A clever animated film, a quirky drama and a big-budget superhero movie anchor this week’s home video releases.
Man of Steel
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand
After director Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” films became a resounding success, it was clear that Superman was also in need of an update. Filmmakers attempted this in 2006 with “Superman Returns,” but that movie was as much a tribute to the earlier, Christopher Reeve films as an independent feature. It, therefore, failed to reinvent the franchise.
With “Man of Steel,” director Zack Snyder (“Watchmen,” “300”) teamed with “Dark Knight” screenwriter David S. Goyer and Nolan, who served as a producer. Together, they created a Superman movie that offers a fresh look at the hero’s origin, a new actor in the title role and a series of spectacular and bombastic battle sequences.
“Man of Steel” is bigger, bolder and louder than Nolan’s Batman films, and this works both to its advantage and detriment. Since Superman is a larger-than-life hero, it makes sense to have action sequences that push limits. Unfortunately, Snyder takes them too far, allowing some sequences, particularly one climactic battle, to run far too long.
This cinematic excess weakens the movie, but Snyder does so many things right that it’s easy to look past the flaws and celebrate the merits. For starters, actor Henry Cavill delivers a fresh and emotionally appealing reading of Superman. This is important because Superman, more than any other comic book hero, requires humanization. The character is, literally, a space alien. He is also so strong, so indestructible and so generally good that it’s easy to see him as machine-like and dull. Cavill doesn’t allow this. Instead, he recognizes that Superman’s heroism stems not from his extraordinary powers but from his willingness to sacrifice so much of his own life to protect others.
None of this means that Cavill’s Superman shies from his powers. Snyder pits the hero against one of his most fearsome enemies, the Kryptonian military figure General Zod (Michael Shannon), and this allows Superman to unleash every ounce of his incredible strength. Because Zod is from the same planet as Superman, the heroes have near-equal abilities, and their battles are so brutal that they wreak havoc on everything around them.
This new take on Superman and Zod is exciting, and the filmmakers also deserve credit for reinventing other characters from the hero’s mythology. Superman’s lady love, journalist Lois Lane, is beautifully portrayed by Amy Adams, and “Man of Steel” also features Russell Crowe as Superman’s biological father, Jor-El, and Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as his adoptive parents.
The quality of all the performances more than make up for Snyder’s action excess, and the result is a reboot that redefines Superman for older viewers and opens him up to a new generation of fans.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include several features on the making of the movie.
By Forrest Hartman