There's a moment halfway through Man of Steel -- the film's most powerful moment, in my opinion -- when Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is assisting his adoptive father (Kevin Costner) in rescuing a group of people stuck on a highway as a nasty tornado approaches. Without spoiling the outcome, the scene -- and much of the movie itself -- is about sacrifice, or how far you'd go to protect your loved ones from themselves and the world around them. It's incredibly powerful and emotional, and it's something we've never seen from a Superman movie before. That sort of richness.
While the old Christopher Reeve movies are fun, comfortable, adventurous and a little too comical for their own good (we still love you Richard Pryor; not you Nuclear Man), they lack a certain amount of relatability. After all, how are you able to relate to this guy with superhuman powers who can do anything at anytime in any place? How do you relate to the citizens of Metropolis, who barely flinch when a man in a red cape flies into their city?
You can't really, and it's what has plagued every Superman movie up until this point. So instead you enjoy the spectacle, the one-liners and the offbeat romance. You enjoy Terrence Stamp's corny authoratative bullying, and the part where Superman beats up a loudmouth trucker at a diner. Bryan Singer's Superman Returns admirably paid homage to those same, familiar sensibilities, except he updated the big-screen Superman story with contemporary effects and a new cast who all did fine, but weren't as memorable as their predecessors.
Now, in the same way Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise by grounding its movies in a more gritty, relatable reality, Zack Snyder (with assistance from Nolan) has done the same for Superman, and I'm happy to say that much of Man of Steel works like gangbusters. The origin story we all know by heart has been built out and given way more depth than it ever has before. By spending a considerable amount of time on the planet Krypton -- with its heroes, villains, politics and flying beasts -- we're immediately drawn to its people and their sacrifices for one another. We feel their pain as their planet faces certain doom, and we're glued to the story of this baby as he's sent off into the universe by his parents while their world crumbles around them.
Again, sacrifice. It's one of the film's many themes, but it's probably the strongest. What we do for the people we love and why we do it. How far we'd go to make sure they're alright, and how much we'd risk of ourselves to help another . By tapping into these very real, relatable emotions, you're able to sympathize and subsequently root for this Superman more than any previous incarnation. This Superman hurts not on the outside, but on the inside. He has panic attacks. He's angry. He's not perfect. He's a loner, a drifter -- someone who can't ever reveal himself because he's been taught from a very young age that doing so could change the world forever. So he hides -- he hides from himself, his friends, his family, and his true identity -- because his secret is essentially one of the biggest and most important discoveries of mankind. That's a lot of pressure, and you sense that.
Man of Steel is a "first contact" story, but it's unique in that it's told from the perspective of the alien we're making contact with. An alien who's lived among us his whole life. An alien, who at the age of 33 (the same age Jesus Christ was when he died on the cross, mind you --and don't think that's an accident), sacrifices himself -- the person he's been, the person he knows -- by revealing his true identity in order to save a country and its people.
His people. His country. Man of Steel has a whole ton of pride, as do both its heroes and villains. Pride in where they came from and how its shaped them. The film is very much about what it means to be home and feel home, and even though it's about an alien man who flies through the air shooting lasers out of his eyes, there's nothing you won't be able to relate to in this.
The action is also pretty boss and fairly frequent (the Smallville sequence alone is loud and meaty), and there are some moments that are easily comparable to the best stuff from any recent superhero movie (including The Avengers). But where Man of Steel really succeeds is in its power to connect, emotionally and spiritually, with its audience. That's a rare trait for a giant movie like this with an incredible amount riding on its sucess, but that's what also makes it the best Superman movie to date.
MORE: 'Man of Steel' Spoiler-Free Review: Our Superman Expert Answers Your 10 Most Burning Questions
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