Planet Krypton? How about Planet Sex Organ?
In the long, loud prologue of the mega-disappointing Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder and his crew reimagine Superman's birth orb as a kind of Freudian dreamscape of phalluses and vulvas. Giant bulbous rocket ships stand erect. Hovering pods pulsate pudendally. A "genesis chamber" beckons. Ancient runes look like spermatozoa run amok.
I could go on, but I'm too excited. (But H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist behind the Alien designs, should take a look - and then call his lawyer.) And so, after much huffing and puffing and angry words between Supey's dad, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and Krypton's military madman, General Zod (Michael Shannon), the newborn Kal-El is tucked into a spaceship for his trip across the galaxies. Destination: Earth.
"You will give the people an ideal to strive towards," says Jor-El, bidding a noble adieu to his tiny tot just before Krypton goes kaboom. (Kryptonians have spent their planet's resources, bringing on an environmental apocalypse.)
Once the movie and its hero land on terra firma, Man of Steel swaps out the sexual imagery for some blatant religious symbolism. To be sure, the Superman myth is rife with biblical allusions, but is this really necessary - to show a troubled Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) wandering into a church, seeking counsel from a priest, with the stained-glass image of Christ looming large behind him?
"Take a leap of faith first," the cleric tells Clark. "The trust part comes later."
The best bits of Man of Steel come when the young E.T. - adopted by Kansas farm couple Jonathan and Martha Kent (a determinedly Midwestern Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) - struggles to come to terms with his otherworldly powers, which he has been warned to keep secret, lest the entire world has a freak-out. Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry play the grade-school and teenage Kryptonian with convincing angst. But what do you do when the school bus you're on goes over a bridge into the river? Let your classmates drown?
And then the grown-up Clark begins his circuitous journey to Metropolis, via Alaska, where he sports a manly beard and works on a crab boat, and then on an arctic dig, where he meets ace reporter Lois Lane (a plucky Amy Adams). Something, or someone, is buried deep in a glacier, puzzling the scientists and G-men. Could it be General Zod and his posse, here to remake Earth as the new Krypton?
Cavill, big and handsome with soulful eyes, displays more of a Supey vibe than Brandon Routh managed in Bryan Singer's 2006 reboot, Superman Returns, but the English actor gets little occasion to bring any kind of humor to his role. This man of steel is seriously metallic. Christopher Reeve, of the '70s-'80s Superman quartet, remains the most successful, and memorable, movie incarnation.
When comic book legends Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster dreamed up Superman for Action Comics #1, published 75 years ago this month, he was the first of a new breed of caped crusaders - high-flying heroes with tights and alter egos. Hordes of other men and women - Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman - followed down the decades. What's particularly disheartening about Man of Steel is that its hero's originality - Superman's primacy - has been forsaken for an excess of high-end generic effects. At least an hour of Man of Steel's excessive running time is devoted to the sort of crash-and-burn, slamming-into-skyscrapers CG fight scenes that we've already seen in The Avengers and Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Spider-Man.
Man of Steel is just the same old same old.
Man of Steel ** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Zack Snyder. With Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Russell Crowe. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 2 hours, 23 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, intense action, profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters