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Man of Steel(2013)
In the pantheon of superheroes, Superman is the most recognized and revered character of all time. Clark Kent/Kal-El is a young twenty-something journalist who feels alienated by powers beyond anyone's imagination. Transported to Earth years ago from Krypton, an advanced alien planet, Clark struggles with the ultimate question 'Why am I here?' Shaped by the values of his adoptive parents Martha and Jonathan Kent, Clark soon discovers that having super abilities means making very difficult decisions. When the world needs stability the most, it comes under attack. Will his abilities be used to maintain peace or ultimately used to divide and conquer? Clark must become the hero known as Superman, not only to shine as the world's last beacon of hope but to protect the ones he loves.
For more about Man of Steel and the Man of Steel Blu-ray release, see Man of Steel Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 6, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon
Director: Zack Snyder
» See full cast & crew
Man of Steel Blu-ray Review
. . .well, maybe actually somewhere between pewter and bronze is more like it.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 6, 2013
Batman might seem to be the DC hero most likely to be involved in a soap opera. After all, he was traumatized by seeing his parents killed right before his very eyes as a little boy, and in his original formulation anyway he seemed to be a midnight vigilante barely able to control his more violent instincts. And yet it's been Superman who has been the subject of manifold dysfunctions in the "real world" for at least the past several years, as the heirs to the character's creators have fought with various entities to try to reclaim some of the vast amounts of loot that those selfsame entities have raked in over the years based at least partially on the work of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In actuality, the "ownership" of Superman has dated from as early as the 1940s, when Siegel and Shuster themselves sued to regain their sole interest in the character and its already supersized profits. Decades of legal wrangling ensued, with a lot of bad press for various rights holders like Warner Brothers along the way, and that animosity was passed down to various heirs of the pair, whose further lawsuits kept Man of Steel, the latest in a long line of Superman reboots, first in limbo for years and then ironically on the fast track to be produced before a settlement deadline passed. Whether or not all of this backstage drama contributed to Man of Steel's slightly disjointed feeling may be debatable, but the film never quite manages to capture the visceral intensity of the Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot, The Dark Knight Trilogy (Nolan produced Man of Steel). Perhaps the "true blue" and ironically "black and white" world of Superman, where there are no shades of gray and the hero is ostensibly not as tormented as one Bruce Wayne, doesn't lend itself to the same sort of post-modern reinvention that invigorated the latest Batman offerings. What is left, then, is a frequently visually dazzling film that has little of the emotional content that helped to drive the Nolan Batman offerings.
Origin films have become all the rage in the superhero universe, and it's obvious from virtually the first moment of Man of Steel that the creative staff wanted to take that same approach here while at the same time tweaking the general way origin stories are typically presented. Man of Steel starts out with a viscerally exciting sequence taking place in the waning hours of Krypton's existence, as Jor-El (Russell Crowe) tries to talk some sense into Krypton's ruling council after what sounds like a fracking exercise gone horribly awry, which has led to the impending destruction of the planet. Jor-El isn't getting through to these supposedly wise elders, but even his attempts are brought to a crashing halt when the meeting is interrupted by General Zod (Michael Shannon), who bursts in and attempts to instigate a coup.
A longish set of affairs on Krypton ensues, where we are given a cursory glance at Krypton's culture, which turns out to be a dystopian alien version of elements from Children of Men. Jor-El and Zod obviously have a history, but Zod is impervious to Jor-El's importuning to not resort to violence. Jor-El is initially taken prisoner by Zod's cohorts, but he of course escapes and then steals a magically glowing skull like object and makes his way to his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer), who has just given birth to little Kal-El. Jor-El and Lara have obviously made preparations for just such an eventuality, and they kiss their baby goodbye and place him in a space pod, but not before they place the glowing skull over him and he is bathed in an effulgent light.
So far, Man of Steel has more less hewed to the Superman template of old, albeit with a few fanciful additions (some other aspects of Krypton's culture which play important parts in the plot have not been spoiled in the précis above). But at this point screenwriter David S. Goyer does something quite interesting: instead of moving chronologically to the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) discovering little Kal-El and raising him as their own son, whom they name Clark, the film jumps ahead to Clark's young manhood, where he, unlike any previous Superman iteration, has taken a series of odd jobs in order to stay as anonymous as possible. Unfortunately, his innate urges to do good and save people keep getting him "outed" as someone with rather unusual abilities, and he is repeatedly forced to move on to the next hidden enclave where he can hang out for a while. Goyer starts ping ponging to flashbacks during this part of the film, going back to Clark's childhood and revealing more and more of his early years with the rural Kent family. This gambit is obviously meant to develop an emotional tether to the character of Clark, and while it may help, it also gives the film a strangely lurching quality as the "contemporary" story keeps getting interrupted.
Man of Steel then really starts to play with the Superman mythology in unusual ways. Clark's lonely travels bring him to the Arctic, where a top secret military installation is investigating a mysterious entity found buried in the ice. Reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) shows up, having gained access by pulling strings with Canada which are never really fully explained. While Adams' Lois is not as overtly spunky as, say, Margot Kidder's in the Christopher Reeve Superman entries, her curiosity is piqued when she sees Clark walking out in the frigid evening air one night. She follows him into what is a reimagined version of the Fortress of Solitude, which turns out to be the buried remains of a long forgotten Krypton scouting ship. There the film unleashes one of its biggest conceits—a holographic version of Jor-El, who is able to fill Clark in on the mysteries of his past. (Some may wonder why the technologically advanced Kryptonians depict their history in friezes made of tin, but I digress.) During this sequence, Lois has her first "damsel in distress" moment, which Clark mitigates (no surprise there). He then blasts off in a mini Krypton spaceship, while Lois is left to ponder what has just happened.
Back in Metropolis, Lois finds that her story of an alien creature living amongst Earthlings doesn't meet with Perry White's (Laurence Fishburne) approval. She leaks the story to an internet blog, where it goes viral (and here, too, some may wonder why Goyer didn't update The Daily Planet to be an internet entity, since papers are obviously a dying art form). Clark, now armed with the knowledge of who he really is, returns home to Kansas to be with his mother, only to suddenly become the object of a global search when Zod and his cohorts show up, holding the entire planet hostage until Clark (or more appropriately Kal-El) turns himself in. Meanwhile, Lois' investigative prowess has actually led her back to Kansas, where she eventually tracks down Clark, but then refuses to divulge his identity after he has a little heart to heart with her about wanting to stay anonymous.
That sets up the noisy third act of the film, which boils down to a CGI-laden remake of Superman II, with Zod and his acolytes attempting to take over the Earth (and Clark, of course), with the newly minted Superman the only thing standing in their way. Without completely giving away one extra piece of information, Goyer also returns to the Children of Men subtext, adding in a little intentional or unintentional reference to the old Outer Limits episode "Demon With a Glass Hand" (written by the great Harlan Ellison), which my hunch is will play a role in an upcoming entry in this reborn franchise (fans will already know there's a planned Superman—Batman outing in the works for 2015 or thereabouts).
The major problem with Man of Steel is that it wants to reinvent this hero in the roiling emotional template forged by Nolan in his Batman films, when Superman simply isn't the same kind of personality. Goyer and Nolan even give Clark a Batman-esque trauma involving one of his parents that is obviously supposed to play into the character's inner turmoil (and truth be told, for all its manipulative excess, this sequence actually does end up generating some emotional heft). But too often Superman is left to actually scream as he chases Truth, Justice and the American Way, to the point that some of the character's heroics may actually provoke giggles among the more cynically minded. There may in fact have been no facile way to approach the more stolid persona of Clark—Superman, but trying to reinvent the character as a rural Bruce Wayne doesn't work, at least for the most part.
Director Zack Snyder has already proven his mettle with epic CGI-fests (300, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole 3D), but he's also frankly shown himself to be easily seduced by visual and storytelling excesses (Sucker Punch). Both of those tendencies are on display throughout Man of Steel. The film is first and foremost manifestly too long, especially in the completely predictable third act (how many times do we have to see a huge melée raining down destruction on a major American city, with just a moment of respite when the battle seems to be over, only to have another smackdown ensue between the hero and main villain?). But Snyder for all his technical prowess can't keep himself from using needless techniques like "jiggly cam" or the now ubiquitous sudden zooms in and out which are supposedly meant to give the film a "you are there" veracity, but which often just seem like pointless exercises in artifice.
Snyder does much better with his cast, all of whom are quite good in what are frankly (and probably inevitably) cartoon cardboard cut out roles. Henry Cavill is physically extremely impressive (a shot of him half naked emerging from the surf brings a new meaning to being buffed and toned, to say the least), and he tries to give Clark some "human" qualities, though as mentioned above, that frequently devolves into tragic screaming as he's forced to save humanity, giving up his anonymity in the process. Adams' Lois is an interesting study in vulnerability with just the hint of a (no pun intended) steely spine lurking in the background. Costner and Lane are quite touching as the Kents and probably come closest to achieving the sort of emotional tenor Goyer, Nolan and Snyder were aiming for. Shannon is of course larger than life, appropriately hyperbolic and hiss worthy.
Bryan Singer attempted to reboot this character along more traditional lines in Superman Returns, but one of Singer's addition to the mythos was a patently Christian subtext where Superman's sacrifice was likened to Jesus on the cross (visually as well as textually). Of all the ideas Goyer and crew could have cribbed from Singer's version, it seems patently odd that it should be this one, but here is that same conceit, handled perhaps even more overtly than in the Singer film. When Clark seeks out a priest to discuss whether he should sacrifice himself to save Mankind, he does so with a stained glass window of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane hovering over his shoulder. Later, Clark mentions to a military expert that he's been on Earth for 33 years. In one of the moments of calm before the (repeated) storm that is a Groundhog Day-esque feature of the film's final act, Superman haltingly grasps toward a glowing light in what is perhaps an unintentional reference to Michelangelo's immortal Sistine Chapel painting of God reaching out and touching Adam.
It's not hard to see what Snyder, Nolan and Goyer wanted to do with Man of Steel, and in a way it's perfectly understandable, especially given the previous success of the Dark Knight films, as well as the lackluster response to the last Superman outing by Bryan Singer. But some may, as I do, question the appropriateness of investing this frankly two dimensional hero with so much emotional baggage. Sometimes it's best to just be able to root for the good guy without worrying about what he's going through as he leaps over tall buildings in a single bound.
Man of Steel Blu-ray, Video Quality
Man of Steel is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. Whatever qualms some may have with the dramatic content of this film, few are going to have even slight quibbles with the stunning visual allure of Snyder's latest opus. The film seamlessly blends live action and lots of CGI, something that surely should come as no huge surprise to fans of Snyder's previous films. Some of that CGI is just slightly soft looking, as tends to be the case, but it also gives the film some amazing set pieces, both Earthbound (when Clark rescues workers off of an exploding oil rig) and in space (courtesy of both the long Krypton sequence as well as Zod's incursions later in the film). The image here is sharp, precise, and full of superb fine detail (just take a look at that weirdly rubbery lizard like suit Superman wears, or the close-ups of faces, where every pore is visible). As is the standard operating practice these days, things have been variously color graded. The Krypton sequence is kind of amber-brown, while the final act featuring the wholesale destruction of Metropolis is largely made up of ice cold blues and slate grays, but never is fine detail compromised. Contrast and black levels are rock solid and consistent throughout the presentation. Some may have passing qualms with the brief moments of softness, or even mere seconds of murky shadow detail here and there, but given the overall excellence of this presentation, which I personally would rate as reference quality, I don't think anyone is going to have major issues with the video presentation of Man of Steel.
Man of Steel Blu-ray, Audio Quality
You don't have to wait long at all for Man of Steel's incredibly forceful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix to announce its very visceral presence. As soon as the seemingly endless series of production entity logos starts unspooling, the listener is greeted with an almost chthonic rumbling gurgling up from the subwoofer, in an approximation of what being in a live volcano probably sounds (and feels) like. That's just the opening salvo in what is a nonstop barrage of artful surround activity. Both the opening half hour as well as the final half hour-plus of the film are incredibly loud and sonically hyperbolic, which will no doubt delight those who like their home theater setups pushed to their limit. But even in quieter moments, there's great attention to detail. Listen to the rush of the water when a school bus the young Clark is riding in crashes into a river, or even better, the simple ambient environmental noises—quiet, but very present—in the Kansas farmhouse scenes. Dialogue is cleanly and clearly presented, even in the busiest aural environments, as are the ubiquitous foley effects, which effortlessly create nonstop immersion with a wealth of both discrete channelization and fantastic panning. This is certainly one of the most impressive soundtracks in recent memory. It frankly bludgeons the listener quite a bit of the time, but it's an incredibly visceral experience from the first moment until the last.
Man of Steel Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Man of Steel Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I'm kind of in the middle ground with regard to Man of Steel. I don't think it's the masterpiece the film's staunchest advocates argue it is, nor do I think it's the abomination sullying the iconic history of this character that the most vociferous naysayers claim it is. For me, Man of Steel is an interesting but flawed attempt to reinvent the franchise. Parts of it work very well, and other parts are so patently manipulative and even ridiculous that they're almost laughable. Where you fall on this spectrum will probably have a lot to do with your personal history with this character, and perhaps even more to how you feel about previous film and television versions of Clark and his alter ego. One way or the other, this Blu-ray offers stupendous video and audio, and despite my issues with some of the creative decisions in this reboot, it comes Recommended.
Man of Steel: Other Editions
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Man of Steel Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Sales, Nov. 11-17: Man of Steel Rises to Number One - November 21, 2013
For the week that ended on November 17th, Warner Home Entertainment's Man of Steel took the number-one spot on both the Blu-ray-only and overall package media charts. This gritty retelling of the Superman story did solid business for the studio this past summer. ...
• This Week on Blu-ray: November 12-19 - November 10, 2013
For the week of November 12th, Warner Home Entertainment is bringing Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan's gritty, somber Man of Steel to Blu-ray. Other titles include Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, Prince Avalanche, F.W. Murnau's classic Nosferatu, and the 40th Anniversary ...
• Exclusive Giveaway: Man of Steel - November 9, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment are offering three members the opportunity to win a copy of director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Russell Crowe. ...
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