Release Date(s)2013 (July 19, 2016)
Studio(s)Legendary/Syncopy/DC Entertainment (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: D+
[Editor’s Note: We’ve reviewed this film previously and at greater length on Blu-ray – click here to read that if you’re interested.]
Part of the problem of bringing Superman to the big screen, especially in light of Richard Donner’s classic 1978 take, is that while the character’s signature idealism and “big blue boy scout” rectitude are arguably as relevant now as ever, they’re also much harder to sell in our more cynical times. Wrapping the character in even the fondest papering of nostalgia only serves to make him seem out of date. Faced with this reality, director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer wisely chose to reinvent Superman instead, in much the same way as countless comic book writers and editors have done many times over the character’s history. They’ve crafted a contemporary take on the mythos here that embraces most of the classic aspects of the character and his origin story, but also abandons some of the silly tropes the character has been burdened with for years, making it all seem more grounded in reality by today’s standards. The broad outlines of the story are just as you remember them, but they’re penciled with new details and colored with new shades of texture and tone.
As before, Kryptonian scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe), anticipating the destruction of his homeworld, sends his infant son, Kal-El, to Earth in order that he might survive and one day lead humanity to its full potential. However this time, Krypton isn’t destroyed by a dying star but rather because its people have abandoned their principles – shunned natural childbirth, overharvested their resources, and abandoned their once mighty effort to explore the Universe. As before, Kal-El is raised on Earth as a typical all-American farm boy by Kansas couple Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). But rather than simply teaching Clark good wholesome values, Jonathan also cautions him not to reveal his true nature to the world until he must, because once he does, everything will change – not just for Clark but for the entire human race, which humanity might not be ready for. Still, as he grows into a teen and eventually becomes an adult, Clark (Brit actor Henry Cavill, best known in the States for his role on Showtime’s The Tudors) can’t resist helping people and saving lives, thus risking his own exposure as he wanders the world, struggling to find his place within it. As before, intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) tracks down the rumors of Clark’s exploits, ultimately discovering his true nature and identity. But rather than blowing his secret for a big headline, she keeps it instead, thus earning Clark’s trust and respect. Unfortunately, just as Clark finally begins to understand his true nature as Kal-El, and his destiny as Superman, the renegade Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives from deep space to find Clark and restore the lost glory of Krypton at any cost.
One of the reasons that Man of Steel works so well, is that Henry Cavill disappears nicely into the title role, and absolutely owns it here. For all the complaints some fans have with this film, Cavill’s take on Superman isn’t one of them. What's more, Michael Shannon’s Zod isn’t simply a megalomaniac; he’s deeply motivated to believe that his destructive cause is just. And here at last is a version of Lois Lane who’s intelligent and trustworthy, who looks before she leaps and who Superman can actually rely on. Amy Adams manages to do something unexpected – make her Lois an active, important participant in the story, who’s also the key to Crowe’s Jor-El remaining active in the story too.
To be fair, Man of Steel is a bit long. A good 10 or 15 minutes could have been trimmed from the film’s theatrical running time, particularly from the second half, which is a series of set-piece battles that form a protracted climax of destruction. The film also ends a bit too abruptly after all the carnage, with little service given to the aftermath (something that its quasi-sequel, Batman v Superman, addresses in kind – see our review here). But, quick or not, this film’s final scene is absolutely perfect. And while Hans Zimmer’s score is a near-complete departure from John Williams’ classic themes, the pacing is often very similar. Rather than helping to drive the viewer’s emotions with traditionally uplifting themes, Zimmer’s music is alternately strident with brass, warping electric string chords, and drum-heavy bombast, then far more restrained through plaintive violin solos and subtly metallic/organic soundscapes – always more atmospheric, more dynamic, certainly edgier and more unsettling but also frequently poignant and beautiful.
Man of Steel was shot principally on photochemical film in 35mm format, and then greatly enhanced digitally and finished to a 2K Digital Intermediate. This DI was upscaled to 4K and given a new HDR color timing pass for this release. While the image here is not true 4K, as is Fox’s The Revenant for example, what you see here is a distinct improvement upon the previous Blu-ray release. The range of contrast in the image is broader, with notably more detail visible both in the brightest and darkest extremes. What’s more, color is more vibrant and nuanced, and there’s greater fine detail that reveals itself especially in the unique textures of Krypton. Just examine the background and costume detail in the scene in which Jor-El is confronting the Kryptonian Elders. It’s exquisite. The High Dynamic Range adds a lovely measure of punch and vibrancy to specular highlights on things like Kryptonian particle displays and high-energy effects like weapons blasts and explosions. This is surely the best visual presentation of Man of Steel to date, including both its previous Blu-ray and the best theatrical presentations, and that is no small thing.
The primary audio is English Dolby Atmos (compatible with 7.1 Dolby TrueHD). The previous Blu-ray edition included an already reference-quality 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, with a big and enveloping soundstage, great clarity, highly active and atmospheric surround play, smooth and natural panning, and rock-solid LFE. The Atmos somehow manages to improve upon this with more precise imaging, a greater sense of depth and immersion, and an even more natural-sounding balance between the loudest and quietest movements in the soundtrack and score. It’s impressive as hell. Beyond the Atmos mix, optional 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is also available in English Descriptive Audio, Québécois French, traditional French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Polish Voice-Over, Russian, and Turkish. Subtitle options are even more plentiful, with English, German, and Italian (all for the hearing impaired), as well as French, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Latin American Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, and Turkish. Note that there are no extras on the 4K disc itself.
The package also includes the movie disc from regular Blu-ray edition (which we’ve reviewed separately here) and an insert code for a Digital HD version. The Blu-ray contains the film in 1080p, as well as the same extras as before, including 3 featurettes (Strong Characters, Legendary Roles, All-Out Action, and Krypton Decoded), the great Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short, and the cross-promotional New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth piece for The Hobbit. Unfortunately – and this is a massive strike for this release – it doesn’t include Disc Two of the previous Blu-ray edition, which contained the lion’s share of the extras. That’s just stupid. It also doesn’t include any of the retail-exclusive extras, nor the Blu-ray 3D version of the film. Again, stupid.
Man of Steel isn’t perfect. For all of its sound and fury, though, there’s a core strength, humanity, and honesty here that is undeniable. Try watching this film for what it is, rather than what it’s not, and you may see something truly special. Warner’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation is certainly the best way to do that, but you should try to buy it on sale due to its frustrating lack of extras. You’ll definitely want to keep your previous Blu-ray edition, that’s for sure.
- Bill Hunt