MAN OF STEEL
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane,
Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Zack Snyder
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.4:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 143 Minutes
Release Date: November 12, 2013
“How do we know you won’t one day act against America’s interests?”
“I grew up in Kansas, General. I’m about as American as it gets.”
Perhaps it’s safe to say that Man of Steel is a reboot of a reboot. Warner has helmed the classic Superman franchise since the 70s, making four films with Christopher Reeve, then leaving the saga alone until the misstep of Superman Returns, with Brandon Routh in the title role, and awkwardly attempting to pick up where the original films had years before.
Now we have a complete wiping of the slate. Everything has gone back to the start, and all is made new. Man of Steel is a nice new beginning to the superhero’s story, with plenty to cheer for, even if it falls short of the mark of Batman Begins.
We go back to the beginning, which in the case of planet Krypton, is the ending. The planet is about to go belly-up from over-mining of its core (actually, Krypton exploded when its sun went supernova, but there it is). Jor-El (Crowe) and General Zod (Shannon) are the two people certain of the fate of their world, but each has a very different design on how to preserve their race.
On Kyrpton, natural birth is all but extinct; new citizens are farmed a la The Matrix via a clever MacGuffin called the Codex, which stores the patterns for all DNA for Krypton. Zod’s plan: take the Codex to another world and turn that world into the new Krypton (regardless of what current inhabitants of said planet might think).
Jor-El, however, steals the Codex, and implants it all into his young (and natural born son), Kal-El, before sending him lightyears away to a world where he will be different and strange, but have a chance to grow up safely, and possibly even become something of a hero and example to the occupants of that planet.
Of course, that planet is Earth, and young Kal-El is found and taken in by the Kents (Costner and Lane). One of the treats of this movie is seeing how young Kal, now Clark, has his abilities develop. In one memorable classroom scene, he finds he can’t turn off his super senses, leaving him in a nightmare of X-ray images and uncontrollable noise.
The Kents know what they have in Clark, but they persuade him to try and keep his secret until what time, if ever, the world will be ready to accept him. His father so strongly wants to protect his son’s secret that he eventually even makes the ultimate sacrifice rather than expose him.
Clark (Cavill) matures and lives like a nomad trying to hide from the world until he is finally brought face to face with the truth about who he is from the…um, spirit?...of Jor-El. A reporter named Lois Lane (Adams) has been closing in on his secret anyway. But what really brings Clark out of hiding is the sudden alarming appearance of General Zod and his minions, demanding the return of Kal-El so that he can proceed with claiming the Codex and his plan to bring Krypton back to life.
The final stretch is pure action; some of which is so fast that it’s hard to keep track of what you’re seeing…I guess heroes and villains with superpowers would tend to battle in a blur. Some of the special effects are astonishing. The action is thrilling, but does seem to take a little of the heart out of what’s gone before.
It’s often unfair to compare one film to another, but some films just naturally ask for it. How does Man of Steel compare to Superman: The Movie? I don’t think any new film will take the place of the original in my mind, which was a truly magical experience at the time. It was much easier to believe Superman could fly with the simple wire tricks of old than with the relentless assault of CGI that the modern version delivers. And it’s definitely unfair, but entirely true, to say that no one who dons the cape will ever do it as well as Christopher Reeve did.
That being said, Henry Cavill does an impressive job in the role. He looks the part, and acts the part, and has the time needed to really explore the humanity of the character before unleashing him into all-out action hero. Amy Adams is perhaps the best Lois Lane to date, although I’m not quite comfortable with my Lois Lane making crude references to male genitalia. Michael Shannon’s take on Zod is certainly different from the classic camp of Terrence Stamp…less fun, maybe, but more real.
Perhaps the biggest plus in this film is the development of Clark’s parents, and having a pair of quality actors in Kevin Costner and Diane Lane in the roles. We need to understand where Superman gets his humanity, and in this film, that’s clearly understood.
Krypton, for my money, is way too over the top; a world with giant beasts of land and air, inexplicable technology, and too much action for a simple origin storyline. In retrospect, the real triumph of the movie lies bookended between big, fast, loud action sequences at the beginning and end.
Still, this movie is a success, if not a flawless one. If the purpose of Man of Steel is to begin a new chapter in the Superman franchise (and given the much-discussed participations of Ben Affleck as Batman and Bryan Cranston as Lex Luthor in the next chapter, that’s a certainty), then Warner truly found the right ingredients to build on.
I was a little underwhelmed by the 3D in this movie…not that it was bad; in fact, I don’t think I noticed a single instance of ghosting or distortion…just that it was kind of lifeless. It was definitely less prolific than I expected for a superhero movie. There were stretches where I kind of forgot I was watching a 3D movie…you be the judge of whether that’s a sign of quality. I don’t necessarily want my 3D to be in my face and obnoxious, but it seems they could have found a few more ways to turn it into a more viable experience. That being said, colors were beautiful throughout, and images were sharp and wonderfully detailed.
The uncompressed 7.1 audio is quite explosive and dynamic. This movie offers plenty of action, but plenty of quiet and contemplative moments as well. Everything is nicely balanced and mixed, with solid use of the surround channels and plenty of action for the bass speaker. Superb!
The extras, all on the 2D disc, includes a look at the iconic characters of the Superman saga through the years (with cast and crew), a featurette on the action of the film, an exploration of Krypton and its technology with the young actor playing Clark as a child, and a very cool animated short for the 75th anniversary of Superman. You’ll enjoy the cartoon paying tribute to the various incarnations of the hero, including the George Reeves television show, Superfriends, and yes, the immortal Christopher Reeve.
The box also purports to have an interactive experience or a commentary with Zack Snyder; however, I was unable to find it on either Blu-ray disc. That may just be my mistake, however.
Man of Steel is a promising start to a new chapter in the Superman franchise. A solid cast definitely provides the foundation for this reboot to grow in the future.