Man of Steel Blu-ray Review

From the seemingly endless legal battles over the copyright usage to the caustic judgment by fans and critics of the 2006 attempt at a movie franchise “reboot,“ the flagship character of Detective Comics has definitely seen better decades.  Now the character of Superman faces uncharted territory — a last chance, a least for a good while, at reigniting the relevancy which once upon a Mario Puzo script, stood atop the superhero hierarchy.

Russell Crowe in Man of Steel

We’ve heard it all before right?  Baby Kal-El gets sent off into space by his loving parents to escape the doomed planet Krypton so he can arrive on Earth and become its savior using incredible powers that he blah, blah, hippity hooplah. Well the populous may have heard the origin story an infinite amount of times but as far as experiencing it in a major motion picture, the number is one.  The year was 1978 and SUPERMAN THE MOVIE not only set the mold for how comic book characters would be treated in big budget productions, but in tandem with STAR WARS (1977) it helped revolutionize the special effects industry.  Since then, a full depiction of what happened on the ill-fated planet has not been demonstrated in any successive Superman film.  Sure, the reference to that event is omnipresent, but it’s just as essential to the character as Bruce Wayne’s parents being shot in front of him.  And in order for Batman to be rebooted to his current head-of-state status, that origin needed to be made relevant in present day.  Not only does MAN OF STEEL place a long-awaited checkmark in that box for Superman, it may have even perfected the preamble of a hero better than any film in its genre to date.

Man of Steel

Henry Cavill (IMMORTALS) is now Superman, and he’s going to be so for quite a while whether the fanbase likes it or not.  The reason being is that he not only physically fits his very unforgiving costume perfectly, but he has the demeanor and aura that is essential to be taken seriously while wearing it.  As an actor, he is superior to Brandon Routh (SUPERMAN RETURNS) but falls short of the always underrated Christopher Reeve (SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, SUPERMAN II, III, IV).  Where Cavill is able to emblaze his own mark on the “S” is through his portrait of stoic confusion, which will probably be mistaken for a stiff performance by most critics, and his relative anonymity which is always an advantage when taking on a character of such iconic stature.  Though, a glimmer of Cavill’s more obvious talents are able to shine through in a few emotional scenes, most notably where he portrays Clark as a young adult in an argument with his adopted parents and during the aftermath of the film’s climax.

Man of Steel

Perhaps even more than the journey toward becoming Superman, MAN OF STEEL is ultimately a Clark Kent origin story as Kal-El seeks a pathway to coexist within the human race.  Both his adopted and birth parents have a deeper impact in MAN OF STEEL than any previous feature film, as for the first time the audience can actually feel a strong connection and sense of empathy toward them, not by way of pure circumstance, but instead through the actors’ performances.

Russell Crowe (LES MISERABLES, ROBIN HOOD) is now the Jor-El of a generation.  Sorely needed, as younger fans have started to respond with “Marlon who?” when told the name of the legendary actor who played the character from 1978 through even post mortem in 2006.  Crowe animates a Jor-El that is not only believable as a superior intellect, but also one that knew the value of being able to physically handle oneself in battle.  Like remembering how to ride a bike, Crowe reverts back to GLADIATOR form while conveying a deliberate sense of sophistication to his fighting style. But passing the physical and vocal test was the easy part, what separates MAN OF STEEL’s Jor-El and wife Lara Lor-Von (Ayelet Zurer, ANGLES AND DEMONS) apart from all other representations in film or television is that the pain of the choice to voluntarily give up their child can be read on Crowe’s and Zurer’s faces like a brand new, state-of-the-art Kryptonian Kindle.  The dialogue is brief but very poignant about exactly what it is they will never get to see as their child grows up.

Man of Steel, starring Michael Shannon

Bookending the “Robin Hood” episode of “My Two Dads” is the 1991 PRINCE OF THIEVES Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent.  Costner’s inherent blue-collar swagger and heroic calmness embodied “Pa Kent” like a masterfully tuned violin, and even with his limited screen time he might have surprisingly stolen the movie on a pure thespian level.  As for Diane Lane (SECRETARIAT, UNFAITHFUL), she like Sally Field in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, was able to infuse some able-bodied youth in tandem with skilled acting chops into a character that has been depicted mostly as geriatric in all previous film incarnations.

Another vitalization for an even more important character is produced by Amy Adams (THE FIGHTER, TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE) as the incomparable Lois Lane.  Adams would make the last red-headed Lois, Noel Neill (“Adventures of Superman,” 1952), blush with some of the dialogue that finally bestows equal stature to the “big screen” version of the character with those from the comics and the “Smallville” television series.  Margot Kidder’s (SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, SUPERMAN II, III, IV) version definitely had spunk, but what she didn’t exude was the intelligence that a renowned reporter of Lois’ caliber is supposed to possess.  Adams is finally able to exhibit why the character is so often tagged with the Pulitzer Prize-winning moniker while maintaining the unguarded persona that takes over when she’s around Superman.  Even with the very limited range displayed by Cavill, the ice-like demeanor of Superman melts away when in close proximity to Lois.  Adams and Cavill have an undeniable chemistry that emulates a very strong and appropriate sense of kismet between the most celebrated comic-book couple of all time.

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel

If there are any such cosmic devices as preordainment or destiny in this universe, it was Michael Shannon’s (“Boardwalk Empire”) to take over the reins of General Zod.  This is not the two-dimensional, black and white, “I’m evil and just want to take over the world,” villain that we are used to seeing in a Superman story.  This Zod is more like a character from Batman’s or Spiderman’s rogues gallery.  He is complex and layered, and honestly believes what he is doing is righteous.  Shannon’s gaze is able to simultaneously convey a sense of honorable sworn duty sullied with absolute ruthlessness.

In terms of storytelling, MAN OF STEEL does make a few missteps, but something that it gets very right is the ability to finally exploit the fact that Superman is indeed an alien.  Writer David S. Goyer (THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY) and director Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN, 300) accomplished what no other super hero film has ever been able to do … make an alien invasion actually feel like a real alien invasion.  Even in THE AVENGERS, at no time is there a legitimate sense of peril or doom when aliens start to attack Earth.  When Zod and his small Kryptonian army approach, it’s more akin to films like WAR OF THE WORLDS or even INDEPENDENCE DAY.  Add in the very original and organic style tech on Krypton, and this is not only a comic book film, but a bona fide science fiction story as well.

Amy Adams in Man of Steel

If MAN OF STEEL is guilty of any plot deficiencies, it’s in the category of “omission.”  This is the first installment where the “S” shield on Superman’s chest is explained to mean “hope” on Krypton.  Ironically though, that’s the facet were the film falls short of not only the previous Superman productions but all great comic book adaptations.  The film has a few, but not nearly as strong or enough of the “hell yeah” moments that fans of these characters live for.  This was sacrificed in an effort to display a man who is still searching for that moment when he realizes what he’s fully capable of inspiring.  The fruit of this labor is a very stable foundation for the rest of the series, a la BATMAN BEGINS.

The one thing that Zack Snyder did assure this Superman film would never be criticized for was a lack of action.  However, the intense and prolonged fight scenes, along with some instances of choppy editing, threw off some of the pacing in MAN OF STEEL.  And the inadequate use of the new score by Hans Zimmer capped the potential of the defining moments. Zimmer was able to create a superb and updated theme for Superman as he did in the recent Batman films, but it never seemed to match up with that perfect spot in the story, something the much maligned SUPERMAN RETURNS did manage to achieve with the use of the classic John Williams theme.

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel

MAN OF STEEL is easily the best Superman film ever made and is probably an all-time, top-5 contender in its genre.  It is by no means perfect, nor does it deliver what some fans claim to be the “true” version of the character, most of whom have never even read a reprint of “Action Comics #1,” where Superman could not fly, was vulnerable to electric shock, and had little to no qualms about roughing up anyone who stood in his way.  Over the past 75 years that Superman has evolved and so has his story.  This film continues that tradition as new fans embrace the character into their hearts, grow up and pass it along to their kin so they too can one day vent about how theirs is the one “true” Superman.

MAN OF STEEL BLU-RAY REVIEW

Video:  2.40:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: The resolution and detail in this transfer is simply stunning.  Even though the film purposely has a muted color tone, it’s still very vibrant and even showcases the splashes of bright color in some of the costumes to a greater clarity than seen in the theater print.  Blacks are very deep and the contrast is a perfect balance for the wide variety of landscapes that the film takes place in.  A much appreciated finishing touch is a very fine layer of film grain which enhances the “first contact” atmosphere of a true sci-fi movie, giving a slight feeling of amateur footage while maintaining the value of a top-notch professional production.

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1: For anyone looking to show off their home theater system, MAN OF STEEL can be the new go-to disc in your collection.  The audio is completely immersive with sound effects coming from nearly every direction.  The big explosions and musical score never overpower the dialogue and some of the more quiet moments are actually even more powerful than the big fight scenes due to the fantastic mix of more subtle sounds that also manage to travel 360 degrees around the viewer.

Zack Snyder Man of Steel

Strong Characters, Legendary Roles (26 min):  This is your standard glossy and highly produced behind-the-scenes feature with the “studio approved” comments from all the cast and crew.  There are a few interesting snippets of how the characters has been updated over the years, but mostly all the info here is better absorbed through the other bonus features.

All-Out Action (26 min):  Just about all action film discs have a bonus feature on the intense training the actors had to go through to get into shape for the film.  However, this one may be the most in-depth as it not only goes through the rigorous schedule the performers had to keep in order to bring life to their physical marvel characters, but it actually makes the viewer feel the sense of exhaustion they had to endure.  The piece also delves into exactly why it’s so important for the actors to develop a strong core, aside from aesthetics their strength is essential to partake in the multiple wire harnesses used for many of the stunts.

Krypton Decoded (7 min):  This is a short “fluff” piece hosted by Dylan Sprayberry, the young actor that portrays Clark as a 13-year-old boy in the film.  It’s a scripted feature on the visual effects and artistic approaches to the Kryptonian landscapes and technology.  There’s not much insight here, but there are few models and pre-production artist renderings that could be of interest to the superfan.

Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short (2 min):  It may be the most brief, but it could also be the best bonus feature included on either disc.  This original animated homage to Superman follows the evolution of the character through his 75 years of existence in comics, television, movies and even video games while the soundtrack morphs from the original 1978 John Williams theme into the modern piece produced by Hans Zimmer in MAN OF STEEL.

New Zealand:  Home of Middle-Earth (7 min):  Why does LORD OF THE RINGS have to ruin everything?  This is simultaneously a promo piece for THE HOBBIT and tourism in New Zealand.  So in the words of the late, great Leslie Nielsen, “Nothing to see here, please disperse, nothing to see here.”

Journey of Discovery:  Creating Man of Steel (174 min)Taking the place of the standard director’s commentary is this incredibly deep and incredibly long behind-the-scenes feature that runs simultaneously through the complete film.  A lot of the material is reiterated from the other bonus features, but there’s also plenty of proprietary comments and insight as cast and crew featurettes run pretty much non-stop, focusing on elements pertaining to the current scene.  This is probably extreme overkill for the casual sci-fi or comic book movie fan, but if you “geek out” over storyboards and artists renderings, then this is the ultimate behind –the-camera look at MAN OF STEEL’s production.

Planet Krypton (17 min):  This is a very amusing and even thought provoking faux documentary that impressively mimics its real-life counterpart productions from cable channels like Discovery and PBS.  The piece is produced like the events in the film actually occurred and analyses the fallout from an alien invasion and how it will forever change the Earth’s destiny.  There are also a few nuggets of Superman cannon thrown in for good measure.

OVERALL 4
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