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Man of Steel: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

Man of Steel (2013) movie poster Man of Steel

Theatrical Release: June 14, 2013 / Running Time: 143 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Zack Snyder / Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay & story), Christopher Nolan (story); Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster (character)

Cast: Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Kal-El), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Antje Traue (Faora-Ul), Harry Lennix (General Swanwick), Richard Schiff (Dr. Emil Hamilton), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Nathan Hardy), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Ayelet Zurer (Lara Lor-Van), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Dylan Sprayberry (Clark Kent - 13 Years), Cooper Timberline (Clark Kent - 9 Years), Richard Cetrone (Tor-An), Julian Richings (Lor-Em), Mary Black (Ro-Zar), Samantha Jo (Car-Vex), Michael Kelly (Steve Lombard), Rebecca Buller (Jenny), Carla Gugino (Voice of Kelor)

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In the summer of 2006, Superman Returns did okay but not great business at the box office.
It was liked but not loved by critics. Moviegoers weren't any more enthusiastic about it. It didn't find an adoring audience on home video and its cast and crew are all less in demand today than they were seven years ago. Thus, it isn't a sequel but a reboot we get in Man of Steel.

Who better to be involved with this than Christopher Nolan, who perfected the reboot with Batman Begins and has done more than enough to become a favorite filmmaker both of Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Comics. Nolan, however, did not write or direct Man of Steel. He merely produces it and shares story credit with his Batman Begins scribe David S. Goyer. The director's chair is filled by Zack Snyder of 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch fame. You should adjust your expectations accordingly.

The first twenty minutes of the film show how Superman's parents, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) saved him before the destruction of their planet. When General Zod (Michael Shannon) resurfaces his, enough time has passed to turn his goatee partly white.

Man of Steel is an origin film, though it tries to fight that classification in some ways. We open, naturally, on the planet Krypton, which finds itself under siege. A faction led by General Zod (Michael Shannon) is ready to overthrow the planet's order. While the revolutionaries are quickly exiled, Krypton itself is destroyed, but not before Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) produce the first natural childbirth the planet has seen in centuries. The newborn Kal-El is sent away to safety.

As you know, he winds up in the aptly-named Smallville, Kansas, where he is raised by the most nurturing and loving adoptive parents (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) he could hope to find. Here, the film opts for nonlinearity, jumping around to different parts in the upbringing of the absolutely anthropomorphic alien who is named Clark Kent. In the present day, Clark is grown up (Henry Cavill) and using his superior strength for stealthy, anonymous acts of good.

One such life-saving act alerts Pulitzer Prize-winning Metropolis journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to Clark's unworldly origin. Lois' editor (Laurence Fishburne) won't publish her incredible claims, so she leaks the story to a blogger. It isn't the power of the press, though, but a distress signal inadvertently sent by Clark that reveals to a still extremely vengeful Zod the planet that the youngest Kryptonian survivor has made his home. Zod's small but mighty army makes contact with Clark Kent, reawakening a 30-year-old feud, with the U.S. military caught in the middle.

With military choppers behind him, Superman (Henry Cavill) presents himself to Zod as demanded in "Man of Steel."

Superman's extraterrestrial origins have been well-documented in seventy-five years of comic books and also feature in the quartet of 1970s and '80s Christopher Reeve films that gave birth to the modern superhero movie.
Still, we associate the character with Earth, specifically America. It's a little strange to see Goyer, the lone credited screenplay writer, and Snyder devote so much time to the unrest of a distant planet. There must have been some reluctance to reintroduce Superman's chief nemesis, Lex Luthor, so relatively soon after he held his usual villain duties (via a bald-capped Kevin Spacey) in Superman Returns. Instead, antagonism is supplied by General Zod, who most prominently appeared in Superman II, played by Terence Stamp.

The interplanetary nature of this reboot recalls Thor and, to a smaller degree, The Avengers. But Man of Steel clearly aspires not to Marvel Studios-type entertainment, instead using Batman Begins as the blueprint. The weakest link in Nolan's trilogy, that film requires multiple viewings and outstanding sequels to earn appreciation; without the former, the latter never would have come.

Though he has Nolan in his corner as well as a steep budget comparable to those Batman films, Snyder is not Nolan and that fact is evident throughout this serviceable yet unspectacular effort intended to launch a new tentpole franchise. The director enjoyed box office success at the start of his feature filmmaking career with his 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake qualifying as a mid-range sleeper and his 2007 follow-up 300 catapulting him to blockbuster heights. Since then, Snyder has struggled commercially and critically, with Watchmen fizzling after a potent opening weekend, his computer-animated departure Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole interesting nobody, and Sucker Punch flat out bombing. He doesn't seem like the safest or savviest filmmaker to entrust with a film that anything less than a billion dollar worldwide gross will label a disappointment. Then again, it's only hindsight that makes Sam Raimi, Jon Favreau, and even Nolan viable choices to steer comic book behemoths.

Snyder is an action director and that is what he brings to Man of Steel: lots and lots of action. Even if overly shaky camerawork challenges your appreciation of them, the visual effects and production design are terrific, as they should be for a film that cost $225 million to make. Beyond those, things are less admirable. The film loses the viewer's interest during its hour-long climax, which unfolds with interminable fighting and some clunky product placement. Some human material meant to ground the conflict doesn't take and you're likely to wonder why this has to be as long as it is.

The film is so desperate to be different that it fails to be very good. It tries so hard to recreate the dark, edgy rhythms of Nolan's Batman films, down to the droning repetitive two-note Hans Zimmer score. But what worked so wonderfully for Batman does not suit this material nearly as well. While you won't mistake this for past Superman adventures, nor will you be sufficiently entertained to spare this such comparison.

Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) waves off help in the midst of a devastating tornado flashback. A little bit of fire doesn't faze Joe the greenhorn, a.k.a. a bearded Clark Kent (Henry Cavill).

Outside of Nolan's Batman movies and (Burton's before them), filmings of DC Comics have struggled to resonate with the public, with Marvel Studios handily outpacing them in volume and median popularity. While Nolan's Batman outings did offer state-of-the-art action, they had much more than that: multi-faceted characters, complicated relationships, real-world relevance, rich atmosphere, bold villains, and compelling scenarios. Man of Steel seems to want to give us all of that too, but it only succeeds enough in each category to add up to relatively diverting summer popcorn fare.

The cast assembled here is quite full of talent. Adams instantly classes up the proceedings even if the film's crudest line is one of the first out of her mouth. Shannon, who has relished playing leading man in indies with double-digit theater counts, effortlessly acclimates to his biggest movie to date, chewing scenery with vein-popping outbursts while looking even odder than usual in the substantial villain role. Supporting players, including TV veterans Harry Lennix, Christopher Meloni, and Richard Schiff, provide the often expository notes that are needed.
Meanwhile, in the titular role, the British, relatively unknown Cavill (Immortals, "The Tudors") acquits himself nicely, giving just enough warmth and personality to a part far from overflowing with either.

Large stretches pass with minimal dialogue, as Snyder repeatedly treats us to old-fashioned fistfights and the steroidal equivalent of them (hurling armored large, virtually invincible masses at one another). The thin plot is advanced by "command keys" resembling flash drives. The film does not have much in the way of humor; the trailer's big joke, derailing what would be the first utterance of "Superman", and a workplace accident sign gag are about the height of the comedy. (At my theatrical screening, a young viewer's audible "Uh-oh" during a tense, quiet moment drew a bigger response than either of those.) While there is no rule that superhero movies should make you laugh, the best ones often do; even Nolan's dark, moody epics seized some opportunities for levity. Man of Steel need not be funny, but it should be fun more often than it is. When a superhero movie -- and a decently-made, lavishly-produced one about Superman at that -- doesn't qualify as wall-to-wall entertainment, it's tough to be satisfied.

Grossing $291 million domestically and $663 M worldwide, Man of Steel handily outperformed Superman Returns and Batman Begins, but fell far short of the earnings amassed by the superhero genre's biggest behemoths, including The Avengers, Nolan's two Dark Knight sequels, and Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. Man of Steel also could not rival Iron Man 3, an unusually formidable outing which grossed nearly 1.5x as much domestically and nearly twice as much globally.

Still, the numbers were agreeable to Warner, who has to have high hopes for the film's 2015 sequel, which, unless you just awoke from a coma, you know will feature Ben Affleck in the role of Batman, a crossover event prompting, fairly or not, Avengers-like expectations.

Meanwhile, Man of Steel hits home video today, getting a Two-Disc Special Edition DVD; the two Blu-ray, one DVD combo pack reviewed here; a 4-disc Blu-ray 3D combo pack; plus a couple of snazzy high-end gift sets built on the combo packs.

Man of Steel: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Thai)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Chinese Traditional; BD-only: Portuguese; DVD-only: Chinese Simplified, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: November 12, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (2 BD-50s & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Two-Disc Special Edition DVD ($28.98 SRP), Blu-ray 3D Combo ($44.95 SRP), Limited Edition Blu-ray Combo + Figurines Gift Set ($60.01 SRP) Collector's Edition Blu-ray 3D Combo + Glass Stand ($59.99 SRP), and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's transfer resembles theatrical exhibition. The 2.40:1 presentation is a little grainy and steely, especially for the film's first half. That somewhat heavy style doesn't detract from the fact that the picture is clean and nicely defined. The aggressive sound of the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio will have you reaching for the remote on occasion to lower the volume, and later raise it. Despite that design, it's a pleasing mix, chockfull of directional effects and powerful atmosphere. It's interesting to note that the atmosphere isn't just the fantastical and otherworldly, but also tasteful and somewhat prominent sounds of nature in Smallville.

Henry Cavill discusses what it means to fill the suit to his right in "Strong Characters, Legendary Roles." Director Zack Snyder shows Michael Shannon (General Zod) and Henry Cavill (Superman) what he's looking for in their green screen duel in "All-Out Action."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray piles on the bonus features, starting with five items on the movie disc.

"Strong Characters, Legendary Roles" (25:59) allows director Zack Snyder, writer David S. Goyer, cast and crew to speak reverentially and knowledgeably of Superman and his universe in addition to expressing what it means to add to this sacred mythology. Some DC Entertainment employees chip in to flesh out the characters' histories and significance, while Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon find relevance in the film's story to the current state of the world.

"All-Out Action" (26:02) takes us inside the action that features so prominently in the film, giving us a taste of the cast's physical training, fight choreography, stunts and effects involved. This type of filmmaking seems exhausting.

Dylan Sprayberry and John "DJ" DesJardin talk Krypton in "Krypton Decoded." This creative animated short celebrates Superman's first 75 years in pop fiction.

"Krypton Decoded" (6:42) has actor Dylan Sprayberry (who plays Clark Kent at 13) ask questions of visual effects supervisor John "DJ" DesJardin
about Superman's home planet and its technology. It's an entertaining descendant of yesteryear TV specials.

"Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short" (2:03) is a delightful little cartoon that pays homage to the character's many adventures and looks in various mediums over the years with help from John Williams' iconic theme and Hans Zimmer's new take. It's something you'll likely want to watch at least three times, especially if you harbor an historical appreciation for the character, even if only to confirm that Brandon Routh gets snubbed.

"New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth" (6:35) feels a wee bit out of place. That's because it's a featurette created for and released on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which finds the cast of that Peter Jackson film discussing the natural beauty encountered shooting in New Zealand. I can't imagine its inclusion here is deliberate, but its appearance on both discs suggest otherwise an it'd be quite staggering to encounter such a goof involving two titles of such stature.

"Journey of Discovery" gives us layers upon layers of insight into the film's creation, as when Diane Lane shows up next to Clark Kent's superscream. "Planet Krypton" treats the alien planet as real and worthy of contrast to our own.

The remaining extras reside on the bonus Blu-ray.

The big one is "Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel", a feature that extends playback of the film to 2 hours, 54 minutes, and 5 seconds and enhances it with scene-specific overlays and interruptions of comments from Zack Snyder and various cast/crew members as well as copious amounts of concept art, raw takes, and other behind-the-scenes footage.
It's basically what Warner once called "Maximum Movie Mode", only it's not limited to picture-in-picture windows, as it utilizes the full 16:9 frame and varied visuals, including multiple windows. Important for this type of feature: few scenes of the movie play without any kind of enhancement and participation is widespread, with every major cast member but Kevin Costner turning up.

Cast highlights include: Michael Shannon clutching a Zod figure in his first appearance and being strange; Russell Crowe and Henry Cavill's memories of their "karmic" first meeting back in 2000; Fishburne expressing his admiration for the Richard Donner Superman movies. Other topics arising: costumes (which included CGI armor), linguistics, fighting styles, production design, visual effects (from the unsettling depiction of X-ray vision), set pieces (the tornado sequence, Lois Lane's complicated single shot work escape), underwater filming, and filming locations. Playback modes like this can be more trouble than they're worth, but this substantial one adds genuine value and more than any combination of plain old audio commentaries could have.

The bonus disc's other extra is "Planet Krypton" (17:18), a featurette that's designed like a cable science show. It runs on the premise that Krypton is real and discovered after General Zod's transmission. It dispenses facts about the planet, its most famous native (Superman), and its technology and beliefs. It's creative and different, but kind of corny too.

Seemingly the first of the two-disc Special Edition sold separately, the DVD here includes the 75th anniversary animated short and, bizarrely, the Hobbit New Zealand short. What a bummer for anyone buying combo packs but not yet having a Blu-ray player. It seems as though Disc 2 of the DVD includes "Strong Characters, Legendary Roles", "All-Out Action" and "Krypton Decoded", but not "Journey of Discovery" or "Planet Krypton."

The Blu-ray opens with an UltraViolet promo and a trailer for Pacific Rim. The DVD opens with the same, followed by an ad for the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us.

The rare title big enough for Warner to produce animated menus, Man of Steel's movie disc screens simply play an ordinary scored montage consisting of many brief clips. The bonus Blu-ray scores a simple static poster art. The BDs resume playback.

The two Blu-rays are stacked on across from the DVD in the standard blue keepcase, which is topped by a glossy, embossed slipcover reproducing the same artwork. An insert supplies your code and directions for redeeming the UltraViolet stream through Flixster.

Superman (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) share a tender moment that could only be spoiled by a nonsensical exchange of dialogue.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A character with as much history as Superman ensures that his every big screen incarnation is worth a look. Sadly, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel is not much more than that. It's a slight improvement over Superman Returns and presumably the maligned latter two of Christopher Reeve's outings.
But it's not enough to really justify the reboot or to fill the large void left by Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise. Sharp visual effects, dynamite sound design, and a few strong sequences aren't enough to overlook the excessive action that comprises the largely underwhelming final hour.

Warner's combo pack delivers the demo-quality feature presentation and wealth of bonus features you'd expect. It's the type of exhaustive release many will feel compelled to buy even if they weren't completely bowled over by the film. I don't blame them on either account.

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Reviewed November 12, 2013.



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