With its radical shifts in tone from scene to scene, “Man of Steel” is as much a study in schizophrenia as a portrait of a misunderstood thirty-three-year-old superhuman sent down to save the world and the fates of a seventy-five-year-old comic book character. The constant is whirling mayhem and Christopher Nolan-scale gloom. While director Zack Snyder has his own way with brooding and blackness, the stern hand of co-producer Nolan presses down. David S. Goyer’s screenplay takes full advantage of the familiarity-unto-banality of Superman’s origins, flashing forward and back at will to underline his origins. Any true origin story, however, would take a more secretive shape that audiences will never know: the dealings in blandly gleaming conference rooms amid grande lattes and fistfuls of fiscal projections as calculations are made of the potential of 3D upcharges, Russian and Chinese repeat viewers and the revenues from compulsive cycling of product placements. That would be the “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” of origin stories: seemingly dry but of endless fascination in its gestural minutiae. Smallville, Kansas, centered by a single Sears storefront, has other planets revolving around it, including a 7-Eleven, the signage of which is shot with greater spatial continuity than the fights-to-the-breathlessness between Superman and the wrath of Zod. An International House of Pancakes also receives co-star billing as the location of several attempts at “humor.” Still, the destruction is miniscule compared to the intergalactic 9/11 wrought upon the planet at large and Metropolis in particular. Pasted together from multiple cities, including Chicago, the urban panorama is bloodlessly blasted into smithereens small and large, and the potential plight of a trapped co-worker of Lois Lane manages to evoke both the fate of the World Trade Center and imagery of World War II ghettos. After a large Chicago advance screening, conversation was pitched, peashooters were drawn and, in the corridors of the multiplex, I was reluctantly swept along by a wave of continuity cops and canon police. The film functions differently for those immersed in permutations of the goodly Golem birthed by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938, and that is to the narrative’s benefit. Some will find it grim, others incoherent, some filled with references and callbacks to dozens of the saga’s prior incarnations, and for me, just intriguingly bonkers. Still, I’ll watch any superhero who strikes down surveillance drones used by the United States to spy on its citizens, or in this case, resident aliens, just to fight his own personal, neo-fascist battles against truth and justice in the most selfish way. Aside from a bevy of intergalactic phallic shapes, as an established fan of male frontal nudity, Snyder manages to incorporate not one, but two full-on shots of true-to-life penises. With Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, the magnificent brow of Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne and the always slightly awed small smiles of Richard Schiff. 143m. Widescreen. 3D. (Ray Pride)
“The Man of Steel” opens Friday at… there he is!
Ray Pride is Newcity film critic and a contributing editor of Filmmaker magazine. He is also a photographer: his history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images is forthcoming. Previews on Twitter (twitter.com/chighostsigns) as well as daily photography on Instagram: instagram.com/raypride. Twitter: twitter.com/RayPride. (Photo: Jorge Colombo.)