Blu-Ray Review: Man of Steel
Man of Steel is totally batshit and I loved it. I’m more surprised that I wasn’t alone in loving it. I expected that if people had a problem with Bryan Singer’s indie relationship drama Superman Returns, they may not like this WTF Superman. It’s a nonlinear, impressionistic exploration of Kal-El (Henry Cavill)’s existential crisis, and it is magnificent.
We go from Krypton portrayed as a planet from a Star Wars prequel (more like The Chronicles of Riddick) to Clark Kent as a drifter like Rambo or Caine, then flash back to his traumatic childhood where X-ray vision was a monstrous discovery. Even when the plot about General Zod (Michael Shannon) kicks in, it keeps flashing back, and really only delivers snippets of plot related scenes. It’s more of a tone piece.
This is so still the director of Sucker Punch and I love Sucker Punch so it makes me very happy that Snyder said, “Oh, you didn’t like the last one? Well, too bad, I’m still doing Superman this way!” Zack Snyder is the blockbuster Terrence Malick. There’s a major confrontation in this movie that basically takes place in a dream. You don’t know where you are from scene to scene but you understand it emotionally.
The theme of this Superman takes the simple message of our better selves, our greatest ideal and turns it into an examination of our worst selves with a hint of hope in there somewhere. Kal-El’s mission is basically to weather a storm of hate and fear so he can turn an evil Eugenics plot into an inspiration of the human spirit. Long way to go, but it’s a fairly Gandhi approach to humanity (and Krytponity)’s worst qualities, but with more flying and punching. Young Clark practices nonviolence, which makes him an inspiration before he’s forced to confront Zod as an adult.
Then they start breaking stuff. Yes, this existential art film does explode into superhero action. It’s 300 Superman, which I don’t mean to be unfair to Snyder, but I mean to say it’s awesome that his style is so distinct and it works in different genres. There’s more high speed combat than his familiar slow motion, but it ultimately becomes a Kaiju movie with aliens ransacking cities, and all the military collateral damage. I guess Man of Steel gave me the Kaiju movie I wanted Pacific Rim to be.
Everything is updated to modern day graphics, which is normally an annoying cliché but here it’s a comment on what modern cinematic technology means for a Superman movie. The Phantom Zone is now an excessive CGI process, which isn’t nearly as creepy as the optical manipulation of the Donner movies, but it’s so right that they pour every piece of technology into conveying something inherently simple. Kryptonian hentai monsters, underwater baby farms, what the hell kind of Superman movie is this? An awesome one. Academy Award nominee Amy Adams fights a Kryptonian tentacle!
Making a more gritty and realistic Superman makes it even crazier to have all these flying aliens in it. The whole film looks grayer than the crystal mass in Superman Returns, so if you had a problem with that you should at least be consistent and complain about this gray Superman too. It’s amazing that Superman can keep referring to “the people of earth” and it’s a legitimate political discussion in an intergalactic terrorist situation. They usually only say “people of earth” in “silly” alien movies. There’s very little human conflict, which is a shame, but it emphasizes instead this epic space opera.
I did not like the choice to go handheld, what today’s filmmakers mistake for realism. I get it, this is what Superman would look like if he arrived during a Paul Greengrass movie. It’s not as bad as A Good Day to Die Hard but even in some of the character dialogue scenes I felt like saying, “Jesus, stop shaking.” How did that go over in 3D? Someone who saw it in 3D please let me know.
The Blu-ray keeps the grayish, muted look the film had in theaters. Even the Kansas farm is devoid of any lushness in the green fields. It’s especially noticeable when watching the extras; the interview soundbites are in bright high definition, let alone the stills of bright four color comic book pages popping off the screen. I almost wonder if you really need a Blu-ray to see this aesthetic, but you do still want the sharpness so you can see Cavill’s ripped figure burst through the frame.
Disc One’s bonus features are respectable behind the scenes featurettes. One 25-minute featurette “Strong Characters, Legendary Roles,” discusses the character of Superman and how Cavill embodied him. Another 25 minutes is devoted to “All-Out Action.” In capturing the stunt training, they show us Cavill, Shannon and Antje Traue working out, which is kind of a more awesome sight than the CGI superhero battles. “Krypton Decoded” is a short six-minute featurette on the designs of Krypton and its technology in the film. Oddly, they threw on the same “New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth” spot from the Hobbit Blu-ray. Are they really so desperate on The Hobbit they have to sell it on Superman Blu-rays now?
The enhanced viewing mode, “Journey of Discovery,” is on an entirely separate disc. It extends the film’s running time to two hours and 55 minutes as Zack Snyder, cast and crew interrupt the film to take us through noteworthy sequences. You’ve seen the format on Watchmen. They really manage to make it unobtrusive as the film gives way to a video intro and then three separate panels of behind the scenes materials creep into the frame. The second disc also includes “the world’s first exploration of Krypton” which is a cute pseudo-documentary on the fictional planet. I was betting on an interactive menu type deal but it’s just a creative spot on Krypton mythology.
So we’ve gone from an extremely reverent sequel that everybody hated to an abstract violation of the core myth that it seems everyone loved. Weird. I still want to see the sequel to Superman Returns (Superman Returns for More?) but if they had to reboot, I love this wildly abstract approach. Now I’m a little bummed that we have to rush into the pseudo-Justice League movie Batman vs. Superman. We won’t get to see what a Man of Steel 2 really would have been. Franchise Fred feels very conflicted about this.