Generally, the DC Universe animated adaptations are strong except one little thing: they tend to be hyper-compressed, losing detail in the hopes of squeezing a story into 70 minutes. But for the second time in the recent past (the first being Superman vs. The Elite), one of them suffers from the oppsite problem: Superman: Unbound takes a shorter comics story and tries to pad it out to a feature film, with the result being a movie that plods along even though its action sequences and performances are great. The film, out on Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand and For Download via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on May 7, 2013, is based on Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Brainiac story--the first of two consecutive DC Universe animated films set to be based on DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Johns's recent output. Somehow, despite a pair of Green Lantern movies made during his long and beloved run on the book, Johns had managed to mostly avoid having his work directly adapted before, but the chickens have come home to roost and if these are successful it's hard to picture Warner not asking him to take a more active role in developing film properties.
There are a few niggling details about the film that doin't particularly work: First of all, the Young Justice-style artwork that's become the norm at DC Animation, wherein the figures are all slender and angular, is almost the antithesis of Gary Frank's style from the comics, which presents characters very much in a way that they might look in life. He draws a bit of heat, actually, for how much his Superman looks like Christopher Reeve and while it would have been difficult to get away with that on film, it might have been worth going for a less stylized animation style in Superman: Unbound. The other thing is Supergirl: How many of these animated features has she appeared in, and yet every time she's just landed and is having trouble adjusting? Yes, characters develop slowly and that's a part of Supergirl's character that resonates with fans...but it would be nice to see her used another way and, in this film especially, there was plenty of opportunity to explore other elements of her personality. That said, the cast was stellar. Packed with recognizable names, it seems clear that Superman: Unbound is meant to catch as much attention as it can, coming only about a month before Man of Steel and at a time when the promotional campaign for that film is shifting into very high gear. Warner had better hope that Henry Cavill is as good as everyone says he is, actually, because Matt Bomer nails the vocal performance and there was already a sizable chunk of the audience who thought he was a good chance for Superman going in. The dynamic between Superman and Lois is the best thing in this movie--they nail it totally. While not taken directly from the comics--partially because it would be nearly impossible to do a married Lois and Clark and not address how and when they got that way--they do well with it and the "I'm worried about you" "Don't be--I'm worried about you" comes through here in a way that I can't remember having seen effectively done in a superhero movie before. The presence of Man of Steel makes the choice of storylines a bit vexing, actually; there are design similarities between Brainiac's ship in Superman: Unbound and what we've seen of Zod's in Man of Steel, but unless we're missing some key information on the theatrical release, they aren't meant to be the same craft. Creating a little brand confusion doesn't seem to be a serious risk, but one does have to wonder why they went for a grimmer story and a darker palette than the comic book source material, when instead they could have just chosen to adapt something a little more in keeping with the tone of the film. On the other hand, we learned from the Green Lantern: First Flight movie that fans will react with skepticism if you release a "Year One" or origin story as an animated DVD at the same time that the studio is doing it on the big screen. Something like Superman: Birthright would seem like a better fit for the look of this movie (actually, a really good fit...!), but the obvious similarities between that story and Man of Steel would draw some jeers from fans who would likely think it wasn't the best story to adapt at the time, just the one that seemed most likely to serve as a lead-in to the big show.