It's a typical day in for ace reporter Lois Lane (voiced by Stana Katic) as she offers herself as a hostage and is caught in an aerial confrontation between terrorists and the unpredictable Supergirl (Molly Quinn) until Superman (Matt Bomer) arrives to save the day. Whilst the Man of Steel handles this dangerous situation easily enough, his alter-ego Clark Kent cannot cope with Lois insisting they make their relationship public. He fears the consequences if they do. When a robot crashes to Earth, Superman subdues then examines what he eventually learns from Supergirl is a drone controlled by the evil alien Brainiac (John Noble). A still-traumatized Supergirl reveals it was Brainiac that seized and miniaturized Krypton's capital city of Kandor. Now the Kryptonian cousins believe the malevolent alien intends to do the same to their new home, Metropolis.
Adapted from Geoff Johns' comic book story "Superman: Brainiac", Superman: Unbound is an especially bombastic instalment in DC's ongoing series of animated movies. With a crash-bang-wallop third act remarkably similar to the apocalyptic denouement Zack Snyder concocted for Man of Steel (2013), coincidentally released that same year. However the animated film bests its live action counterpart, being more coherent and less callous, never losing sight of the human drama as the Daily Planet staff hold their own against Brainiac's robot army. Plus any Superman story that provides an equal showcase for his peppy and dynamic cousin Kara Zor-El a.k.a. Supergirl, especially when sporting her scorching Michael Turner redesign, is an instant upgrade.
While leaving room for some levity, Superman Unbound spins a pleasingly serious story. Like much of Johns' work it both respects DC's rich legacy but also revitalizes it with a contemporary edge, using big sci-fi ideas and breakneck action set-pieces to explore solid themes. In this instance trauma and the contrasting ways in which people cope with anxiety. The plot draws a neat link between Clark Kent's fear for Lois' safety should their relationship progress to the next level, Kara's fiery crusade against earthbound evildoers as a means to avoid dealing with her traumatic past and even Brainiac's own secret psychological motives. It ultimately confronts each of the characters with the question of whether it is better to hide in safety or take a risk and live out in the open.
Bob Goodman's screenplay presents Lois and Clark as real couple, still sorting out the finer points of their relationship in a relatable way. Indeed the interplay between multiple iconic characters is well handled (leading to such unexpectedly moving scenes as Lois comforting a grief-stricken Kara) alongside snappy dialogue and tight pacing. On top of that the animation, with its dynamic fluidity, pulls off some dizzying action sequences. Supervised by the ever-reliable Andrea Romano the voice cast were culled largely from television shows popular at the time. We have Stana Katic and Molly Quinn from Castle, John Noble from cult sci-fi show Fringe and Matt Bomer from White Collar, plus a small role for occasional Batman voice actor Diedrich Bader. Bomer is solid in the role but the script's characterization of Superman is overly solemn and angsty, somewhat in the Man of Steel mold. Nevertheless Superman: Unbound scores extra points for one hilarious moment wherein a gigantic Brainiac peers down contemptuously at a miniaturized Metropolis only for a tiny Lois Lane to flip him off. Stay classy, Lois.