Blu-ray Review: Man of Steel

By , Contributor
It’s hard to even know where to start with Man of Steel, the second attempt to jumpstart the Superman franchise over the last ten years. Let’s put it this way. Watching Man of Steel made me long for Bryan Singer’s much-maligned 2006 Superman Returns. And I pretty much hated Returns. Man of Steel is such a steaming pile of dog dirt, you’d be forgiven if you assumed director Zack Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer, and the production team (which includes Christopher Nolan) actually intended to deliver a stillborn dud.

Of course, they did not. Some $225 million was reportedly invested in this production. Through a feat of phenomenally successful marketing, the film did well enough to justify a sequel (though, tellingly, not headlined by Superman alone—DC and Warner Bros. are adding Batman to the mix as insurance). Man of Steel is ridiculously overlong at 143 minutes. The only elements that generate any real interest are the early, pre-Earth scenes set on the doomed Krypton. Kal-El’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), butts heads with the Kryptonian council over the fate of their planet. Jor-El is convinced that poor environmental practices have set their world on the verge of implosion. Enter Zod (Michael Shannon), who agrees with Jor-El about Kryton’s impending destruction. Zod wants to handle things a different way and attempts a hostile takeover of the government.

Man of Steel Zod (380x158).jpgMeanwhile, Jor-El’s wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) gives birth to Kal-El, who is subsequently sent off to Earth, but not before his DNA is embedded with the Kryptonian genetic “codex” (so he can potentially restart the Kryptonian race elsewhere). Soon to be imprisoned for his attack against the council, Zod vows to find Kal-El one day. All of this, however clumsy the dialogue is and perfunctorily the action is staged, is relatively compelling. In fact, there might’ve been an entire (better) movie hiding in that prologue, should the ideas have been more fully explored. But once Krypton self-destructs, so does the movie. Through a fractured narrative, we see Kal-El (Henry Cavill) struggle to fit in on Earth, jumping around from childhood, to adolescence, to early adulthood.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner have some warm, compassionate moments as Martha and Jonathan Kent, Kal-El’s adoptive parents. There are also a few promising sequences involving Kal-El’s struggles to hide his superhuman abilities. But once Zod shows up, forget about it. Lois Lane (a miscast Amy Adams) gets in on the action, interacting with a holographic Jor-El and piecing things together way too quickly. Then the storytelling is reduced to a ludicrously over-extended, repetitive, simple-minded fight sequence between the good guy and the bad guy. Superman (as the military quickly dub him) and Zod pile-drive each other and smash into buildings over and over again.

Man of Steel Kents (380x253).jpgAs a fundamental reboot, Man of Steel puts forth some decent new ideas instead of trying to pick up where Superman II left off, the way Singer did with Returns. But why then reuse that film’s main villain instead of crafting a truly new story? Shannon is a complete wash-out in the role made famous by Terrence Stamp. He yells a lot. Then he yells louder. And you can see the veins pop out on his neck. Shannon’s Zod is nothing more than a standard-issue, generic madman.

As for Henry Cavill’s Superman, at least he doesn’t try to imitate Christopher Reeve the way Brandon Routh did in Returns. I didn’t so much dislike Cavill as wish he had been written an actual character to play. He shows little glimmers of inspiration now and then, but the anemic screenplay left him playing Kal-El as a blank slate. Hans Zimmer’s stirring score, however, is excellent—with a main theme that, while nowhere near as striking as John Williams’, feels just right.

Man of Steel Russell Crowe (380x167).jpgNo technical complaints, at the very least, with Warner Bros.’ awesome Blu-ray presentation. Man of Steel was shot the old-fashioned way, on 35mm film, by Amir Mokri. His cinematography retains its organic look in this transfer, with an aesthetically pleasing layer of natural grain. The vast amounts of CG effects also look good, with lots of rich, fine detail. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix is exactly the kind intended to show off home theater sound systems. With a barrage of expertly mixed audio effects, perfectly balanced with dialogue and music, this is definitely one to crank up.

Supplements are spread across two Blu-ray discs. Disc one starts with two well-produced, 26-minute featurettes. “Strong Characters, Legendary Roles” is a solid examination of the iconic characters and the way they were adapted to fit Man of Steel. “All-Out Action” focuses on, as the title suggests, the stunts and action sequences. “Krypton Decoded” is a shorter (six minutes) piece that looks closely at the effects depicting the destruction of Krypton. “Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short” sets the evolution of the character’s appearance to John Williams’ classic theme. And in the least-subtle form of cross-promotion humanly possible, the featurette “New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth” is carried over from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for absolutely no reason.

Man of Steel Amy Adams (380x253).jpgThe second disc is dominated by "Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel," an alternate viewing experience that extends the film’s running time to just under three hours. Instead of a straightforward commentary track, director Snyder explains at the beginning that we’ll be seeing picture-in-picture footage of interviews with cast and crew, rehearsals, concept art, pre-viz segments, and more. I actually found this to be a far more engrossing and entertaining way to watch the movie. Don’t get me wrong, you wouldn’t want to watch it this way for the first time. But the near-constant addition of commentary, alternate footage, and interviews makes for a fascinating look behind the scenes. The “Planet Krypton” featurette is a fun documentary-style look at Kal-El’s home planet.

Man of Steel is a nearly completely bungled misstep that doesn’t engage or intrigue on any meaningful level. But for those who disagree with my rather blunt assessment, it must be reiterated that, with this Blu-ray, Warner Bros. has issued an audio/visual treat backed with a solid supplemental package. I just hope the Batman/Superman team-up turns out better than this.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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