“Superman Unbound”: A Classic Super-Tale

Last week, I wrote about Iron Man 3, a superhero film which I thought was absolutely fantastic.  There’s another film coming up in June, Man of Steel, featuring a new version of Superman which I am gung-ho about seeing.  I’ve seen the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve in the title role, and if the new guy can perform as well as Reeve did, I think we might have a new hit franchise on our hands.  I sure hope this film is as good as Superman Unbound, a direct to video animated movie I purchased last week which I feel presented a great classic Superman story with a few new wrinkles tossed in to keep the character attuned to modern sensibilities.  It feels to me like the original superhero is making a big comeback, and this animated film certainly does seem big in my view, even if it is a bit on the short side (about seventy-five minutes to be precise).

Superman Unbound is a loose adaptation of a recent storyline from the Superman comics, but you don’t have to read the original story to understand what is going on; I didn’t even know it was based on a comic before I started watching, but now that I have, I think I’ll check out the comic version to see what’s different between both versions.  The basic story is a retelling of Superman’s first encounter with the evil alien android Brainiac.  It also concerns the “Man of Tomorrow” having to deal with two very important women in his life, one being well-known reporter Lois Lane and the other being his cousin from Krypton, Kara Zor-El, better known as Supergirl.  It’s a simple tale with fewer elements to it than Iron Man 3‘s story has, but it still delivers a big message in the end, is generally a great story, and finds a nearly perfect balance between serious and campy.

I was fascinated by the way the film’s producers took classic elements from past Superman stories and gave them slight tweaks to give them interesting updates.  For instance, the film’s version of Brainiac takes some cues from his classic appearance from the 1950s and ’60s with green skin and purple armor, but also has beefy-looking muscles popping out everywhere on his body, making him look, I feel, like a crazed space-faring bodybuilder, definitely the type of great menace I’d like to see Superman going up against.  Lois Lane has gone through some changes, too: she is not a “damsel in distress” but rather a self-confident, defiant person who is just as strong emotionally as Clark Kent’s super alter ego is physically.  Speaking of Clark Kent, he and Lois are actually dating at the beginning of this movie.  This stuck out to me immediately because I do not recall ever having seen Lois and Clark dating very often before, not even in the comics; they have had their fair share of candlelight dinners in the past, but I usually see a relationship at the beginning of a comic or movie where they are  just getting to know each other or at the end after they have gotten married.  The “in between” phase shown in this movie adds many interesting new dimensions to their relationship I would like to see more of in other Superman depictions.

Another classic element which plays a big role in Superman Unbound is the bottle city of Kandor, Krypton’s capital city in a bottle which was shrunk down by Brainiac and placed in a bottle on his ship before the planet exploded.  I thought it was a somewhat laughable concept in the comic books, but it is treated respectably in the movie.  At times, it even becomes a metaphor for how Superman treats Lois and Supergirl, keeping both of them in figurative “bottles” of his protection, even though they repeatedly prove they are capable of fending for themselves.  I thought this was an unorthodox parallel to draw; it didn’t actually come to me until after I heard the filmmakers talking about it on the movie’s audio commentary.  Once I started thinking about Lois and Supergirl’s situations in this way, though, I was glad they made the extra effort to utilize Kandor in a way beyond just being a weird sci-fi prop.  Incidentally, considering all of the “bottled up” stuff in this movie, I think it could have been called Superman Uncorked or UnbottledUnbound just sounds too generic to me.

Superman Unbound tells a fine tale of classically defined super-heroics and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  If you can’t make it out to the theaters to see Man of Steel or any other movies this summer, I’d highly recommend giving this one a try.  You can find Unbound on DVD and Blu-Ray for a pretty inexpensive price; I went for the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack for the ability to watch the movie two different ways. Both formats offer extra features including mini-documentaries on the history of Brainiac and Kandor which I feel are worth a look if you’re curious about seeing how those evolved through comics and TV appearances leading up to the Unbound movie.

Between this post and the Iron Man entry, I’ve definitely got superheroes on the brain!  Do you have any favorite superheroes?  Why do you like them?  Would you be interested in seeing them take part in new adventures?  Leave your super-thoughts in the comments below.  Up, up, and away!

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