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The first time that I saw the movie, I experienced an unease that I hadn't experienced since July 1987 when I dragged a bunch of my young 20-something friends with me to the opening of "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace". I remember coming out of the movie theater that night as if shell-shocked. I was for a moment almost embarrassed to be a Superman fan.
As time went on, and I saw "Superman IV" over and over on cable, I came to appreciate parts of the film. Superman's speech to the U.N. General Assembly. Superman and Lois talking about their past on Clark's balcony. Superman's speech to the world at the film's end. The movie had moments that continue to resonate for me even today. As with "Superman IV", "Brainiac Attacks" becomes more palpable on repeat viewings. But also like "Superman IV", it remains mainly a disappointment of could-have-beens and almosts.
"Superman: Brainiac Attacks" is directed by Curt Geda who, as director of many episodes of "Superman: The Animated Series", should have known better. The story is by Duane Capizzi, who was a story editor on several episodes of the CW cartoon "The Batman". Like that 'toon, "Brainiac Attacks" is written down to its intended younger audience.
One of the biggest problems with "Brainiac Attacks" was its timing. Released in 2006 to coincide with the release of "Superman Returns", it had just followed the original airing of two outstanding story arcs on "Justice League Unlimited" that focused on the relationship between Superman rogues Lex Luthor and Brainiac. That relationship was played out for all it was worth (and then some) on "JLU". In "Brainiac Attacks", it's an animated sitcom - can two chrome domes share one planet without driving each other crazy?
While not part of the animated continuity that included "Batman: The Animated Series", "Superman: The Animated Series", "Batman Beyond", "Justice League", and "JLU", "Brainiac Attacks" uses the original models and designs of that animated universe. Dana Delany voices Lois Lane as she had in the original series and "JLU". Tim Daly returned to voice Superman for the first time since "STAS". Even George Dzundza, David Kaufman, Mike Farrell, and Shelly Fabares return as Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Jonathan Kent, and Martha Kent. Unfortunately, Clancy Brown and Corey Burton, who voiced Luthor and Brainiac, respectively, on "STAS", "JL", and "JLU" don't return too.
Luthor's character is turned into a joke. The filmmakers have said they chose to lighten the Luthor character to emulate Gene Hackman's film portrayal as they assumed Kevin Spacey's portrayal in "Superman Returns" would be similarly joke-y. Powers Boothe, who voiced Grodd on "JL" and "JLU", voices Luthor. Boothe's tone is unsettling. He portrays Lex as a self-deprecating bumbler. He tells his assistant Mercy (who is voiced by Tara Strong, who voiced Batgirl on "BTAS", and is reinvented as a ditzy blonde who even has a tough time taking out Jimmy Olsen) to make popcorn while watching Superman and Brainiac slug it out. He has a strand of Superman's DNA and can only think to use it so Brainiac can track Superman's energy-signature. Jeez, even Hackman made better use of Supey's DNA in making "Superman IV" rogue Nuclear Man.
Brainiac suffers similarly in lack of characterization. Voiced by Lance Henriksen ("The Terminator", "Scream 3"), Brainiac is just a generic alien bad guy who happens to be a computer. He starts out looking like he did on "STAS". After being seemingly destroyed during a fight with Superman, he uses Lex Luthor's Lex-9000 satellite to make a new mechanical body. The end result has Brainiac looking like the illegitimate love child of 'Number 5', the robot from "Short Circuit", and the Robinson's 'Robot' from "Lost in Space".
It's especially confusing to have Brainy looking at first like he did in past incarnations. This version is clearly not Kryptonian as he was on "STAS". He calls Superman "Son of Krypton". One can imagine that the script at one time correctly had Brainy calling Supes the "Son of Jor-El" and some Warner suit wondering who or what this "Jor-El" was and ordering the change to prevent confusion among the kiddies. Brainiac's never been to Superman's Fortress of Solitude before as he makes a comment to that effect when he tracks Superman there during the film.
"Brainiac Attacks" does have some moments that are worth a second look. The film doesn't ignore Superman lore. The Superman-Clark-Lois love triangle is portrayed well and even has an acceptable resolution at film's end. Clark thinks he needs to stay away from Lois and considers becoming a foreign correspondent for the Daily Planet to get away from her. Lois puts herself in harm's way and is poisoned by Brainiac. Superman ventures into the Phantom Zone to save Lois's life. He thinks he's left the Zone and tells Lois his secret only to discover he's being manipulated by the denizens of the Phantom Zone. When he does emerge from the Zone and ultimately saves Lois, he chooses not to share his secret identity. Finally, he figures out Lois will continue to put herself in jeopardy whether he's there or not.
There's a somewhat pointless "B" story with Jimmy Olsen who has a crush on bad girl Mercy and can't see beyond the mousy bespectacled exterior of the Daily Planet's new Food Editor. The Olsen sub-plot does cleverly tie into the main love story, however, when Lois berates Jimmy over his inability to see past the new reporter's eyeglasses just as Clark walks up to them.
Overall, "Brainiac Attacks" is a disappointment. While it has a certain simplistic appeal that kids under eight or so might appreciate, it also focuses a bit much on the mushy stuff that kids probably didn't appreciate as much. Despite its (few) pluses, I'd have a hard time recommending "Brainiac Attacks" to anyone with access to the "STAS" DVDs. You can make your own much better movie with all the same ingredients - even one appropriate for the kiddies - by watching the three-part pilot, followed in order by episodes "Stolen Memories" and "Ghost in the Machine".