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Man of Steel (3D Blu-ray Review)

22 Nov, 2013 By: John Latchem

Box Office $291.05 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D BD combo, $59.99 gift set
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction and for some language.
Stars Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Richard Schiff, Ayelet Zurer, Russell Crowe.

The easiest way to frame any discussion of Man of Steel would be to describe it as an attempt to do a Batman Begins-style character study of Superman. While this isn’t surprising given Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer’s work on the screenplay, it’s also something of an oversimplifaction, since previous Batman films hadn’t really delved into the origins of the character, whereas Superman received a proper origin story in the 1978 Superman movie.

Whatever Man of Steel is or is not, it performed well enough at the box office to justify the marketing hype of moving forward with a sequel featuring a Batman crossover in Warner’s desperate attempt to compete with Marvel’s hugely successful “Avengers” franchise.

Man of Steel is crafted by director Zack Snyder in such a way to both distance itself from the earlier Superman films while at the same time reminding us of the familiar elements that define the character and introduce them to a new audience. Even the musical by Hans Zimmer is purposefully new-agey and underwhelming, though there are moments where you can’t help but hear snippets of John Williams’ classic theme in your head.

The film is essentially a remake of the broader arcs of Superman I and II, as Superman (Henry Cavill) is sent to Earth to protect him from the dying Krypton, only to defend his new home against the Kryptonian war criminal General Zod (Michael Shannon). 

But at least it’s a version of Superman that has its own voice, unlike the awful Superman Returns.

Some parts of the new movie seem lifted almost directly from the earlier films, demonstrating how intrinsic parts of the Superman mythos are, such as how he seemingly has to save Lois Lane (Amy Adams) every five minutes. Other scenes put a new twist on established paradigms without fundamentally altering the underlying mythology.

The story draws heavily on the sci-fi elements from the Superman mythos, given that he’s an alien from a technologically advanced planet. One of the better subplots involves the way Superman’s introduction on Earth ties into a UFO conspiracy-type storyline usually seen in alien invasion films.

Superman himself is presented as a man torn between two worlds, unsure of his allegiances or whom he can trust. At its core, this is the story of a god learning to understand his destiny — how Superman comes to accept his place on Earth.

There are other wonderful bits of subtext layered throughout the story, mostly involving Krypton as an example of how technological hubris can lead to destruction. There’s a strong undercurrent of the contrast between collectivism and individual freedom. As such, Zod’s symbol resembles a sickle, evoking images of Soviet-style propaganda, while Superman is defined by his ability to choose for himself, decked out in patriotic American colors.

Many of these motifs tend to get pushed aside in favor of lengthy action sequences, but there’s a lot to unpack here, and the film is better on subsequent viewings once the details are a little more evident.

Unfortunately, most of the Blu-ray bonus materials seem focused on the technical details and not the creative process. The visual effects are impressive, although the 3D doesn’t register much of an impact beyond a slight sensation of depth that seems more defined during quiet character moments than the major action sequences where it should be most notable.

The major extra on the Blu-ray is “Journey of Discovery” a special version of the film that runs almost three hours as Snyder guides viewers through the making of the film with cutaways to behind-the-scenes videos. Separate featurettes cover some of the same ground but are more in depth about certain aspects of the production.

One of the fun featurettes is a profile of Kryptonian heritage, including a guide to the alien language. It demonstrates how much thought went into fleshing out the culture.

Wrapping things up is a great animated short celebrating Superman’s 75th anniversary by showing the character’s evolution through the years.

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