle of importing a region one copy, but if you enjoy the DC animated movies it is certainly worth a rental once it comes over to our shores.