Great start, solid build-up, but unnecessarily dumb denouement
Man of Steel is a Superman movie of three distinct parts. Its sheer length is not, in itself, an issue – the content, on the other hand, becomes more questionable as the minutes tick by.The spectacular, Krypton-based start is an extended, hitherto underdeveloped, look at this world prior to its destruction. It’s fantastic. Russell Crowe nails the role of Jor-El, imbuing Superman’s father with the kind of power and presence required for the part, but also giving him a noble humanity that Crowe always brings to his characters. The confrontation between Crowe’s Jor-El and General Zod has more impact than any of the CG frivolities towards the latter end of the feature. The middle part is also extremely well done. Surprisingly so, given Snyder’s predisposition towards heavy comic-book stylisation; here he goes for a gritty, faux-grain look as Clark Kent searches for his true identity, delivering excellent little character-driven flashbacks to Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) trying their best to raise him, as burgeoning powers start to interfere with a ‘normal’ life.Costner was, for me, the best part of the movie, but he was woefully underused; that moment of fateful tragedy was staggeringly powerful, considering the general emotional weight of the rest of the film (i.e. little to none).
The final act, however, is pure CG spectacle. And not in a good way. We’ve seen it all before, you see, in Avengers and Transformers 3 – and the supposedly epic one-on-one fight between Zod and Supes is just a rehash of the CG nonsense in the third Matrix movie where Neo and Smith pound themselves through buildings with the kind of effects you’d expect more from a videogame. It’s a shame because the CG-dominated first act shows that Synder can do spectacle with weight.
So, on the whole, Man of Steel is far from a bad movie, and a solid enough kick-start to the DC big league. It just started off so well that it makes you wonder why they couldn't have ended it better.
X-Ray VisionMan of Steel certainly has no shortcomings when it comes to its presentation which is as good as perfect, so much so that it only further highlights the videogame nature of the final act. Still, that’s not a technical problem with the 1080p AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 widescreen. Detail is stunning throughout, from the closer shots observing the facial hair of the main leads, to the clothing weaves and background textures, to the longer, wider setpieces which have a hell of a lot going on.
The video presentation is so damn good, it can't help but further highlight the videogame shortcomings of the over-CG-ified final act.
Despite the varying filming styles – the otherworldly opening gambit; the faux-gritty introduction to Clark, and the world-shaking conclusion – the presentation itself never falters, merely adapting to the varying colour timing. And the colour scheme is varied, but oftentimes boasts bright and vibrant colours, despite the fact that it largely favours a more golden/bronze-biased twinge. Black levels are strong and deep, and shadow detail is excellent. Overall this is a tremendous reference-quality video presentation which few will be able to fault.
Sonic BoomThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is similarly impressive, offering up a consistently demo-standard presentation which is celebrated for its bombastic set-pieces but which also excels at ambient potency during the more contemplative, restrained moments in between. Krypton offers a stunning variety of exciting atmospherics, pushing your surrounds and engaging your LFE channel to bring the self-destructing planet to life as you have never seen it before. Similarly, on earth, the key set-pieces offer the same kind of punchy thrills, as oil rigs explode and tornadoes tear through the town, making you wonder whether your own home is going to get ripped from its roots in the process.
Demo video and audio leave this, above all else, a must-have purchase.
Dialogue still gains precedence over even the loudest deluge, coming across clearly and coherently throughout, largely from the fronts and centre channels, and the score is at hand from start to finish to sweep you up, enhance the emotional weight, or simply bring the thunder. As demo, reference material, you’ll find this is one of the best audio presentations to hit the format of late.
Double-dipWhere’s the Commentary or PiP material? Where’s the comprehensive Documentary? Well, some of this has been lost to the Stateside 4-disc (and 2-disc) counterpart, which – rather oddly – contains a second copy of the entire movie, this time interspersed with behind the scenes snippets and interview segments. But even that is not actually the be-all and end-all of extras. And, without even that, there is very little meat left on this extras package.
Oddly underwhelming on the extras front, Man of Steel would be a double-dip in the making, if it hadn't already had a 4-disc release Stateside.
We get a 25-minute look at Superman, as reinvented this time around, in Strong Characters, Legendary Roles; a 25-minute look behind the key set-pieces and stunt training in All Out Action; and a 7-minute look at the visual effects of the Krypton sequence, entitled Krypton Decoded. None of these feels particularly revealing or informative, and even the Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short is disappointingly, erm, short, offering up an evolution compilation for the character.
ConclusionAlthough it starts off very promisingly, and initially appears to be investing in characters rather than just empty spectacle, Man of Steel still, eventually, devolves into tiresome banal CG action. It’s a shame because there was so much promise in the first half. Certainly Man of Steel does a fair job at providing solid, occasionally moving, occasionally spectacular Summer blockbuster thrills, but, on the whole, it does not deliver a truly memorable – truly defining – interpretation of Superman. Worth seeing for the engaging first half, and because they’ve already greenlit a sequel, so you’re going to have to watch this at some point if you want to keep up with the DC Justice League rollercoaster, however it is not on track to be anywhere near as good as Avengers.
This UK Region Free release, however, comes with far fewer reservations – picture-perfect video and equally impressive audio make this an unequivocal demo release, and it’s only the limited extras that disappoint. Any which way you look at it, and despite the shortcomings of the movie itself, this is probably a must-have release.
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