Superman: Unbound (Review)

It's Superman vs. Brainiac in Superman: Unbound, the latest offering from DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation. Based on the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank comics, with Matt Bomer as Superman!

Since the first Superman film, fans have been clamoring for the Man of Steel to face Brainiac. With the announcement of General Zod as the villain for Man of Steel, a few fans cried foul that Zod was getting his second film appearance while Brainiac has only been a pipe dream. With Superman: Unbound, fans finally get to see a Superman versus Brainiac feature, and as a classic clash of might versus mind, it doesn’t disappoint.The Geoff Johns/Gary Frank story that Superman: Unbound is based on (which you can read about right here) concluded with Superman standing victorious over Brainiac, who, in a final act of vengeance, horrifically kills Jonathan Kent, changing the course of Superman until the 2011 reboot. Superman: Unbound chooses to go in a different direction, and instead of the battle ending in a life-altering tragedy, it ends with a life-altering triumph, one that seems a bit out of place in such a cosmic epic.While Martha Kent plays a minor role in this film as Supergirl’s mentor and confidant, savvy readers will understand that Pa is going to be just fine. In fact, he isn’t even going to participate in the story. Jonathan Kent gets one scene, as he blissfully snores on the couch while Kara and Martha discuss Kara’s place in the world. This is a cute little nod to what isn’t going to happen and, taking the tragedy of Pa’s death out of the story leaves Superman: Unbound in a very different place than Superman: Brainiac. Overall, it works, while the film catches the intensity of the Johns/Frank comic, there are some moments that keep the film from being an instant classic.Let’s take a look at what works first: Voiced by the great John Noble, this IS the Brainiac fans have been demanding. Cold, calculating, arrogant, and genocidal with a deep connection to Krypton’s past. All the expected Brainiac story beats are here: shrink rays, murderous robots, and the bottle city of Kandor. Brainiac provides a unique threat to Superman and Metropolis. He is presented as an anti-Superman, a being of massive power fueled by the intellect of the thousands of worlds he has destroyed and absorbed. He is a visitor from the stars that has no purpose other than to enslave and destroy anything he deems inferior. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank re-invented Brainiac as a terrifyingly modern menace and this film captures him perfectly. The film does not shy away from violence, as Brainiac’s robots cut a juicy swathe though Metropolis, and even Superman sheds some blood. It is the hard-hitting confrontation fans have been waiting for.It can be argued that Superman: Unbound is a Supergirl story. She is an angry Supergirl; one newly arrived on Earth who is getting used to her role as protector. Supergirl remembers when Brainiac took Kandor, and she barely escaped with her life. She has a kind of PTSD reaction to Brainiac’s arrival, but inspired by her cousin, she is instrumental in stopping the murderous machine. Through Supergirl, the audience understands how horrible the menace of Brainiac is. The film also gives the viewer a sense of Supergirl’s past as she reunites with her parents, Zor-El and Alura, in Kandor. Fans of the Silver Age will be delighted by the Kandor sequences.Speaking of delight, seeing the complete Daily Planet bullpen in animated form is beyond words. They are all present and accounted for: Lois, Jimmy, Cat, Perry, Ron Troupe, and Steve Lombard in their usual roles. Jimmy’s reaction to meeting Supergirl is hilarious as are the antics of Lombard, an often underused and overlooked part of Superman’s mythos.Sadly, the part of this film that doesn’t work is part of the same Daily Planet staff. In lieu of focusing on the tragedy and loss like the original graphic novel, Superman: Unbound focuses on the growing relationship between Clark and Lois. The film is loaded with unneeded scenes of relationship angst between the two as Lois wants to bring their relationship to the next logical place. Clark is afraid of endangering Lois which leads to tense bickering until Superman must fly off to confront Brainiac. There is enough here with the character development of Supergirl, the return of Kandor and Supergirl’s parents, and Superman’s brave struggle to save his adopted world that the melodrama between Clark and Lois seems shoehorned in.While the comic climaxed with the death of Jonathan Kent, the movie ends with Clark proposing to Lois, a pivotal moment that was kind of cool seeing in animated form, but an unnecessary moment for a one-off film. It is understandable why they went for a feel good ending, but it seems kind of empty if no one gets to see a married Lois and Clark. There is room out there for a Lois and Clark film: after all, Lois is one of the richest and most beloved characters in the DC Universe, but there was so much going on in Superman: Unbound that the relationship stuff got lost.Unneeded relationship pathos aside, this is a great addition to the DC animated library. Really any chance to see a Geoff Johns story come to life is welcome. Superman: Unbound is the perfect way to spend ninety minutes as we breathlessly await Man of Steel.  Directed by James TuckerWritten by Bob GoodmanBased on the Graphic Novel Superman: Brainiac by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank


3.5 out of 5