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Man of Steel (2013)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/12/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: No Stars
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/6/2013

You may not have ever given this much thought, but there is a difference between popular and well-known. This is something which must way heavily on the entertainment industry. The fact that the public is aware of something does not mean that they are thinking about it on a regular basis, or that they even like it. Therefore, certain characters and properties are revived/re-visited every few years in order to keep them in the public conscious. Given the overall popularity of movies based on comic books at the moment, the success of The Dark Knight films, and the relatively lackluster response to 2006's Superman Returns, it's not surprising that DC/Warner Bros. decided to bring back Superman for a new blockbuster movie. The timing seems right, but will Man of Steel be able to soar to new heights?

Man of Steel opens on the planet Krypton, where scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is attempting to convince those in charge that the planet is dying. Military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon) actually agrees with Jor-El, but instead of using reason, he attempts a coup. Knowing that he doesn't have much time, Jor-El places his newborn son, Kal-El, into a spaceship, which he launches to Earth. Years later, that child, now known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) wanders the Earth looking for his true purpose. Growing up, his parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) taught him that he was different and that he must hide unique gifts from others. Reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is investigating a discovery near the Arctic Circle, when she encounter Clark, who has just found a spaceship from Krypton. In this ship, Clark learns of his true nature and discover a red and blue suit. Lois tracks Clark down and is about to confront him about his powers when General Zod comes to Earth. Having never tested his abilities, will Clark/Kal-El be able to defend his adopted home planet.

On paper, Man of Steel looks like a can't-miss. The Dark Knight helmer Christopher Nolan passed on the offer to direct the film, but he's on-board as an Executive Producer in order to guide the way. Nolan also contributed to the story and the screenplay was completed by David S. Goyer, who also co-wrote The Dark Knight films. In the director's chair is Zack Snyder, who has experience with big super-hero movies thanks to Watchmen. The cast is full of seasoned players and familiar faces, with relative newcomer Cavill strapping on the red boots to be Superman. Hey, with the every-creepy Michael Shannon as the villain, what could go wrong?

How about everything? From beginning to end, Man of Steel may be the most mis-guided big-budget movie that I've ever seen. Every decision made by those involved in the film is counter-intuitive, goes against the Superman mythos, or is simply bone-headed. Let's start at the beginning. It's not a great leap to assume that roughly half of the audience will be familiar with Superman's origins and the other half will either be completely ignorant of it, or only have a faint idea. Therefore, the filmmakers are faced with the question of how long to make the Krypton segment, as many viewers will want to get on with the story. Well, apparently, they decided that everyone need a re-education, as the Krypton section of the film drags on-and-on and, to make matters worse, it's crammed with non-sense dialogue. To add insult to injury, Nolan, Snyder, and Goyer have decided that Krypton is a mess of technology versus nature where everyone is a test-tube baby and yet they travel on dragons and yet people dress like football players.

Once things get to Earth, they don't improve. Instead of starting with Kal-El landing on Earth and being discovered by the Kents, the film decides to begin the story in the present and show Clark's up-bringing in flashbacks. This isn't necessarily a bad idea, but I'm sure that the fact that the film immediately jumped to modern-day confused some viewers. (I knew what was happening, but it still feels as if a reel is missing.) The flashbacks are often illogical, as we see Clark performing feat of heroism and strength, but instead of truly drawing attention, he becomes an urban legend. The newly created fate for John "Pa" Kent is ludicrous. The fact that the meeting between Clark and Lois is a coincidence seems far-fetched. Once Zod comes to Earth, any attempt at continuing a story goes out the window, as the movie devolves into one very long fight scene. The movie does go out of its way to give a reason for why Zod is after Kal-El. In Superman II, he was simply pissed that Kal-El's dad had put him in the Phantom Zone and that was good enough for viewers. Why does Man of Steel feel the need to complicate things?

The movie is further stymied by its heavy-handed religious symbolism. Did you know that Superman is Jesus? Well, if you didn't, this movie is going to do everything to convince you of that fact. From Jor-el's speeches (note that's plural) about Kal-El "saving" the people of Earth (from what), to the scene in the church to the shot in which Superman adopts a Christ-like pose, Man of Steel lays it on so thick, I began to wonder if it was all a big joke. Come down off of the cross Superman, other people need the wood...to burn this movie.

I don't know who to blame for the look and tone of the film. It's clear that the goal was to give Superman a "darker" edge and make it more akin to the recent Batman films. This is a huge mistake for the simple reason that this isn't who Superman is. I'm not a Superman historian or a big DC fan, but you simply don't spit on 75 years of character development because you want the movie to feel like other movies. The result is a humorless and depressing film, where Superman keeps talking about hope, but no one is feeling it. Snyder has given the movie a decidedly dark and bland palette, which doesn't help. He also insists on adding zooms to action shots which becomes incredibly annoying after only a few minutes. Again, the finale is simply one very, very long fight scene, in which Superman is constantly being hit and thrown great distances, and yet, as we know that he's invulnerable, there's no suspense. When Spider-man gets hit and it tears off half of is mask, this creates an emotional reaction in the audience. When Superman never gets a scratch, we get bored very quickly. His final action in the fight betrays everything which Superman represents.

As a member of Generation X, I can't help but compare Man of Steel to 1978's Superman: The Movie, but to be honest, there is no comparison. Superman was a true "event" film, as it mixed spectacle, wonder, humor, and heart. It told us "You will believe a man can fly." With Man of Steel, the slogan should be "You've got to believe that it will end at some point." This movie could have benefited from a wealth of levity and brevity. Instead of a return to Superman's glory days, we get a movie which is completely devoid of emotion, but still asks us to care about the characters. This is not hyperbole -- I can't think of one single thing that I liked about this movie, save for the fact that it finally ended. As you've no doubt heard, Superman will meet Batman in his next film. I can already heat Batman saying, "Um, I thought that I was the dark one."

Man of Steel really roughed-up my childhood on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 21 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors, while not super strong, look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture has excellent detail and with some of the artsy close-ups, we can see the pores on the actor's faces. The depth is good as well, even in this 2D version, as the actors are nicely separate from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are well-done, as we get some well-mixed sound which come from off-screen. The surround effects are detailed and we can pick out individual sounds at times. The subwoofer effects really come to life during the action scenes, and bring home wall-shaking bass action.

The Man of Steel Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. Disc 1 opens with "Strong Characters, Legendary Roles" (26 minutes) which explores the history of Superman, and how it relates to the film. We get several examples of comic art and some on-set footage of the movie. "All-Out Action" (26 minutes) gives us a look at the extensive physical training which the actors underwent, and some of the rehearsals for fighting as well. "Krypton Decoded" (7 minutes) looks at the concept art for the Kryptonian weapons and spaceships and the visual effects of Krypton's destruction. We get an abbreviated look at the history of Superman comics in "Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short" (2 minutes). "New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth" (7 minutes) is clearly meant to be on The Hobbit release and I have no idea what it's doing here. Disc 2 offers "Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel" presents us the movie in its entirety again, but this time it's accompanied by occasional side-journeys which feature comments from Snyder, the cast, or members of the creative team, who take us behind the scenes and explain particular things. Watching the film like this makes no sense whatsoever, as it makes the movie stop and start, giving it no flow. These extras could have been featured elsewhere. "Planet Krypton" (17 minutes) plays as a faux-documentary which explores the arrival of Kryptonians on Earth and how we learned about the history of Krypton.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long