Superhero Sundays: Superman: Unbound (2013)
Matthew Turner | On 28, Mar 2021
Director: James Tucker
Cast: Matt Bomer, Stana Katic, John Noble, Molly Quinn, Frances Conroy, Stephen Root, Diedrich Bader, Alexandra Gould
Where to watch Superman: Unbound online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Adapted from Superman: Brainiac (a 2008 comic book arc by Geoff Johns), Superman: Unbound is the 16th film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. Produced in 2013, it can be interpreted as a de facto sequel to 2010’s Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, due to the fact that Supergirl has only recently arrived on Earth.
Directed by James Tucker and scripted by Bob Goodman, the story sees Superman / Clark Kent (Matt Bomer) and a newly arrived Supergirl / Kara Zor-El (Molly Quinn) facing off against the alien cyborg Brainiac (John Noble), who destroys civilisations after absorbing their knowledge. However, there’s a personal connection because, as a terrified Supergirl explains to Superman, Brainiac previously attacked Krypton, stealing and bottling her home city of Kandor in the process.
The animation is striking and distinctive, immediately setting it apart from the familiar DC animation style, with its own set of character designs (Lois, for example, has short hair, while Superman’s face is much longer and thinner than we’re used to seeing). On top of that, the film makes strong use of colour, not just Brainiac’s vibrant alien green but also the depiction of Kandor and its purple trees.
One of the age-old problems with Superman as a character is that he’s simply too powerful, so he needs an equally powerful adversary, or at least one that will allow him to use the full extent of his powers. Superman: Unbound cleverly gets round that problem by having him and Supergirl fight off a bunch of Brainiac’s drones (basically robots), resulting in some quite spectacular robo-violence, eg. Superman ripping out robot spines, or Supergirl slicing them in half with her laser vision. Whether deliberate or not, the robot fight scenes recall the 1940s Dave Fleischer cartoons, delivering a pleasing hit of nostalgia for old-school Superman cartoon fans.
As well as delivering mightily on the action front, the film also includes some great little character moments. One particular highlight has Supergirl casually punching a helicopter in mid-flight to take down a group of terrorists, while Superman opts for the slightly less violent approach of simply tipping a helicopter sideways so the terrorist falls out. There’s also a delightfully GIF-worthy exchange between Lois and Brainiac that single-handedly makes the film worth seeing.
If there’s a problem with the film, it’s only that the voice work isn’t quite as strong as it could have been, marking an unusual misstep for voice director par excellence Andrea Romano. The support cast are great – Katic makes a great Lois, while Noble is a smart choice for Brainiac – but Bomer never sounds quite right as Superman (and isn’t a patch on Superman regular Tim Daly) and Molly Quinn is similarly disappointing as Supergirl, especially compared to regular Supergirl voice Nicholle Tom.
On the plus side, the dialogue is a lot of fun, containing lines such as “Kryptonian trash, you have already failed!” that are original to the film as well as little digs at Superman, such as “Most powerful man in the universe and still can’t control the women in his life”. The script also has a good handle on the emotional content, deepening the connection between Superman and Supergirl and perfectly capturing the playfulness of the Clark and Lois relationship.
Elsewhere, the script is extremely faithful to the source material – and, in fact, largely improves upon it – smoothing out the storytelling and making some interesting changes. For example, the comics version and the movie version both end with a key event in Superman’s life, but the movie replaces the comic’s tragic ending with a happy one.
In short, this is an entertaining and beautifully animated Superman adventure that stands as one of the better DC comics adaptations, delivering action, humour and emotion in pleasing quantities. There’s also a mid-credits sting, if you like that sort of thing.
Superman: Unbound is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.