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It disappoints me when so many self-professed fans of comic-based blockbusters scoff at watching an animated counterpart. Is it is that more thrilling to see Christian Bale's Batman sock it to Bane than to see a cartoon adaptation incorporate fantasy in ways that live-action hasn't quite mastered yet? Of course, how far any storytelling goes is up to the imagination of whoever's at the wheel; for every fun and thought-provoking Justice League: Doom, there's a staggeringly forgettable, by-the-numbers outing the likes of Superman: Brainiac Attacks. Now I don't demand that everything branching off from the comic book medium come with heavy plots or the "gritty" sheen favored by Hollywood recently, but there is a problem when your film could easily be upstaged in entertainment value by watching a six-year-old putz with his action figures for the same amount of time.

Superman: Brainiac Attacks
Done in the style of but not in canon with the '90s animated series, Brainiac Attacks pits the Man of Steel (voice of Tim Daly) against...well, Brainiac (voice of Lance Henriksen). The living computer crash lands in Metropolis and is stopped just short of robbing another network's worth of data by Superman's might. But being clobbered to pieces isn't the end of Brainiac, which Lex Luthor (voice of Powers Boothe) sees to personally. Eager as ever to take down Superman however many pegs as he can, Lex takes what's left of Brainiac and hooks him up with a brand-new robo-suit in which he can really lay the smackdown on Krypton's golden boy. With a seemingly unbeatable threat to face and the life of Lois Lane (voice of Dana Delany) particularly threatened, Superman has no choice but to find the answer to beating Brainiac in that most perilous of places: the Phantom Zone.

That last paragraph you read is the result of a strained, valiant effort to make Superman: Brainiac Attacks sound cool. Yeah, all superhero movies can essentially be boiled down to "good guys punch/blast lasers at bad guys," but the scope of this 2006 flick is still incredibly limited. I don't even think the "it's just a kid's movie" excuse flies here, since the Warner Brothers gang had delivered the complex but enjoyable Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman not long before, and the DC Animated Universe was only a year away from kicking off with Superman: Doomsday (a terrible film, but at least it had ambition). Superman: Brainiac Attacks is a beginner's course in the world of Kal-El, with everything from plotting and character relationships to humor and action sequences at their most simplistic settings. You put it on, let your kid see stuff go kablooey, and pray he/she is compelled to see if anything better's been done with the property.

Superman: Brainiac Attacks
I never watched the Superman cartoon as religiously as I tuned into Batman: The Animated Series when I was a pint-sized ball of bitterness, but I can imagine the differences between each show. Whereas Gotham is a dark, foreboding hive of scum and villainy, Metropolis is a bright and hopeful hamlet that just sort of shrugs off all the property damage caused by one of Superman's beatdowns. At the very least, Brainiac Attacks reflects this attitude well, delving just a tad into the bizarre but never out of the realm of what the Man of Steel would commonly face. Returning from the show are Daly and Delany, whose voices are rather ideal representations of their respective characters. Henriksen takes over for Corey Burton as Brainiac and delivers an appropriately cold, metallic performance that probably would've been just as effective without any modulation at all. Too bad the same can't be said for Boothe's Lex Luthor, who's inspired by and aims to out-goofy Gene Hackman's portrayal from the live-action films. There's being a blowhard with power, and then there's making so many ill-advised blunders, you wonder how he didn't whiz a fortune down his leg earlier.

Superman: Brainiac Attacks

Video


Superman: Brainiac Attacks comes in 1080p high definition. It's a very basic and unspectacular transfer, though I suspect it's because the film looked that way to begin with. There's some noticeable banding, but it's nothing that's too distracting. Where it counts, Brainiac Attacks is colorful enough, with Superman's distinctive duds popping out no matter where his travels take him. Unfortunately, there's an abundance of night scenes, so much of the film has a murkiness you wouldn't normally associate with the big blue Boy Scout. Throw in an array of unimaginatively-designed robots and such, and the dullness factor is off the charts here.

Audio


What you hear fares better than what you see, although it's still nothing that'll give your sound system a workout. We get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that makes exploding missiles sound like exploding missles and the Phantom Zone's ghoulish dangers nice and screechy. The main score and incidental music is stock, but again, that's the film's doing much more than it is the disc's. The back of the case notes a Dolby Digital 2.0 track for French and Spanish audio, but the main menu only lists the latter.

Extras


A few trailers are the only special features Brainiac Attacks has to speak of. The pre-menu previews advertise other DC animated releases (including the admittedly amusing-looking Lego Batman movie), while the main menu leads to ads for Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon, Blu-ray and DVD sets commemorating the 90th anniversary of Warner Brothers, and DC's charity efforts.

Superman: Brainiac Attacks

Overall


Superman: Brainiac Attacks isn't incompetent; it's just not very motivated. It was made to be a product to sell, not to pay a DC stalwart her long-awaited and badass due in something like Wonder Woman or explore the necessity of a "nice guy" hero in modern times, as with Superman vs. the Elite. Brainiac Attacks is a commercial for the inferior version of a toy you already own.


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