Yup, the powers that be at Warner Brothers and DC are definitely breathing easier after Man Of Steel‘s runaway box office success, and one reason — among many — is because they’d sunk a lot of pre-release promotional muscle into it, from commercial tie-ins with everything from Norton anti-virus software (“be a hero by protecting your computer from the latest threats we probably invented right here in our office to give you a reason to need our product!”) to the National Guard (“be a hero by risking your ass in a war even its one-time supporters want over with!”), to “cross-pollinated” product like the new Superman Unchained monthly comic and the drearily-similarly-titled Superman : Unbound DC Universe direct-to-video animated feature, most copies of which were probably destined to end up in remainder bins both physical and electronic if Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan didn’t hit paydirt with their new celluloid take on Krypton’s last son.
And honestly, that’s probably where this thing belongs, because of all the “DCU” animated product — and this flick is, well and truly, product — that’s come out in the last X-number of years, this is probably the most lifeless, by-the-numbers affair of the bunch. The basics : Superman and yet another new-ish version of Supergirl fight a re-tooled iteration of Brainiac and in the end, they win.
Really. there’s not much more you need to know here. From what i’ve been able to glean from the slim perusals I’ve made in regards to this flick online, fans of the original comic (which I’ve never read) on which it’s based, by popular artist and writer Gary Frank, are pretty disappointed by this one because it essentially bears no resemblance to what transpires on the printed page, but I’ll tell ya what — it sure bears a mighty strong resemblance to any of the literally hundreds of unmemorable, third-tier Superman/Brainiac showdowns that weighed down the various Superman monthlies in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and probably well into the aughts. Once in a great while something slightly different or interesting might come along and throw a wrinkle in things, but by and large these were all pre-determined battles with pre-determined story “beats,” pre-determined characterization, and pre-determined outcomes. I’m not saying your average Superman writer or artist didn’t try to deliver solid work in these issues, just that the whole set-up was so formulaic that it literally didn’t matter how much effort went into many of these rags. Nothing was gonna make any difference.
Granted, this story features a much visually cooler version of the “Big B” than we’ve seen in the past, but by and large that’s pretty emblematic of Superman : Unbound (don’t ask me where the colon in the title comes from since it’s nowhere to be found on the packaging, but pretty much every reference to this movie you’ll find online, and even its official IMDB entry itself, includes it, so we’ll play along) as a whole — all style ( and angular style at that) and no substance. Shit just kinda happens until the end credits roll.
As tends to be the standard M.O. with these things, director James Tucker at least has a flair for competently-staged animated battle sequences, and those are kinda neat, but you really do have to give a shit about the story in general to derive much excitement or suspense from those, and that’s a pretty tall order when your script is this rote and lifeless. The members of the voice cast acquit themselves okay — Matt Bomer is perfectly sufficient, if unspectacular, as both Superman and Clark Kent, Castle stars Molly C. Quinn and Stana Katic do what they can with poorly-written takes on Supergirl and Lois Lane, respectively (Clark and Lois are bicker-buddies in this one and that’s about it), and John Noble by and large nails it as Brainiac, but still — there’s just not much here for even the most talented performers to test out their vocal chops on.
I guess all parties involved can lay claim to some small measure of “success” here given that I stayed awake until the end when that had been looking like an iffy proposition at best for awhile, but I ‘d be lying through my teeth if I said I was ever actually interested in the events playing out on my screen. I just kinda put up with it and kept hoping for a turn for the better that never came.
But hey, if you want to ignore me, it’s easy enough to grab Superman : Unchained on either DVD or Blu-Ray from Warner Premier. I got the DVD from Netflix, so I can’t speak to any particular technical specs or extras as far as the Blu-Ray is concerned, but as you’d expect for a brand new release on DVD, the widescreen picture and 5.1 sound were both absolutely pristine, and, as is the case with this line in general, there were no legit “bonus” features of any sort included apart from the usual promo stuff for already-released and forthcoming DCU titles. “Nothing special” seems to be a running theme with Superman : Unbound.
I guess the best I can say for this at the end of the day is that, hey, it is what it is — but what it is ain’t all that great. Honestly, you’ve got better things to do with your time. At least I hope you do.