Man of Steel
In the afterglow of that tumultuous announcement in San Diego — the Comic-Conners soiling their collective Y-fronts at the news that, holy tentpole, Superman would next face off with no less than Batman — many of the Man Of Steel creative team’s decisions begin to take on a new light. Having Kal-El controversially kill Zod. Forcing him to watch his (adopted) father die. Anger issues. Daddy issues. Imperfection. This, it turns out, wasn’t just an attempt to re-suit-and-boot the big man for a new audience — it was an attempt to recalibrate him into a hero who could conceivably, equally, duke it out with a psycho Kryptonian and a billionaire playboy with some nice toys. Watching it again, that James Bondian “Superman Will Return”-type coda (a rare moment of levity in an overly serious movie, admittedly) takes on a new relevance. Christopher Reeve’s take on the character would have had Ben Affleck for breakfast. Henry Cavill’s has more than a couple of Achilles heels. And a suit more befitting the grubby Nolan universe.
Of course, a second viewing doesn’t make all of their decisions make more sense. Christopher Nolan, writer David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder (proving again after Watchmen that he can deliver visuals of unprecedented ambition) fail to explain why Russell Crowe’s Jor-El would ever think it a good plan to lock Zod et al in a prison that is, by his own explanation, about to fall apart. Or why their final fight feels like it lasts three hours.
But, in Michael Shannon’s idealistic military leader they have a compelling villain, a man driven by conviction not MacGuffin. In their ‘First Contact’ approach to the material, positioning Superman more as alien than god, they are able to add layers of geopolitics onto the interplanetary spectacle, giving it a modernity missing in Bryan Singer’s previous attempt. And, in their stunning opening sequence on Krypton, with all of its flying dragons, baby pods, clever tech and weird dinosaur-things, they deliver the most astonishing 20 minutes there was to be seen in a cinema this summer.
Solid and decent-length featurettes on the history of Superman, the nods to canon in Snyder’s version and some of its key stunt set-pieces. Plus, a 75th anniversary animated short (well, an ad) and Krypton Decoded, in which the actor who plays the young Clark Kent asks the special-effects supervisor twonky questions like, “Why aren’t there cell phones on Krypton?” To view the picture-in-picture commentary, you must, aggravatingly, fiddle around with UltraViolet.