The epic and beautiful Man of Steel brings Superman home with stunning video and sound.
If you venture into the world of parody online trailers like Honest Trailers, you’ll remember one of their best efforts (The Avengers) announces that DC has been placed on ‘suicide watch’ due to Marvel’s total command of the box office. Who could blame lowly DC: after a commercially successful but extremely disappointing Dark Knight Rises and still stinging from the unwatchable Green Lantern, the studio that first brought comic book heroes into the modern era seemed adrift and without a larger plan. Luckily the release of Man of Steel proves DC still packs a Krypton-sized punch, producing a beautifully-shot and thoroughly-enjoyable effort, while settling a personal and long-standing debate. Its arrival on home video couldn’t be more impressive.
The story of Kal-El (aka Superman) begins on the far-away planet of Krypton, which is engulfed in a civil war lead by the war hero-turned-traitor General Zod (Michael Shannon, Premium Rush). The reasons for this bloody conflict stem from a debate about whether Krypton’s core will soon explode, or if the calculations of the scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe, Gladiator) are merely those of a crackpot. As the civil war is violently suppressed, Zod and his fellow conspirators are sentenced to a sort of dimensional black hole called The Phantom Zone, while Krypton meets the fate Jor-El predicted. In a desperate effort to continue their planet’s heritage, Jor-El and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer, Angels and Demons) send their newborn son to Earth before the apocalypse can begin. On Earth, Kal is raised in the town of Smallville by Martha (Diane Lane, Under the Tuscan Sun) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams), who try unsuccessfully to keep Kal’s powers a secret. As the son Clark (Henry Cavill, Immortals) grows into adulthood, he drifts from job to job while searching for his true identity, ultimately drawn to saving people in distress by the most heroic means possible. Enter the investigative journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams, The Muppets), who’s been tracking Kal and his super-human rescue missions. Once he learns of his planet’s history, Kal dons the famous red cape, and just in time. Zod arrives at Earth along with his contingent of convicts bent on destroying Superman and beginning a new Krypton on Earth. As the two square off in a series of land, sea, air, and space battles, Superman must defend the people of Earth while fighting the urge to commit the one act he’s promised never to do.
Say what you want about Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen), but he can weave a beautiful epic while casting a keen eye on Superman’s past. Man of Steel clearly respects every aspect of the Caped Crusader’s heritage, from the majesty of flight, to his super strength and heat vision. Snyder gets Superman visually, but it’s also the writing of The Dark Knight‘s David S. Goyer that brings this marriage the dramatic punch it needed. A story about an alien struggling to find his sense of self while keeping his new home safe from Hell-bent destructive people is an automatic winner. Goyer also throws in enough DC tips-of-the-hat to keep hardcore fans interested, even if some of the purists (and critics) may have walked away feeling unconvinced. Some will claim the result is typical Zack Snyder eye candy, like watching 300 or Sucker Punch, but lacking the impact of a Dark Knight. I disagree. Impressed as we all were with the previews, my most pressing concern was whether a hero created not to kill could in fact do what was necessary when the moment presented itself. If not, our new world order of supporting ultra-violence might reject his story outright, and the franchise would again suffer a long period of indignity. Goyer presents a powerful remedy that effectively solves this conundrum, giving us the kind of resolution that the audience hopefully relished when it finally arrived.
Cavill plays a very likable Supes, but it’s the Oscar-heavy supporting cast and exceptional new talent around him that help tell the whole story so effectively. Many times we witness ensemble pieces that struggle to tell everyone’s story. This is the only knock (slight) against Man of Steel, for there’s just not enough time to weave thorough tales for everyone. Goyer chooses the Kents, Jor-El, and Zod, while the Daily Planet’s Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne, The Matrix) and Lane should see their stories get better treatment in future films. This is not just an origin story for Superman, but on the entire human universe connected with this iconic character – I can give them a pass for not covering everyone to our expectations. To have left the theater in early June with such a satisfying feeling represented quite a realization for a guy who loves his Marvel films, but whose disappointment for Iron Man 3 grows even week.
Yet, a Hollywood where two excellent superhero universes thrive is better for fans and for the genre as a whole. The return of Superman may not have been what everyone wanted or needed, but it’s clear that co-Writer/Producer Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight series), Snyder, and Goyer have things well in hand.
Warner Brothers’ Man of Steel is presented in a MPEG-4/AVC transfer that is as impressive as anything we’ve seen this year. In short, we’re given a stunning presentation worthy of Zack Snyder’s latest effort. A film of this type relies on a strong combination of live action and believable CGI to sell the sizzle; fortunately, Warner delivers the goods in lifelike detail and color. The film provides sharp focus of Superman’s chainmail-like suit, Krypton’s battle- and scout ships, and locations like Smallville and Metropolis. It’s like we’re there witnessing Kal and Zod battling it out in an Act 3 that I dare say rivals The Battle of New York in The Avengers. Spacebound scenes look as good as ones on Earth, revealed throughout several great set pieces, such as Clark’s rescue of workers on a burning oil rig. But it’s the human element here that shines throughout, whether it be the pores on faces, Perry White’s beard, or Laura Kent’s graying hair. Clothes and battle scars reveal the acumen of Snyder’s makeup and costume teams, showing off an absorbing blue/red in Superman’s suit and the paler gray of Lois Lane’s business attire. Snyder also excels in presenting a desperately brown Krypton, quite a change from the nearly Utopian ice blues of the Richard Donner original. Colors soar across the screen, mixing built-in grain along with the beautiful backdrops of Kansas, the cold of Canada, and the various environments Supes travels through as he discovers his power of flight. Similarly, blacks and contrasts play nicely, showing us multiple levels of shadows without revealing any crush. There’s no aliasing or banding either, proving that Snyder understands the importance of delivering a successful film to the home market. We’ve never had a reason to complain when he steps behind the camera, and Man of Steel only strengthens our appreciation of him and Warner Bros. It’s an exemplary presentation.
Man of Steel comes complete with a generous – yet somewhat befuddling – amount of supplements. We’ll be reviewing the supplements for the Target exclusive Digibook, all of which are delivered in HD:
- Strong Characters, Legendary Roles (Disc 1, 25:59): Filled with concept art to interviews with Snyder and company, we learn how elements from the comics were reborn into the film. Every element is covered, including the appearance of DC artists who reinvigorated Supes in the 90’s and the team behind Snyder. Based on its length, this alone would be the only feature on many discs, so it’s refreshing to see several more included.
- All Out Action (Disc 1, 26:02): Another gargantuan feature, this one focuses on just what you think it does – the action set pieces and the actors and stunt crew who prepare for each scenes. I particularly liked the presentation of Gym Jones’ Trainer Mark Twight, as he trains Cavill and Shannon, resulting in perfect physical specimens worthy of a Superman movie.
- Krypton Decoded (Disc 1, 6:42): Thirteen-year-old Dylan Sprayberry, who plays young Clark Kent, takes viewers through a discussion of several aspects of the movie’s CGI, including weapons and armor.
- 75th Anniversary Short (Disc 1, 2:03): Using John Williams’ iconic score, this charts the comic, movie, television history of Superman’s history.
- New Zealand: Home to Middle Earth (Disc 1, 6:35): The only hiccup here is a poorly-placed featurette on The Hobbit, which is thrown in here for reasons beyond me and…well…everyone. Poor play, Warner.
- (Target Exclusive) Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel (Disc 2, 174 minutes): A second version of the movie is made available, complete with a Maximum Mode-like commentary, complete with Snyder and his team of creative geniuses and several of the cast members dissect every inch of the film’s productions. It’s not as fluid as other MM presentations of the past, as the actual film is not always apparent on the screen; but the triple angles and views of the film, the interviews, and the shooting are fascinating to say the least. This is something that should enthrall any fan of the film or of a movie’s production in general, bringing to light the time and energy expended in bringing these massive productions to the big screen. You can’t access any of these featurettes outside of the film, but it’s a minor issue that doesn’t affect my score in the least.
- (Target Exclusive) Planet Krypton (Disc 2, 17:18): A fun but entirely falsified documentary, we learn about Krypton, its technology, and the people who arrive to upend Metropolis and our way of life.
- (Target Exclusive) X-ray Vision: A series of five featurettes, this portion focuses on more behind the film’s origin, shooting, and post-production. Included are Destruction of Krypton (6:02), Clark Discovers The Scout Ship (5:58), Battle on the Streets of Smallville (5:31), The Military Might of Man of Steel (6:15) and Attack on Metropolis (6:51). They all seem to borrow on video and sit-down interviews from the Journey commentary, but it’s welcomed nevertheless.
- (Target Exclusive) Inside the Legendary World of Superman Book: The Digibook contains a very nice selection of conceptual artwork and photos from the set. We’ve come to love most Digibooks, and this one is no different.
Our 2D copy arrived as a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, but several versions were made available to consumers. Our two favorites – the debossed Walmart steelbook (with interior artwork) and the Target Digibook – are well-made and affordable, proving that American audiences sometimes get a release equal to other countries. At the time of this post, Amazon also offered a Limited Edition Figurine Set, while most retailers received a limited production 3D set with the famous ‘S’ glyph on a transparent stand. Of these, it appears that the Target version actually contained more content. We’re hoping our readers will let us know if this is correct. All of the Blu-ray versions offer an Ultraviolet Digital Copy of the theatrical version.
Man of Steel is a sweeping effort to be sure., and its arrival onto home video is nothing short of a stunning success. Snyder, Nolan, Goyer, and the cast shine in bringing Superman into the 21st Century, establishing itself as one of the best comic book movies ever. The home release sports reference-quality audio and audio, while its supplements (save one) outdoing every other effort in 2013. In many ways, Man of Steel proves that a boy-scout superhero raised to defend American values can thrive in today’s deadlier and decidedly darker society. Whether comic book purists like what’s in store for this iteration of Superman – now complete with a sequel featuring Batman and other DC heroes – isn’t as important as the fact that DC is off the mat and happily off suicide watch. Let’s celebrate that as a win-win for fans and moviegoers alike, who will now enjoy a slew of superhero films throughout the next decade. Man of Steel is rated PG-13 for violence and has a runtime of 143 minutes.