Monday, May 13, 2013

Superman Unbound (2013) direct-to-dvd animated movie

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Seamless animation, witty script, natural voice performances, fitting humour, clever themes, nostalgic yet modern soundtrack, thrilling action, good pacing.

The Bad: Some character design issues, obvious artwork mistakes. 

3D Readiness: none


Kal-El aka Superman has spent a lifetime defending his adopted homeworld of Earth. For years, he had thought of himself as the last son of Krypton. Only his fortress of solitude and his cousin Supergirl serves as a reminder of the world Superman was born on. But now, Superman will be faced with a dark figure from his planet's past. What seems like another typical day of foiling heavily armed kidnappers turns into a fight for Earth's survival as a dangerous robot probe from outer space is identified as a drone of "Brainiac". Brainiac, as Supergirl recalls, was responsible for the disappearance of Krypton's capital city, Kandor, along with Supergirl's parents. Superman leaves to confront Brainiac while Supergirl dishes out her own brand of justice on earth.

What follows is possibly the most epic of all Superman battles ever put to screen. We have Superman taking on hordes of advanced machines strong enough to hurt the man of steel. We have Superman facing down the cybernetic enhanced Brainiac who is smarter, faster and more powerful that he is. The movie earns its PG-13 rating with blood and violence. After all, Brainiac seeks to hoard all knowledge in the universe. What better repository of knowledge than the brains of living creatures?
The conflict against Brainiac truly pushes Superman to his physical limits. Staggering action, epic in scale, is beautifully animated by Moi Animation who bring graceful fluidity to the movements of the characters.They manage to blend the 3D CGI vehicles seamlessly with the traditional 2D characters while giving everything a slightly more "japanese anime" touch.

Our characters are, once again, voiced by a wholly different cast as is the case for each DC animated movie production. What stands out is how witty the humor is in the script. The humor works and it fits perfectly without feeling forced. Delivering a near perfect performance are the voice cast directed by the impeccable Andrea Romano. Special mention goes to John Noble as brainiac, Stana Katic as a very Margot Kidder-ish Lois Lane and Matt Bomer as Superman/Clark Kent. Bomer especially takes great pains to have different accents when playing the dual personality of Superman and Kent, helping to highlight Kent's Kansas upbringing. The story devotes a good amount of time in developing the relationships Superman has with Lois and Supergirl, which in the end makes for a very human look at the Man of Steel.
Central to our narrative is the theme of one being protecting others to thr point of intruding into and controlling their personal lives. The way Superman is constantly looking over Lois' shoulder even in peacetime, the way Supergirl intervenes in international conflicts, how are they different from the way Brainiac keeps his captured subjects in line by policing their actions under the excuse of protecting them? That parallel is drawn more than once, along with the constant question of whether Superman's loyalties lie with Earth or other Krypton survivors.

 For all its good points, Superman Unbound is one of the more visually inconsistent DC animated projects to date. The character designs are angular, somewhat skinny and rather similar to the designs seen in 2005's "The Batman" Tv series. It does take some getting used to, particularly for those who did like Gary Frank's art in the original "Superman: brainiac" graphic novel. The least they could do was to keep the art consistent though. Just take a good look at Superman's chest-to-head size ratio which expands and shrinks from scene to scene.

Then you have some obvious animation mistakes that just look weird, especially this one scene where Superman seems to have a hilariously long arm,

or this one scene where Brainiac looks bloated.

The level of detail in the artwork is good for the most part, with metallic reflections in metal surfaces on the robots, folds in Superman's costume and cape and a good light/darkness contrast in the colours. But then you have a good number of scenes where the level of detail drops to the level of a low budget TV series.
Oh and remember that bit about trying to give the show a more "japanese anime" touch? You have scenes just like japanese anime; a still frame with minimal motion tween movements, complete with exaggerated anatomy, weird angles and action lines.
If one can look past some of the visual shortcomings, there is much to enjoy about this animated film. The music by newcomer Kevin Kliesch takes cues from both Hans Zimmer and classic Jerry Goldsmith while still paying due respects to the timeless John Williams style. The way Clark Kent and Lois Lane play off each other is cutely reminiscent of the Christopher Reeves Superman movies, and the humor is truly funny without being corny. Overall, this would have been truly awesome in live action. Hopefully July 2013's "Man of Steel" would be able to top this in all aspects of storytelling and characterisation. 
*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: A-
Story: A
Characters: A
Animation: A-
Art: B-
Music: B+
Voice work (english): A
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": B

Monday, May 6, 2013

Before you watch MAN OF STEEL: Superman's Origin retold

Man of Steel is Dc comics latest reintroduction of the Superman character into main stream blockbuster cinema. It is a retelling of superman's origin with elements from the Christopher reeves movies all set against a more realistic world not unlike our own.
The origin of the world's most iconic superhero has been retold countless times since its debut in "Action Comics" seen below
This classic origin story can be easily read through the "Superman Chronicles" trade paperback available at KINOKUNIYA BOOKSTORE

Now before going into this movie, here are my top 5 highly recommended readings which offer different reboots on the origins of the man of steel..

5) Superman (new 52) issue zero

Setting up the plot for Superman's place in DC's "New 52" comic universe, Superman #0 takes us back to his home planet of Krypton and the events that led to it's ultimate destruction. The main characters however are not Superman himself but his Kryptonian parents. It is an intriguing tale that is both familiar yet fresh: Jor-El discovers that the planet Krypton is doomed to destruction. Only this time, it's destruction seems to be artificially engineered. He and his wife Lara are roped into a conspiracy involving a doomsday cult that believe the destruction will benefit the greater good of the universe. What is cool about this is how much of Kal-El (Superman) we get to see in his biological parents; Jor-El's dedication to truth and sharp mind, Lara's warrior background and selfless heroism. A far cry indeed from the white haired sage made famous by Marlon Brando in the Christopher Reeves movie. Krypton itself is portrayed as a truly dangerous planet with unknown creatures lurking in its depths but with it's human-like inhabitants living in a teeming scifi technopolis no doubt inspired by Bruce Timm's "Superman The Animated Series".
With only 1 issue worth of 22 pages, the story is short and sweet and feels like the start of something greater. An awesome jumping-on point for those willing to get into the DC comic books.Not only that, the new MAN OF STEEL movie is directly inspired by the New 52 Superman as seen in the appearance of his costume.
4) Superman Man of Steel vol 1 by John Byrne

Written and illustrated by John Byrne; Cover by Jerry Ordway A stunning tale of heroics and history, SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL VOL. 1 magnificently retells and reinvents the origin and early adventures of the Man of Steel. In this fastpaced, revelatory book, Superman begins his ascension to iconic hero as he leaves Smallville and becomes Metropolis's revered protector and guardian. Featuring the Man of Steel's legendary first encounters with Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and Batman, this amazing book also includes a deadly battle with Bizarro, a fateful encounter with Lana Lang, and Superman's astonishing discovery of his Kryptonian heritage.
The planet Krypton is portrayed as a cold and emotionally sterile planet, an idea Byrne borrowed from the 1978 film Superman. Kal-El was not an infant sent from Krypton to Earth, rather, his fetus was placed in a "birthing matrix" equipped with a rocket engine and Jor-El's experimental warp drive, with Kal-El gestating during the trip to Earth. Once the rocket landed, Kal-El was fully "born" on Earth.
Other changes to familiar Superman mythology include the fact that Superman invincibility comes from an invisible "aura" generated by his body that surrounds him like the human bioelectric field. Objects held close to him, such as his costume, were protected from harm; his cape, meanwhile, could easily sustain damage in battle. The Superman S-shield is an original design by Clark and Jonathan and not a kryptonian symbol.
If you can get over the older style of colouring, the artwork is a real treat and the story proves itself why this version of superman's origin endured for years until........

3) Superman Birthright

Written by Mark Waid Art and cover by Leinil Yu & Gerry Alanguilan A new softcover edition collecting the 12-issue miniseries that features the entire modern-day retelling of Superman by writer Mark Waid and artists Leinil FrancisYu and Gerry Alanguilan. 
Essentially, this is Superman's comic book origin updated for the 21st century reader. He does not discover his budding powers as a kid in smallville but discovers them in the middle of an African warzone where he was stationed as a freelance reporter. After that he goes back to Smallville and confronts Jonathan and Martha Kent about his alien heritage. The "S" symbol here signifies "hope" in Kryptonian, something the Man of Steel movie seems to have adopted. This also strongly establishes the Superman/Lex Luthor rivalry as something truly personal. 
Here, Superman's powers are elaborated upon, his range of vision spans beyond the wave spectrum and he can seemingly see the bio-electric force in each creature. It is a beautiful story of one man balancing who is was raised to be and who he was born to be. The setting is still fully a comic book world with robot helicopters and science fiction technology, but the way the characters are written is no less grounded in reality.
Although the artwork is a little rough in places, once you get used to it, Superman Birthright is a true classic not to be missed

2) Superman Secret Origin
The superstar team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank redefine the origin of Superman for the 21st century incorporating as many elements from past storylines as possible. This explosive story spells out the definitive origin of Superman, chronicling Clark Kent’s journey from the cornfields of Smallville to the skyscrapers of Metropolis. Witness a whole new look at the beginnings of Lex Luthor, The Legion of Super-Heroes, Lois Lane, Metallo, Jimmy Olsen, The Parasite and more of your favorite characters from the Superman family. It’s a look at the mythic past of the Man of Steel with an eye toward the future.

The reason for this was to rectify numerous inconsistencies between modern stories and the convoluted ongoing storyline (superman had been in publication since 1940s). So basically, it is saying that everything that was ever published, did happen. The story embraces all the different eras of superman from the silver age onward.
For instance, Clark Kent not only discovers his budding powers as a kid in smallville, but goes on to have adventures as Superboy with the Legion of Superheroes. And yes, he did meet Lex Luthor as a kid. This is one unique thing about this story in that we are presented with parallel tales of how Clark Kent and Luthor grew up and the events in their lives that shaped who they turned out to be. Growing up with the main hero and the main villian lends a more personal touch to their relationship than the other origin stories. This personal touch also translate to Superman's relationships with those around him.
The feel of Superman: Secret Origin is 100% comic book fantasy. It does not try to be gritty or realistic. The art is beautifully rendered by Gary Frank who patterns his Superman after Christopher Reeves.

1) Superman Earth One
What if Kal-El crashed on our earth of today? What if he had to grow up in our world, our reality: a world that has weathered 9/11 and the threat of terrorism, a world of the cynical, a world where newspapers dedicated to truth are dying and being replaced by gossip tabloids. This is Superman, not just revamped for the modern reader, but revamped to take place in our own 21st century. From the get go, Superman Earth One sets up a journey of a boy coming to terms with his own identity and his path in life. It answers many questions that modern readers usually ask about Superman. For example, if Clark Kent were so smart, so strong etc, why not become a sports star? Why did he dedicate his life to journalism?
Well superman Earth One gives a marvellous answer to that.
Also unlike previous takes ont he origin which show Clark Kent becoming superman, here we have the journey of Superman becoming Clark Kent. What drives him to defend a planet that he was not even born on? Why pose as a loser like Clark Kent? Furthermore, we get to see a more realistic reaction from the world of the comic when it is revealed that there is alien life in the universe. The government steps in, scientists and men in suits step in.........
Confused? Curious? Revealing more about this most excellent graphic novel would reveal the best parts of the plot. What Superman Earth One works best is as a character drama revealing the intentions behind Superman's actions and the reason he is who is chooses to be.
These themes are definitely familiar as they are the main focus themes of MAN OF STEEL.

And there you have it. Five essential readings for one to familiarise with Superman.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man: Rise of Technovore (2013) anime movie

Overall verdict: 6/10
The Good: Spectacular Mech combat, top notch animation, perfect blending of CGI and traditional animation, seems to be a follow up from the Iron Man live action movies

The Bad: inconsistent artwork, generic music, story feels "typical", flat characterisation, illogical courses of action taken by main characters, hints at deeper themes but never elaborates

3D Readiness: None
 To coincide with the release of IRON MAN 3 in cinemas, Marvel has returned to direct-to-video animation with Iron Man: Rise of Technovore. Yes, everything rises. Machines rise, Apes rise, Guardians rise, prices rise; too bads story standards have not. Iron Man Rise of Technovore has more cliches in it than its title, showcasing all that is good and bad about modern japanese anime.
 Our story seemingly takes place within the Marvel Cinematic universe. The characters look like their live action movie counterparts, and there are references to events in the live action movies. We start off with Tony Stark about to launch a "Big brother" surveillance satellite that will be able to track all criminal activity worldwide. Ooh, intriguing! What are the moral implications for such a move? Will a crime free world justify the loss of privacy? Well, we never touch on these instead moving into an attack by mobile suits piloted by the silly named "Raiders" intending to stop the launch. How original. Iron Man tries to save the day but encounters a nubile teenage boy clad in weird nano-techno-organic armour far more advanced than Iron Man's. Lives are lost, and since Stark is the only survivor, he is taken in by SHIELD for questioning.
Now here is where things stop making sense. Instead of hearing Nick Fury out and joining forces to stop this new threat christened "The Technovore", Iron Man bails out on SHIELD and stupidly makes himself a wanted man. Now with SHIELD agents Hawkeye and Black Widow on his tail, Iron Man has to find a way to defeat this Technovore despite being outclassed in every way possible.

True to modern anime, this movie favours flair, extravagance and all round coolness over narrative, pacing and the usual things that matter. Take a leading japanese anime studio, give them an American sized budget and technological backing and Iron Man Rise of Technovore is the end result. It looks marvellous! The CGI (computer generated images) are blended seamlessly with the traditional animation, action is fast paced and in-your-face, character movements are smooth while still keeping an insane level of art detail. Overall, the show is a real thrill with wicked aerial combat and state of the art tech.

For fans of anime, this is truly a visual treat. There are numerous little shout outs to other anime shows, most notably gundam.
Yet like most modern anime, the visuals are about the only thing good going for it. As stated earlier, the story makes little sense. Stark could have saved himself a lot of trouble with SHIELD if he just stopped for a bit and listened. But no. Our character of Stark is a one trick edotistical pony, dead set on having things his way. The other characters also come across as flat personalities, more typical anime fodder for fanservice than actual contributors to the story. We even have your typical angst ridden teen out to "remake the world". All in all, the story bears a lot of similar elements to Steins;Gate and Texhnolyze, 2 other anime series directed by Technovore director Hiroshi Hamasaki.
The script is a hodge podge of, again,  anime chiches. Thankfully, the voice cast do great job of becoming their characters, both english and japanese cast. They bring their best performance to the roles, especially Keiji Fujiwara and Matthew Mercer as Tony Stark. This is not Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man, which is refreshing; you do not have any of the corny humor that plagues the live action movies. Instead you have a Tony Stark that is not as comedic as the movies but still as snarky; more like in the comics.
On a whole, Iron Man: Rise of Technovore is merely superficial entertainment. There is no way anyone can be emotionally invested in any of the characters thanks to the cliche ridden script and story. Character relationships are simplistic to the point when death of characters become a mere passing moment. He's dead, on with the story. Pacing is too slow in many places to the point where it gets boring. Oh and the Punisher gets shoehorned in for absolutely little reason.

Pretty graphics and good acting cannot save an otherwise unimpressive, uninspired, and mediocre anime movie. At best, this is an extremely long showcase of studio Madhouse's animation capabilities when given the right backing. The "Invincible Iron Man" animated movie from 2007 is still a better animated feature than this.
*****************************Review End***************************

Go For it: if you like typical science fiction anime, mecha and good graphics
Avoid it: if you want anything deeper than a showcase to showoff MadHouse's animation capabilities

Entertainment: B+
Story: B
Characters: C-
Animation: A
Art: B
Music: C+
Voice work (english): A-
Voice work (japanese): A-
Replay Value: B
"Brains": C-