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How do "Superman Unbound" and "Iron Man 3" ultimately measure up as movies? Noe knows

How do "Superman Unbound" and "Iron Man 3" ultimately measure up as movies? Noe knows

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The most recent DC Universe Animated Original movie, "Superman Unbound" , is not the best release by Warner Bros. Animation. The production quality is up to par with previous releases. "Unbound" has solid animation, memorable action sequences and a good story. However the film was lacking.

Superman Unbound title card
Copyright 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

The movie was based on the story arc "Superman: Braniac " which was an attempt to understand the classic villain and his motivation. For those unfamiliar with the character Braniac was a highly intelligent alien that became an artificial life form in later incarnations of the series. The supercomputer in a humanoid frame would collect data on alien civilizations before destroying the planet. A version of this story was included in the film.

The plot in "Unbound" revolved around the city of Kandor which Braniac had taken, miniaturized and placed in a specimen jar before the destruction of Krypton. Supergirl was one of the survivors from Kandor and had gone to Earth to join her cousin and try to start a new life. When Braniac sent a probe to Earth Superman decided he would have to intercept the alien and prevent the destruction of planet. Supergirl had to deal with the fear that Braniac had instilled in her during his attack on Krypton.

Superman comforts Supergirl
Copyright Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

The voice acting was well done but the story seemed thin. On paper the Geoff Johns story worked because the issues allowed all of the major characters to develop over several issues. The same intimacy was lost in 75 minutes of film. For example the portions where the sexuality of Clark Kent was questioned came off more like in-jokes rather than a real challenge to the relationship between Lois Lane and Kent. The art in the comics by Gary Frank had a more grounded, almost classic Joe Kubert aesthetic. Director / Producer James Tucker steered wide of the comic art and stuck with character designs that looked more animé influenced with the exception of Supergirl who appeared based on the Michael Turner designs. The art style and story never quite complimented each other.

Comic book fans, even those that did not read the original series could see where the story was going well ahead of time. It was simply too predictable. The film did earn a PG-13 rating for violence rather than language. Most of the killing was done off screen and the most brutal shot actually happened in the first few seconds of the film over the credits. During the transformation of Braniac from biological to synthetic components his eye got pulled right out of the socket. It was a gross visual and easily the goriest part of the film.

Brainiac gets transformed from biological to synthetic
Copyright Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

"Superman Unbound" did not do a good job at making the characters sympathetic or even relevant. This is bad timing with the live-action Superman feature right around the corner. There was little to make the film as memorable as earlier DC Universe Animated releases. I would advise comic and non-comic fans to skip this release.

"Iron Man 3" is earning the Disney / Marvel empire an outrageous amount of money, over $1 billion so far. If receipts could be equated to the quality of a film then this would probably be the Citizen Kane of comic book features. Unfortunately the Shane Black authored and directed feature was easily the worst film in the trilogy. The name and momentum of "Marvel's the Avengers " must have had a hand in the successful release. Iron Man 3 pulled so far away from the source material that I have to wonder if producer Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. were not trying to remake the canon in their own image.

Tony Stark in Iron Man 3
 Copyright Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

The film was a nonsensical mess of special effects, easily identified enemies and "twists" which were more absurd than unexpected. In the comics the Mandarin was the long-time enemy of Iron Man. The character was unique in that he had rings that contained magical properties. The master of technology was rivaled by a master of the supernatural. This made for a memorable conflict in the comic books. In the film the Mandarin did not have supernatural powers. He was nonetheless portrayed as a cold and methodical terrorist leader by Sir Ben Kingsley. It appeared that Tony Stark and his mechanized alter ego finally had a true rival in the franchise. That was until after the second act when (SPOILERS AHEAD) it turned out that the Mandarin was actually Russell Brand in disguise and completely destroyed the believability of the villain.

The Mandarin was a throw-away character, the film actually revolved around scientist Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, and a drug named Extremis that turned former soldiers into super beings. The soldiers healed from wounds almost instantly, could regrow limbs and generate tremendous heat. The soldiers were used to create fear and instability in the life of Stark and the nation. Don Cheadle returned as the War Machine, now rebranded as the Iron Patriot. He had a bit more movie time and had a brief chance to shine as a hero. Killian targeted the vulnerabilities of Stark by using Pepper Potts, again played by Gwyneth Paltrow, to his advantage.


Copyright Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

The film had some great effects moments but the story was flat and character development nonexistent. The anxiety that Stark was suffering from after New York seemed tacked on. The use of Christmas to ramp up the tension seemed tacked on. The amazing fire-breathing powers that Killian exploited seemed tacked on. His "dragon breath" and dragon tattoos were a nod to another major rival of Iron Man, the ancient dragon named Fing Fang Foom. Apparently audiences would have tuned out if Stark had to fight a talking dragon in the film so Killian was inserted with awesome abilities.

"Iron Man 3" demonstrated the error that the super hero franchises, specifically the Marvel ones, have suffered from over the past five years. The villains posed no real threat to the main characters or the universe they resided in. They certainly roughed up the protagonists but never managed to humble them. The villains lacked real dramatic tension. Almost every villain introduced in the Iron Man series had been killed off, leaving Stark without a worthy rival. Long time villains the Iron Monger and Whiplash were killed off in "Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2 " respectively. The Mandarin was reduced to a punchline in the final film in the series.


Copyright Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

If Marvel could learn one thing from perennial rival DC it would have to be the way in which movie villains were treated.  In feature films most audiences expected the main villain to die. Batman director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer did not create throw-away characters for the series. Henri Ducard aka Ra's al Ghul was  immortal in the comics. Demonstrating that in a film heavily rooted in reality posed a challenge to the team. To solve this they killed the character off screen when his elevated train derailed. The director never showed the body. This allowed audiences to guess that he might have escaped the explosion through some miracle rather than a tacked on super power. His brief return for the third film delighted audiences without explaining if he was a hallucination or indeed back from the dead. Even Thomas Crane, the Scarecrow from the first film, managed to appear in each sequel.

Goyer and Nolan understood that he was a major character in the DC universe and should not be killed off so easily. If not for the accidental death of Heath Ledger chances are the Joker would have returned as well. The Mandarin should have been extended the same courtesy as Ra's al Ghul. He was a powerful warlord in the comics and the longest-serving rival to Iron Man. His armies could have posed a threat to SHIELD and the Avengers. By diminishing his presence Marvel let down the franchise. The studio relied on old habits when audiences were desperate for something new.


Copyright Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

The Red Skull was killed off in "Captain America ." The Abomination was subdued in "The Incredible Hulk ." Loki was the only villain that managed to keep returning. Thanks in part to the compassion that Thor had for his brother. By pulling away from the comics and making up their own canon the studio has weakened the IP. Who will these heroes fight once all the major villains are killed off? Thankfully the Iron Man trilogy is over and the studio can no longer damage his reputation.

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  • have to admit marvel really screwed up the way they did the mandarin in iron man three. as for who the heros will fight . hopefuly besides thanos . for the avengers ultron and kang if marvel does not do a mandarin screw up with them too. hulk there is always the red hulk.

  • Or Civil War :p

  • Typo:

    Ben Kingsley acting like Russell Brand, not Russell Brand.

  • " nonsensical mess of special effects, easily identified enemies and "twists" the special effect was quite much, and so i agree with you on that.. for the other observations, i think i will have to go back and observe them myself

  • >The director never showed the body. This allowed audiences to guess that he might have escaped the explosion through some miracle rather than a tacked on super power. His brief return for the third film delighted audiences without explaining if he was a hallucination or indeed back from the dead.

    What? No. He's dead. Also, you seem to have forgotten Two Face died at the end of The Dark Knight. And Talia died at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. And Bane. But, you know, terrible analogies help pad out terrible articles.

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