Western Animation: Superman vs. the Elite aka: Superman VS The Elite
"World saved. Humanity lost."
Superman vs. The Elite is a movie in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line based on the Superman story, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, & the American Way?", centered on the Man of Steel dealing with a new group of anti-heroes called "The Elite", who kill criminals, earning them public acclaim. Superman opposes this, and attempts to take them down before things get worse.The voice cast features George Newbern reprising his Justice League role as Superman, David Kaufman reprising his DCAU role as Jimmy Olsen, Pauley Perrette (NCIS) as Lois Lane, and Robin Atkin Downes (No More Heroes) as Manchester Black, leader of the Elite. On top of that, the writer of the movie is Joe Kelly, the same man who wrote the original comic the movie is based around.The plot in both the original comic and the movie is based on Superman's effectiveness at being a superhero in the much darker, cynical world that grew in the 90's of comic books, ultimately questioning if his old fashioned moral standards are still relevant against the more ruthless villains of the present today. They are.
Adaptation Expansion: The personalities and abilities of The Elite are more fleshed-out. Rather than being introduced as brutal anti-heroes to begin with, they're more slowly developed and revealed. It helps that the movie and the original comic share the same writer, Joe Kelly.
The film also adds the character of Vera Black.
Adaptational Villainy: Superman, sort of. In the comic, Superman only pretends to lobotomize Manchester Black. Here, he actually does it, as well as strip the rest of the Elite of their superpowers, which Superman rarely does. Justified, however, in that it's strongly implied their powers will return eventually.
Batman Gambit: Pulled off by : Superman against the Elite, based on his observations of their behavior, especially Manchester Black's tendency towards dramatics and monologueing rather than simply trying to kill Superman as quickly as possible.
Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good: Played with. Manchester Black has telepathic and telekinetic powers, both typical mental powers. On the other hand, Superman has Flying Brick powers, standard brawn abilities. Their personalities are a complete inversion of the trope, though.
Break Them by Talking: Superman, of all people, delivers a particularly menacing line to Manchester Black.
How does it feel, Black? How does it feel to be deconstructed? To be the victim?! To watch your dreams DIE?!
The Elite are also a pastiche of The Authority, in terms of designs, power and morals.
Captain Geographic: Manchester Black, sporting a Union Jack on his chest, named after a major British city, and using British slang in pretty much every sentence he utters.
Cherry Tapping: Once Superman lobotomizes and depowers Black, he calmly and coldly gives Black a couple of slaps across the face. With all his power and all his invulnerability, this is exactly the worst kind of nightmare Superman could inflict on ANYONE.
Clingy Jealous Girl: After Menagerie gives Superman a huge smooch after a successful mission, Lois gives Clark the cold shoulder.
Lois: So was it the trashy outfit, or should I start gluing slugs to my face? Maybe an iguana?
Clark: It was a moment. Pam was overexcited.
Lois: 'Pam'? One team-up and she's 'Pam'? [throws remote at Clark]
Cool Starship: "Bonnie", an organic ship that can teleport between dimensions and looks like a giant fish.
Creepy Monotone: Superman adopts this when finally deciding to take out The Elite. Their way. Bonus points if you recognize that his voice actor uses the exact same voice when he plays Sephiroth.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Subverted in that the Elite are certain they've defeated Superman this way. Played straight afterwards by Superman in finally dealing with the Elite.
Deconstruction: The Elite come off as the stereotypical dark, cynical Anti-heroes about how all villains are free to be tortured and should just be killed because that would make the world better. They then show that they decide who the villains are, and that "people who endanger innocent lives" can apply to more than just criminals and terrorists. Superman at the end seemingly uses the exact same solution onto them, showing them just how utterly terrifying and horrible that way of thinking is, especially coming from someone as pure and good as Superman when he does it. Superman even lampshades it.
Superman:How does it feel, Black? How does it feel to be deconstructed? To be the victim?! To watch your dreams DIE?!
Clark: Proceeds from the show go to charity. And yes, I have someone looking in on it and yes, we have an iron-clad contract. Lois: And do you have creative input? Clark: —Did I mention that the proceeds go to charity?
Disney Death: Superman himself at the end. Menagerie, Hat, Coldcast, and Lois also suffer this in the aftermath.
Devil's Advocate: Superman engages in a debate before the United Nations with a professor who seems to be one of his intellectual opponents, but makes it clear that he strongly agrees with Superman and is merely playing the part.
Disproportionate Retribution: The Elite decide to kill Superman for punching Black, because he disapproved them killing the leaders of Pokolistan and Bialyia. They look it as a statement of war against the world's "favorite heroes".
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Played with in-universe. Superman tries to convince the Elite to refrain from exercising their own brand of justice, despite the fact that they're getting worldwide public approval and support for it.
Eagleland: Superman's usual slogan of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, but it takes on a different meaning depending on the context. Flavor 1 if Superman or someone sympathetic to him is saying it, but it takes on somewhat more unpleasant implications in the hands of a commenter weighing in on the debate about Superman and the Elite. Then Black takes the opportunity to sarcastically comment on the US Government and the "American military capitalist way" (ironically, because - as Black also points out - Superman's Thou Shalt Not Kill ethos is directly opposite to the philosophy of the US military when it comes to dealing with opposition). A major Type 2 shows up in the first half of the movie: in an interview, the UN general secretary warns the Straw Conservative talk show host about trusting the Elite by asking "What happens when they come after you?", to which the host replies "Why would they come after me? I'm an American! We're the good guys!" completely unironically.
Even Anti-Heroes Have Loved Ones: Black might be profiled as a narcissistic psychopath, but he does genuinely care for his team. His team also don't miss a second to defend him when Superman punches him.
The Hat is a blatant expy of Jigen Daisuke, just shave off his beard and replace the smoking with drinking, but since both this and Lupin III were done by the same studio, it's not surprising.
False Dichotomy: The argument put forth by the show is it's either Superman's way or the Elite. Fact is, you can punch holes at both views, though obviously more at the Elite's. By having a Thou Shalt Not Kill rule, the argument is that Superman is making a mistake for allowing ridiculously dangerous psychopaths like the Atomic Skull to kill again, even if he gift-wraps those criminals to be dealt with by a broken system that does not take appropriate measures to keep them safely removed from society forever. The Elite however, are portrayed as being ultimately no better than the villains they fight because they take it upon themselves to decide who deserves to die.
To the film's credit, while the Elite are ultimately shown as going too far, a good part of the film focuses on how ineffective Superman is at solving the world's problems. A point hammered home when the son of a foreign politician supports the execution of Atomic Skull after the villain killed his father (and escaping the Cardboard Prison Superman sent him to). It's a harsh criticism when most comics sidestep the issue of Joker Immunity. While Superman can inspire, he cannot change people who don't wish to be changed.
Fridge Brilliance: The root conflict of the story isn't just about the proper way to deal with the worlds problems, it's about the influence that people with power have on society.
Family-Friendly Firearms: The bank robbers in the Superman cartoon wield cartoonish laser guns, likely in mockery of the censorship many superhero shows once faced (and, at least for TV, seem to be coming back due to the Aurora, CO shooting).
Finger Firearms: Subverted with Black, as he doesn't really need to use his hand like a gun to use his power, but still does so when he kills Atomic Skull.
Flight: Superman and all of the Elite, it seems. Plus the robots.
Foreshadowing: In his fight against the bioweapon bug monster Superman initially doesn't fare very well. Once he stops holding back however, he curb stomps it. Guess how his final confrontation with the Elite goes.
Forgot About His Powers: At one point Coldcast uses a neutrino blast, described as an "EMP for organics", and accidentally hits Superman. It clearly weakens Superman and he even slips into unconsciousness, but Coldcast never uses it when the Elite fight him. (Although it's possible he thought he didn't need to.)
From Nobody to Nightmare: Manchester Black, courtesy of British intelligence. The other members of the Elite are implied to have similar backstories.
Generic Doomsday Villain: Atomic Skull. The closest thing to a motivation he gives for his attacks (besides drawing out Superman) are "I do what I do."
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Early on, when Lois comments on a corny Superman cartoon. She's understandably concerned that the studio may be profiting from the name "Superman" and tells Clark, "You need to protect your 'S'."
Black also says something along those lines during the final battle.
"The second he shows his 'S' I'm gonna' flatten this whole city!"
When looking at an old lady claiming to know one of the Elite:
Black has a lot, since he pretty much is able to say 'wanker' whenever he wants. 'Wanker' being a British slur for someone who masturbates.
Good Is Dumb: Averted. When there's something to be done that's more complex than beating up bad guys, the Elite are at a loss and Superman's the one with the plan.
Gone Horribly Right: The Elite spend most of the movie convincing people that Superman's morals are outdated and that Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him? is the new, better way of doing things, mocking Superman's protests. When Superman finally decides to buy what they're selling, words cannot describe the horror they have unleashed.
I Am Not Left-Handed: Early in the film, Superman is getting tossed around by a bioweapon until Black points out that it isn't alive and tells him to stop holding back. Superman defeats it in seconds. Later, Superman appears to be nearly outmatched by the Elite and Atomic Skull to the point where the Elite think they've killed him in a Curb-Stomp Battle. Since they've apparently forgotten the earlier incident, he demonstrates just how outclassed they are.
Idiot Ball: Whoever thought it was a good idea to hook up the same security power grid to the villain that was supplying the energy was definitely carrying one.
Ironic Name: "The Elite". They consist of a violent sociopath, a destructive brute of a man, a biological horror who is also a nymphomaniac, and an alcoholic magician who barely gives a damn most of the time. While government trained, they don't exactly behave as flawlessly as you'd expect their team name would imply.
Irony: When Black addresses the world during Superman's initial confrontation with the Elite, he mentions that people needs surgeons (The Elite) to metaphorically cut out the cancers of society rather than heroes like Superman. Superman defeats Black by using his X-ray and heat vision to cut out the abnormality in Black's brain that enabled his telekinetic powers.
Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Superman himself was suspicious about the Elite themselves, thinking that they would went too far with their murderous actions.
Kick the Dog: Manchester Black makes an offhand comment about removing his Cool Starship's ability to feel emotions after discovering it was sapient, even claiming it was more "humane" to do so. This comes back to bite him later.
A literal example when the Elite are first introduced, hovering near a dock. The dock workers had been feeding a stray dog, which begins to bark at the Elite. Menagerie sends her slug-creatures after it, followed by the dog's cries of pain as it's killed offscreen.
Make Me Wanna Shout: Superman does this to the Atomic Skull when he has him in a bear hug. Supes shouting "LET GO!" creates a shockwave that not only makes the Atomic Skull release him, but shatters the windows of several nearby buildings and cars. Skull thought it was a nice trick.
Multinational Team: The Elite - Manchester Black is obviously British, Coldcast is American, The Hat is Chinese, and Menagerie could be from anywhere, but is possibly Latin American.
It is mentioned in the comics that she is Puerto-Rican.
Mundane Utility: Superman uses his super speed just so he can type 5000 words a minute and beat Lois to the headline. He must go through a lot of keyboards.
Mythology Gag: Although only seen for a split-second, Vera Black's arms are gray, a nod to her comics counterpart Sister Superior. The mechanical arms in the comics were the result of a childhood accident.
Manchester Black: (to Superman) You're an inconceivable wanker.
Psychic Block Defense: Superman has a series of psychic blocks to prevent his mind from being read; Manchester Black acknowledges that said blocks are the best he's seen. Of course, these blocks don't stop Black from telekinetically pinching the blood vessels in Supes' brain to give him the equivalent of a stroke.
Psychic Powers: Manchester Black's are so powerful that he can punch a hole through a mountain.
Pyrrhic Victory: Manchester Black tries to invoke this after Superman's defeated his team, pointing out that his victory has come at the cost of compromising the very principles he sought to uphold. Then Superman reveals it was all an act; the Elite are alive (albeit badly hurt) and his robots prevented any casualties.
Qurac: Pokolistan and Bialya are at each other's throats in this movie. Since they both have nukes and have violent border disputes, they may be standing in for India and Pakistan, or Israel vs. Palestine.
India and Pakistan seems more likely, with the rhyming names and both sides being nuclear powers.
Reconstruction: Modern portrayals of Superman try to tone down the "American Way" part of his creed for fear of it coming across as too nationalistic. This story instead embraces it and reveals what he means by the American Way, specifically the capacity to not be afraid of those more powerful than you. The Elite briefly win people over with their choice of lethal action but Superman shows that those methods are a result of fear.
Recycled Soundtrack: The main theme from Superman: Doomsday is used in this film when Superman does something heroic and as the credits theme (it helps that Robert J. Kral, the man who made the soundtrack for Superman Doomsday, did this soundtrack as well).
Red Eyes, Take Warning: Once Superman begins stomping the Elite, his left eye adopts a red tint. Though it's possible it's just from a burst blood vessel in his eye.
Required Secondary Powers: As Manchester Black points out, the Hat may have a magical shield, but it's not a self-contained environment. He still needs to breathe.
Sapient Ship: The Elite's ship "Bonnie", actually an alien life form that came from another dimension. Black mentions that when they discovered this, they removed the ship's ability to feel emotion, forcing it to be their slave. This comes back to bite them when the Superbots fix that and offer to return it to its home dimension.
Scare 'Em Straight: The Elite attempt this through their use of deadly force, announcing to the rest of the world "See, we killed these guys, and we'll do the same to you if you don't straighten up." Superman demonstrates the flaws in this by pretending to adopt their methods in his battle with them, utterly decimating them and appearing to kill all of them save for Manchester Black. It works.
Manchester Black: You think that's it? It's not over, you poncy twit. If you think I'll just go to jail and rot, you're living in a dream world!
Superman:Good. Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us into something better. And on my soul, I swear that until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice are the reality we all share, I'll never stop fighting. Ever.
Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: The Elite prepresent the cynical, "pragmatic" option of just killing the enemy and intimidating anyone who might oppose them into submission by virtue of sheer firepower. They mock Superman for his idealism and principles...until the Big Blue Boyscout puts on a pretty graphic display of how it can be used against them.
Stylistic Suck: The in-universe Superman cartoon is painfully cheesy to the point that even Lois points out how badly it sucks.
Superdickery: When Superman decides to break his Thou Shalt Not Kill rule. It turns out he just knocked out or disabled the Elite and had his Superman robots carry people off to make it appear as if they had died.
A lighter example early on: although Superman is a highly ethical and moral hero, he's not above using his superpowers to steal a hot story (usually about himself) from Lois. At least he's honest and upfront about it before he does it.
This is a common element to their working relationship across all adaptations. It's likely that the whole conversation Running Gag between them and is their way of flirting.
Too Dumb to Live: The leaders of Pokolistan and Bialya. They still want to kill each other despite the Elite's warnings, which apparently aggravated them more because despite the fact that they explicitly stated they aren't siding with anyone, that the Elite sided with one of them.
Unflinching Walk: Manchester Black can punch a hole through a mountain with a thought. Superman treats it like a strong gust of wind when he takes the kid gloves off.
Unreliable Narrator: When Black reveals his past to Superman, he leaves out certain elements - for example, that he killed his father, and that when he stopped the train from killing his sister, he ended up killing about a dozen people.
Villain Teleportation: The Elite can teleport to spaces between dimensions, which frustrates Superman to no end.
Villainesses Want Heroes: Menagerie acts this way towards Superman. Lois is not amused. Although to be fair, Menagerie seems to want everyone.
Wave Motion Gun: Manchester Black can manifest his Psychic Powers in this fashion, using it to punch a hole through a mountain with relative ease. Notable in that this attack heavily damages Superman even after he took the gloves off.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Deliberately averted by Superman himself, as part of his Friend to All Living Things shtick. Even going up against a gruesome giant rampaging monster, Superman holds back initially and tries not to mortally wound it until he finds out that it's not actually alive - showing that he would uphold his non-killing rules not only against non-humans, but even against totally inhuman monsters.
What the Hell, Hero?: At first Superman thinks the Elite are a little reckless but basically have their hearts in the right place... until they demonstrate their solution for dealing with Atomic Skull. And then there's the way they choose to stop two nations at war.
What the Hell Is That Accent?: Manchester Black appears to be in a state of constant quantum fluctuation between Brummie, Scouse, Yorkshire, Cockney and Glaswegian.
White and Grey Morality: Superman is definitely a good guy, but the Elite, rather than bad guys, are at worst Anti Heroes; they do display actually heroic intentions, and hurting Black's team-mates typically is his Berserk Button. In addition, while the film does end on the side of Superman, his black and white views of the world are heavily questioned not just by the Elite, but Lois and the ordinary citizens who suffer every time a villain Superman has spared escapes and kills more people. Neither solution is perfect, but White is considered the better choice in the end.
"World of Cardboard" Speech: The story gets a lot of points for playing to both spectrums of heroic and villainous as Superman has a much bigger point to make than his own personal values; made especially poignant for George Newbern delivering another, decidedly more sinister version than the original one in the comics... complete with the Sephiroth voice.
Manchester:They all saw. Everyone on Earth saw what you did. They know you're no better than the rest of us. There's nothing special about you. Superman:Yes, they did see. They saw the ugliness of violence as a solution and it frightened them. It frightened me too when I decided to cross that line and do what you do. It's so easy. Anger... vengeance. Luckily, I'm not you. And I never will be.
Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: The Elite's method of beating the bad guys revolves around this. Superman decides to show them precisely why a superhero should not do this.
Black: You crazy son of a bitch! You killed my team!!
Xanatos Gambit: Superman had planned the entire thing since roughly one-third through the film, stating that he was holding back the entire time.
You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Superman tries this over and over with Manchester Black. It doesn't take. He also explains that sending this message to humanity as a whole is the reason for his championing of idealism and his refusal to kill:
Superman: We have to show the world that there's a better way. That they can be better.
Manchester Black: But that's the problem. They can't.
And Superman's note for Lois, which was never shown in the comics.
BELIEVE ALWAYS BELIEVE
You Can Barely Stand: Manchester states this word for word to Superman during their fight after he blasted him. Supes promptly lobotomizes him.