The animated feature Superman: Unbound arrives with an edge.
A new Superman will soon arrive on Earth in the form of Henry Cavill via Zack Snyder’s upcoming big-screen reboot Man of Steel, but before he gets here, fans will get a more traditional take on Big Blue — albeit with a bit of an edge — in the animated made-for-Blu-ray/DVD title Superman: Unbound.
Based on a Geoff Johns-written story arc from “Action Comics,” the film chronicles Superman’s (voiced by Matt Bomer of White Collar) first encounter with the android Brainiac (John Noble of Fringe), who is determined to steal the city of Metropolis as a trophy, just as he did with Krypton’s capital, Kandor. Meanwhile, Supes is dealing with his relationship with Lois Lane (Stana Katic of Castle) and his cousin, Supergirl (Molly C. Quinn, also of Castle). “I didn’t want this to be old-fashioned,” explains supervising producer/director James Tucker. “I didn’t want it to feel like a Donner movie, even though I love Donner. That’s the only hope for the character, to push it away from what has come before, or take the same elements and combine them in a different way. The thing that I also liked about this movie is that Clark and Lois are in some sort of living arrangement where he’s spending the night. They’re definitely a couple. I also wanted Superman to be casually badass.”
Tucker points to a sequence in which the Man of Steel takes on an army of steel in the form of Brainiac’s robots, and destroys them in a number of different and slyly humorous ways. “In the old days, when we were doing Superman: The Animated Series, that amount of robots would have given him a much harder time. I do like a stronger Superman and wanted the action to be as kick-ass as possible.”
For writer Bob Goodman, one of the appeals of this project that made it different from, say, the recent two-part animated feature Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (which he also scripted) was the fact that because it was based on a shorter story arc, there was an opportunity to add more original material while remaining faithful to Johns’ story. “The lion’s share of my work,” he says, “was taking what in the comic is a contained, limited story in scope and building it into a full-length movie.”
The other thing he found intriguing was the character of Brainiac. “Geoff created a new Brainiac that we haven’t seen before,” Goodman points out. “In my mind, he’s kind of OCD. He’s the most relatable supervillain to fan geeks all over the world, because he’s a guy who wants to collect all the pieces of his collection in mint condition and keep them in plastic. At the same time, he can’t handle change and isn’t necessarily socially that great. This guy would fit in perfectly on The Big Bang Theory.”
Brainiac was certainly what drew Noble to the project. “Villains never see themselves as villains,” he offers. “They see themselves as quite justified doing what they do. I think it was Mary Shelley who said that everyone responds according to what they think are their best interests, and not because they’re evil. So Brainiac is the ultimate survivor, and I played him that way. He’s obviously an incredibly clever man, but it felt to me that there was also a loneliness in him. Because if you’re alienated or have become so superior to everyone and have most of the physical attributes that we normally get pleasure from in life have been taken away, you’re going to be kind of lonely. I kept referring back to that as a touchstone for myself and tried to put little hints of that into the performance.”
Bomer, who was in the running to play Superman in McG’s big-screen take on the character before it became Bryan Singer’s with Superman Returns, offers, “Brainiac is really a frustrating, incredibly terrifying villain, because he’s a lot of things. He’s humanoid, but also a computer who knows everyone and everything — he knows everybody’s weaknesses and power. He’s incredibly strong and incredibly intelligent. And he has this weapon that allows him to basically capture a city to create this museum for himself. So for Superman, he’s a very tough villain to face, because he has a lot of tools in his arsenal.”
One could say the same thing about the Man of Steel. “I think we all have our own ideas of who Superman is and what he stands for,” Bomer muses. “He’s so iconic; everybody has that singular vision, so I worked on representing vocally what he stands for — truth and justice, doing the right thing, his courage, and his nobility. And I also tried to bring a little charm and fun to Clark and not just the same bumbling clumsiness. I wanted him to have fun with Lois and some sparks in that relationship. I also tried to give Superman a little humor — to let him enjoy the battle a bit. I didn’t want him to just be the rigid guy who has to do the right thing, but to have a little fun along the way.”
Ace reporter Lois Lane finally gets Supes the way she wants him.
“What I thought was interesting about this particular piece is that the love story between Lois and Superman is a very modern-day kind of love story between a man and a woman,” says Stana Katic, who voices the role of Lois Lane in Superman Unbound. “They care for each other, but he allows her this space to be herself — he allows her room to dance and he enjoys the dancer dancing. So at the beginning of the story, he’s so protective of her and trying to create a safe space for her, but at the same time he’s suffocating her. And as the story progresses, he opens up to the possibilities of her being an independent, fearless character, and that maybe they will put each other at risk by revealing their relationship publicly, but he’s willing to let her have that independent spirit and to still be there just in case. To know that if things get crazy, she can handle it, or they can help each other.”