Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Superman Unbound

I bought Superman:Unbound on May 7th, the day it was released on Blu-Ray. I have watched the movie a couple of times in the interim and have been trying to figure out the best way to review the film.

Based on 'Brainiac', the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank arc from Action Comics #866-870, Superman:Unbound is a difficult movie for me to easily review as I think there are some ups and downs. While I tried to wrap my head around the whole product, the review sort of sat on my 'to do' list, languishing. Anyways, all of this is an early warning that this might be an uneven review, a post where you don't quite know what I thought about the movie. And that isn't far from the truth because there are parts of this movie I love and parts that seem to lackluster. So I will break it down into things that worked, didn't work, and sort of worked.

What Worked:

Supergirl: One of the things this movie captures nicely is the complicated nature of Supergirl's character. On one hand, she is incredibly powerful. She is a force for good. She knows what needs to be done and she does it. On the other hand, she is psychologically scarred by witnessing Brainiac's attack on Kandor. She is feels alone and sort of alien on Earth. And she is still learning to be a hero, how to go about doing that.

Kara felt powerless when Brainiac attacked Krypton and she won't allow others to suffer the way she has. She says outright she doesn't tolerate bullies. So we see her taking down human traffickers, stopping terrorists, we hear her stopping Somali warlords. We see her eventually gather herself to battle Brainiac, her personal boogey man, the thing which frightens her to the core.

And at the same time, we see her scared and shaky. We see her talking to both Superman and Lois, crying or scared, trying to come to grips with the horror in her life. This is a Supergirl who has just arrived on Earth, trying to become used to this world. I didn't mind seeing this more vulnerable part of her character.

Sometimes it surges a bit too much, as she initially wants to leave Earth when Brainiac arrives, or when she becomes semi-catatonic on Brainiac's ship. But each time it does become so apparent, she shakes it off and doles out some Kara-tharsis.

And Supergirl does get to save Earth, like she did in the comic, stopping Brainiac's solar aggressor missile.

Mollie Quinn does a great job voicing Kara, showing a remarkable range in capturing Supergirl's anger, sadness, fear, and love.

As this is a Supergirl blog, I felt she deserved a deeper review, the rest will be briefer I promise.

The Brainiac/Superman similarities: One of the things that is shown over and over in the movie is that Brainiac lives a sort of lie. He captures life, leaves it stagnant in his bottled city, absorbs a finite amount of knowledge but doesn't allow anything new to flow from his captured cities. He leads this very safe and very sterile existence. Brainiac might feel like a god, above everyone ... but he is too far removed. It is this vain attempt to literally bottle life that leads to his downfall.

At the same time, Superman is dealing with his own feelings about keeping those he loves safe from harm. He tries to put Kara on the Kent's Farm, hiding her away. He tries to keep Lois overly safe, asking her to stop putting herself in danger, and hiding their romance from everyone so she can never be harmed by an enemy. He is doing the same thing Brainiac is doing, trying to shove life into a bottle and keep everything locked away. The problem is life becomes stale that way. Lois doesn't want to be shut away. Superman has to learn that he needs to let go a little. And this adventure teaches him that.

It is a nicely nuanced plot line that works very nicely. It is refreshing to see that sort mature juxtaposition done in a 'cartoon' like this.

Lois: She is strong here, standing up to terrorists, Brainiac (giving him a 2-fingered salute), a creepy Steve Lombard, and even Clark when she feels he isn't treating her the way he should be. She simply won't let herself be hidden away, or sheltered, or overly protected by Superman. But she also has this soft side when she befriends Supergirl. And there is a wonderful undercurrent of sarcastic humor in her. It really is a great movie for Lois, showcasing everything that is right about her character. And Stana Katic really does wonderful job voicing her.

The voices and dialogue: John Noble is great as a cold haughty Brainiac. He talks about the overly emotional Kryptonians but there is definitely subtle emotion in his performance, this feeling of superiority that seeps into every word. And Matt Bomer is solid as Superman, strong when he needs to be.

And there is some great dialogue in the movie as well. One exchange I like between Brainiac and Superman has Brainiac calling Superman 'nothing but fists' followed by Superman replying 'when I need to be'. Or when Supergirl talks about 'not liking bullies' and how she won't let 'anyone feel powerless again' or even her 'I'm on it' when she flies off to grab the missile, the dialogue was very good.

What kind of worked:

The Easter Eggs and wow moments: I know they were part of the comic story, but as a long suffering Supergirl fan, I never thought I would see an animated Zor-El and Alura. And we also got to see a young Kara and best friend Thara Ak-Var. Not bad. Also, we got to see a Kara Kent too!

The epilogues: Once the Brainiac threat is over, some of the other plots need are wrapped up.

I loved the ending of Clark on bended knee proposing to Lois. Amazing that this romance keeps popping up in every version of Superman except the actual current comic!

But I didn't like the implied ending that Supergirl will stop being Supergirl and instead live with her parents on a red-sunned New Krypton. It is implied ... but I would like to think this Supergirl would want to continue to use her powers to help other people on Earth, driven to be a hero.

What didn't work:

The defeat of Brainiac: I suppose it goes along with the theme of being unable to remain completely safe, but a big part of Brainiac's defeat is because he is overwhelmed by all of the life around him on Earth. All the things he would need to catalog makes him short circuit allowing Superman to pound him. But you would think that a being who has absorbed thousands of planets of knowledge wouldn't be so easily buried in data.

In the comics, I think it is more that Brainiac is a germaphobe and that helps Superman throttle him.

The time: I felt a bit cheated by the movie being only 75 minutes long. I mean, can't these things be 90 minutes?

The action: Most of the action is scenes of Superman and Supergirl smashing Brainiac drones. While the action is beautifully rendered, this is Kryptonians against helpless robots. There isn't any sense of conflict or danger here. And, to make matters worse, in one scene we are shown the action in slow motion! Pretty to look at, but sort of empty.

In the end I think this a fine movie. It didn't blow me away. But I was entertained.

And I have to applaud the characterization of Supergirl and her portrayal by Molly Quinn.

Overall grade: 3.5/5 stars


Argocub said...

I might check out this movie,However I am not happy that then went the "Smallville way" and said that Kara came from Kandor instead of Argo City. I really wish they would change character origins just to make the movie more interesting.

But I am looking forward to seeing the movie.

Argocub said...

Oops I mean I wish they wouldn't change character origins, I mean

Kent G. Hare said...

Regarding Lois' two-fingered salute to Brainiac - I had just taken a swig of my beer at that point, and thus got to experience the feeling of violent beer backflow into my sinuses! Totally unexpected, but worth it.

Arvin Bautista said...

Good review! I think I felt the same 'ambiguousness' as you when I initially watched it. However, with repeat viewings, I warmed up to it more.

It threw me upon first viewing that it was aimed at an older audience, but I got used to it after awhile. But in my heart I was hoping it'd be a cartoon I'd feel comfortable showing my pre-teen nephews and nieces.

I felt there was a lot of monologuing from Superman and Brainiac, but John Noble saves it with delivery. Stana Katic delivery as lois. I specially liked the scene when (after a quarrel with Lois) Clark told Lois he had to go when the initial Brainiac droid landed. And Lois says "Go" twice. The first and angry tone, the second a frustrated but also a understanding and concerned one.

I think I still enjoyed the original comic book arc more than the movie, but the movie was entertaining overall.

Gene said...

I thought it was entertaining, but it felt more like an extended episode of an animated TV series than a epic movie like the previous DTVs. I'm not saying like that is a bad thing because I thought the characters and story was strong.

"Regarding Lois' two-fingered salute to Brainiac - I had just taken a swig of my beer at that point, and thus got to experience the feeling of violent beer backflow into my sinuses! Totally unexpected, but worth it."

That raised my eyebrows as well. I was surprised they got away with that. I'm sure someone has made that into a GIF already...

One thing they could have done was mention "Supergirl created by..." in the credits because they did so for Ron Troupe, and he only had one line near the end of the movie.


Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments everyone.

I'll have to watch again but I think Zor and Alura are from Argo in the movie and they were just visiting Kandor that day.

I agree that the voice work here is incredibly strong by all the actors.

And the comparison to being like a long TV episode rather than a movie is perfect. That is just what it felt like. And like you, that isn't a bad thing.

Great Supergirl too!

Kent G. Hare said...

I'm pretty sure you're correct, Anj.

Anonymous said...

With regard to Kara's epilogue, I imagine a scene where Kara has become a mother in Kandor and her daughter has found her old Supergirl costume and asks her mother why did she choose to become an ordinary Kryptonian rather than continue a life of adventure like Kal-El.

Gustavo Delamarques said...

where is Argo City in the history? I not like.