ManofSteelcoverGrade:  B
Entire family:  Yes, if . . .
2013, 143 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and some language
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio:  2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, UV Digital HD copy
Bonus features:  B
Trailer

Man of Steel is the kind of sci-fi action film you’d expect if you thought for a moment about the fact that Superman comes from another planet. Played by Henry Cavill, he seems much more alien and more psychologically tormented than any Superman we’ve seen on the big or small screens thus far. Instead of x-ray vision he has eyes that glow red and can sear things. And instead of feeling the warm fuzzy bond with his parents that we’ve seen in previous incarnations, he’s the adopted child who, though he loves the man (Kevin Costner) and woman (Diane Lane) who raised him, still seeks his real parents.

Flying, stopping bullets, or lifting vehicles used to be all in a day’s work for Superman, but this outing—a revisionist reboot from director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen)—the action is ramped up in 21st-century fashion. Adding to the mayhem is a fractured narrative that jumps around in time. It’s all very figure me out, with a pace and style that’s geared toward younger viewers who grew up with blockbuster special effects and seem to crave, always, more. Which is to say, how you respond to Man of Steel may well depend upon your age.

In our little Family Home Theater the parents seemed to prefer the chronological narrative and more romanticized story with Christopher Reeve in the tights and cape, while our 15-year-old son gave this one high marks and our daughter—no fan of superhero films—gutted it out. She’s one who covers her eyes when things get too violent, and there was really just one spot where she had to do that:  when Superman’s (aka Kal-El’s) real father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and adoptive father meet their fates. 

ManofSteelscreenIf you like the Smalltown backstory, you won’t like this film, because screenwriter David S. Goyer deals with segments only in flashback. The bulk of the time is devoted to Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his fellow renegade’s appearance on Earth to demand that they hand over one of their countrymen who has been hiding there, incognito. It’s all about genetic codes for an entire generation, which can become almost as confusing as multiple explanations for the Superman symbol and the “S” itself, which doesn’t stand for Superman at all. And don’t look for much of a spark between Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Superman.

Man of Steel chooses breakneck speed over character development, and there are times when everyone in the room will be looking at each other to see if anyone is following what’s happening. Though the 7.1 audio fills the sound field and creates an immersive experience, the action scenes are just plain LOUD and the dialogue seems squashed by the effects. You’ll have to toggle up and down on your volume control to get through the film without hearing loss or without missing even more of the cryptic Krypton-related plot.

Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Man of Steel offers a darker, more brooding hero and a darker set of circumstances. But there are no surprises lurking under that PG-13 rating. It’s all sci-fi violence, and so whether you let younger children watch is all about how you feel when it comes to that. There may have been language, too, but the explosions and crashes were so loud I’m sure I missed it.

Allow plenty of time for this film, because it’s a whopping 143 minutes long—nearly enough time to construct your own family mythology.

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