A Bottle Episode

Superman: Unbound

When it comes to SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s., DC's biggest bright and shiny hero has three truly great antagonists. Lex Luthor is to the Man of Steel what JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled. is to BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen.: his antithesis, the very flip side of his whole being. Then there's Doomsday, the monster famously created (by writers) as the beast to kill Superman. He's become prominent because he was the only one that could do the deed, and that kicked off a whole new era for the Man of Steel.

And then there's Brainiac. He was developed as another kind of mirror for Superman. While the Man of Steel worked to protect life, to save lives, Brainiac prized only their knowledge. He would come to worlds, leech their knowledge, steal cities (by shrinking them and bottling them) and keep them trapped in time, preserving their knowledge without ever letting them grow further. Then he'd destroy the planets so that the sum of all their knowledge was capped, finite and complete and under the control of Brainiac. The deaths he caused meant nothing to him, nor the suffering. He didn't care about experience, life or love, just knowledge as a finite resource.

Over time the story of Brainiac and Superman became inextricably tied. His ship visited Krypton before the planet exploded, taking the bottled city of Kandor with him but, at least in some tellings, not bothering to destroy the planet when its sun was already set to explode soon on its own. Why waste the resources? Some small slice of Kryptonian civilization was preserved, yet, but they were also imprisoned and unable to escape. At least, not unto Superman came along. And that set villain and hero on a collision course, battling against each other, time and again, for the fate of the many populated planets in the galaxy.

In Superman: Unbound (a terrible name that hardly relates to anything on screen at all), Superman (Matt Bomer), and Supergirl (Molly Quinn), have to deal with an alien invasion when an alien probe comes to Earth, sent by Brainiac (John Noble). Based on the "Superman: Brainiac" arc published in Action Comics, the story is a new origin for the conflict between Superman and the all-powerful, knowledge-hording alien menace. Oddly, it also kind of works as an (unofficial) sequel to Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, it being the next time SupergirlIntroduced in 1959 as a female counterpart for Superman, the Last Daughter of Krypton would go onto have a long career in the DC Universe, thriving, dying, coming back, all the eventually become an even more powerful superhero than even her famous cousin. showed up in an animated format after that crossover film.

When that probe comes to Earth, it prompts Superman to fly off into space, tracing the signal from the probe-bot back to its source. The Man of Steel leaves his cousin, Kara, in charge of the planet, but the one place she refuses to go is Metropolis; she protects the rest of the world but avoids its bright, shining city. Why? Because it's the kind of place Brainiac would bottle and take with him. Kara was there, on Krypton, when the alien and his bots came to her home world. She saw her city get taken away, losing her friends and family in the process. She can't go through that again, not if Brainiac came for Earth, too.

And he does, as Superman's own actions attract the attention of the knowledge-collector. Superman tries to save a planet that Brainiac attacks, only for all his actions to amount to nothing. Brainiac steals a city, sets their sun to explode, and destroys the solar system. He collects Superman as well, and puts the Kryponian in the bottled city of Kandor. But while Kal-El is happy to meet and see his own people, he also has to find a way to stop Brainiac. He had to fight his way out and get to Earth so that he, and Kara, can fight to stop the alien and save their adopted home before it, too, becomes a bunch of irradiated space rocks.

When it comes to villains, I am happy to see the film tackle someone other than Lex or Doomsday. Sure, Darkseid is another great villain in the DC Universe, but not only did we see him over in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, but he's also a threat much greater than Superman. He's a Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold).-level event. Brainiac, though, is a threat perfectly tuned for Superman. You can get the meeting of their minds, the battle back and forth between their strengths and ideologies. You never agree with Brainiac, he's not that kind of villain, but he does help bring new facets to the Man of Steel. He's a villain that works in the right contexts and can really seem like a threat in a way that's different from Lex or Doomsday or Darkseid.

With that said, this film really does struggle to sell the true threat of Brainiac. His actions are monstrous, to be sure, but the film doesn't really manage to show how he's so much more powerful than Superman, how he could somehow really succeed in defeating the Man of Steel or destroying the Earth. It tries, to be sure, but the problems all amount to bad writing and bas story setup. It's the script that's weak, trying to do too much, too quickly, and that cuts all the tension out of the film in the process.

For starters, this is a story that easily could have spanned two films. The first would be the arrival of a Brainiac probe. Superman battles it, then, in defeating the probe, it reveals where it came from and who was controlling it. Superman could study the tech, pinpoint its source, and then venture out. A battle at the alien world could lead to a solid action sequence with Superman seemingly saving the aliens... only for it all to come crumbling apart. His defeat, and eventual capture at the hands of Brainiac could be the end of part one, then leading to part two when Brainiac comes for Earth and the heroes (just Supergirl, or many others) band together while Superman has to fight his way out of Brainiac's trap from the inside. That's a solid, long, two-part story that gives all the elements time to breathe.

Instead, though, the film forces all its elements into a 75 minute story that feels overstuffed and under baked. We have Superman and Lois (Stana Katic) fighting about taking their romance public (the same plot line, I'll note, we also had over in Superman: Doomsday). We have the introduction of Kara again (after she showed up in the Superman/Batman sequel). We have Brainiac, his carnage, his arrival on Earth. We have the introduction of Kandor, the reveal of Kara's parents. Any two of these elements could have been the makings for their own major story. All of them in a film that doesn't even reach theatrical length, though, feels like too much with too little time to enjoy it.

Taking, as just one example, the love story between Clark and Lois, we never really get a sense for why these two are together. The film shorthands it, expecting that we know Clark and Lois get together, so why shouldn't they be here? Except they have almost no screen time together and the few times they are around each other they fight over a relationship we're told about but never actually see in action. The film does this a lot, telling us things are happening but rarely letting us see it properly so that we can feel the emotion behind it. There's not time for that, not in 75 minutes.

It hurts the film even while the cast is trying their level best to sell the material. Bomer is a great voice actor, and a DC standby who has played a number of characters over the years in various media. He's been Superman here, the Flash in the DC TomorrowverseA fresh start for DC's direct-to-video animated films, this is the successor universe to the DC Animated Movie Universe, promising bright new stories for DC's classic stable of heroes., and Negative Man in Doom Patrol, and he's always consistent and solid. Stana Katic is another DC regular, voicing not just Lois here but also Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever. in the Tomorrowverse and Talia al Ghul in Batman: Arkham City. And John Noble is one of the great voice performers with a deep, rumbling range that really nails every villainous role he takes on.

So why waste them in this terrible film? This film has a great villain with a great idea, but no time to explore it or its characters. I really wish this film could have been longer (even the two-part film I think that would have done it justice) just so all of its ambitions could have been achieved. Instead we get a flat, simple, rushed production that does no one any favors. It's a weak film that deserved so much better, just like the villain at its core.