The Man of Steel has to face down an old enemy of Krypton, while also navigating more human considerations, in this latest direct-to-video, animated Superman feature.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 15 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 05/07/2013
Adapted from Action Comics’ “Brainiac” story arc published in late-2008, Superman Unbound delves into the Man of Steel’s (voiced by Matt Bomer, White Collar) Kryptonian heritage through a long lost, homeworld cousin otherwise known as Supergirl (voiced by Molly Quinn, Castle), as well as a villain who would feel right at home among the Borg. As it turns out, Brainiac (voiced by John Noble, Fringe), is an old enemy of Krypton, having once captured and assimilated its capital city Kandor on the eve of the planet’s destruction. When one of Brainiac’s robot probes arrives on Earth some 30 years later, Superman handily destroys it, but Supergirl, having seen the abduction of Kandor first hand, knows the probe is just the beginning. Warned of Brainiac’s relentless appetite and near indestructibility, Superman sets out to stop him before he can reach Earth, but with the collective energy and knowledge of thousands of civilizations fueling the creature, Superman will find he must use his wits as well as his strength to defeat it and save the cities once thought lost. Supergirl will also need to overcome her early childhood trauma to finally face her greatest fear head on.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
There’s not much in Superman Unbound’s primary plot that feels especially original. There’s the similarity between Brainiac and the Borg for one, and the way he’s ultimately defeated brings to mind H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (though it is kind of amusing how he’s essentially revealed to be the galaxy’s greatest, OCD germophobe). The reconnection of Superman with the people of Krypton has the potential to be compelling, but the script makes it more about Supergirl’s reuniting with her family than Superman dealing with any unresolved feelings about his birth world. In fact, it’s pretty clear Kal-El views Earth as his true home, and as a result, some of the movie’s more interesting elements center around his time there, namely his romantic relationship with Lois Lane (voiced by Stana Katic, Castle), who is fully aware of his secret identity as Clark Kent. There’s some amusing, early banter between the two about appropriate boundaries for heroic behavior, as well as a related, more complicated issue about the need to keep the Clark Kent-Lois Lane relationship secret. The nice thing about the script is that it ties the conflict with Brainiac into this secondary plot, giving it some satisfying resolution despite the more conventional, action-oriented material.
Voice acting by the cast is consistently first rate, with Bomer and Katic seeming to mesh especially well with their characters. Being a follower of Fringe, I quickly identified Noble’s voice behind the villain, but with the slight filtering effect on his vocals, he too blended well with the animation (and Noble can always be counted on to deliver a commanding performance, no matter the part).
The movie’s angular animation style may not appeal to everyone. Superman in particular seems rather long and lanky, though ultimately the obvious, computer-generated elements in the environment will be the distraction. The hyper-fluid camera movements, perfectly square skyscraper windows, and over-simplistic texturing, just don’t blend that well with the more hand drawn feel of the characters, though the production isn’t necessarily the only one to have this problem.
Correctly framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer features strong black levels, satisfying color depth, and contrast that accurately displays the full range of values. Issues that usually spring up with animated features, however, show up quite readily. The crisp, high contrast edges around all the character animation produces a slight haloing effect, and banding shows up in gradients and some backgrounds. Still, it’s a solid looking transfer, and longtime animation followers shouldn’t be surprised by the appearance of the usual offenders.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp, clear and intelligible. Support for the score in the surround channels is balanced and seamless, as are the occasional atmospheric and directional effects. LFE doesn’t go especially deep, but a handful of scenes offer some solid bottom end and the track sounds consistently full and dynamic.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The extras include a variety of material, from an audio commentary to some documentaries digging into the DC Comics archives. The inclusion of some 90s-era Superman animated episodes is a nice touch, though fans of the TV show likely have them already thanks to the individual season releases. Alternative viewing formats round out the collection.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary with Mike Carlin, Bob Goodman and James Tucker
Kandor: History of the Bottle City (16:54, HD): The DC Comics backstory and history of the shrunken city of Krypton.
Brainiac: Technology and Terror (24:42, HD): The DC Comics backstory and history of the villain Brainiac.
Superman: The Animated Series Episodes:
- “The Last Son of Krypton, Part 1” (21:07, SD)
- “New Kids in Town” (21:22, SD)
- “Little Girl Lost, Part 1” (21:16, SD)
- “Little Girl Lost, Part 2” (21:30, SD)
Digital Comic: Excerpt from Superman: Brainiac by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.
- DC Comics DVD releases (1:15, HD)
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2:28, HD)
- Injustice: Gods Among Us (1:55, HD)
- Pre-Menu: Man of Steel (2:33, HD)
- Pre-Menu: Lego Batman: The Movie (1:52, HD)
Warner Home Video delivers a solid high definition presentation of its latest direct-to-video animated feature starring Superman, though the interesting parts of the story involve the character’s more human interests. The special features offer a nice variety of material, and coupled with the other quality aspects of the release, it makes for a worthwhile product, though not one I would necessarily rush out and buy. Add the title to your wish list and keep an eye out for the inevitable price drop.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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