Man of Steel

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 12, 2013

Man of Steel

No fewer than five different directors considered bringing Superman back to the big screen after the last of the Christopher Reeve movies in the 1980s. When Bryan Singer finally took the reigns, casting Brandon Routh in the iconic role of the Man of Steel, the result was the poorly received "Superman Returns."

Say what you like about Singer's take -- at least it had a sense of fun. It also fit in visually and tonally with the previous four movies. Zack Snyder's reboot, however, is a complete departure that re-imagines the Superman mythos from the ground up, dedicating a good amount of time at the start of the picture to the planet Krypton and Superman's origins.

It seems that scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his good friend, military leader Zod (Michael Shannon), have come to a parting of the ways. Zod laments Krypton's social decline, while Jor-El worries about the planet's physical condition. What Jor-El knows is this: Their world is about to explode thanks to some environmentally-unfriendly energy policies, but it's not a message anybody wants to hear, not even Zod, for whom a coup d'etat seems the only workable recourse. Jor-El does what any scientific genius would do: Rockets his newborn son off to Earth just before the ol' home world comes apart at the seams.

Once on Earth, Superman (Henry Cavill) is adopted by kindly parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and given the name Clark Kent. In keeping with the times, Clark's sense of alienation (all too keenly sharpened by the fact that he really is an alien) extends his teen angst well into his adult years; the story thumps along glumly, and Clark hardly cracks a smile even when he discovers an ancient Kryptonian ship at the Arctic Circle, let alone when he meets feisty female journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

In fact, things don't pick up much at all until Zod -- having escaped Krypton's last throes thanks to off-planet exile -- shows up with a big ship and a "world engine" that promises either to terraform Earth into a new Krypton, or blow it to smithereens (which is, really, the same thing: Like many deniers of man-made environmental catastrophe, Zod refuses to pay attention to things like history or science).

This dark, tedious, somewhat sour film looks wonderful thanks to cutting edge effects work, and the home release offers a couple of extras that are considerably zippier than the movie itself. The faux documentary "Planet Krypton" manages the work of any six featurettes, revealing lots of information about Superman's heritage and home planet while making use of pre-visuals, computer models, and props that would otherwise have been the subject of individual, and probably fairly dry, features.

"Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel" is a whole new conceptualization of the commentary track. A comprehensive in-viewing experience, this feature whisks you away from the movie's glacial and dour proceedings for chipper (and multi-split-screen) chats and insights from different members of the cast and crew, including Snyder, on various elements and aspects of the movie -- the same topics countless other featurettes have covered are addressed here in an engaging new way that takes your mind off the movie and gets you thinking about the world-building behind it.

More special features include a "75th Anniversary Animated Short," which is really more of a short montage in which Superman bursts from comics into film serials and black and white TV, to "Super Friends," back into various eras of the DC Comics title, and the films. Rounding out the extras are "Krypton Decoded" (actor Dylan Sprayberry, who plays Clark at age 13, interviews the film's visual effects supervisor), "All Out Action" (more on the movie's fight sequences and visual effects), and "Strong Characters, Legendary Roles" (the cast and crew talk about how the characters and mythos surrounding Superman has evolved over time). There's also a misplaced featurette titled "New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth" that belongs on the home release edition of "The Hobbit," but has somehow wandered over to this set.

To see some really fine technical work -- or enjoy some next-generation extras -- pick up this title. But don't be surprised if the dark, glum tone of this film leaves you confused: Is this solar-powered Superman? Or cave-dwelling Batman? If you're looking for the familiar American icon -- happy, scrappy, and oddly magnetic, the guy from the pre-New 52 comics -- stick to the Reeve and Routh movies.

"Man of Steel"
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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.