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Western Animation / Superman: Red Son

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A 2020 movie in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line, Superman: Red Son is an Animated Adaptation of Mark Millar's Elseworlds comic of the same name. It stars a version of Superman who grew up in the Soviet Union instead of the United States.

Voice actors include Jason Isaacs as Superman, Diedrich Bader as Lex Luthor, Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman, and Roger Craig Smith as Batman.

The trailer can be seen here.

Tropes in this film:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Superman never ages over the course of the story, while Luthor, Lois and Batman do.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • While Superman easily wipes the floor with the Green Lanterns in the comic, here, they almost have him incapacitated before Diana shows up and stops the fighting.
    • It's implied that Wonder Woman is more powerful than Superman given how easily she blocks his punch.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Lex starts out much as he usually is, but after Superman's supposed death, he has an epiphany, gracefully resigns as US President, and promises the government will aid the soon-to-fall Soviet Empire in becoming a set of free nations. This stands in stark opposition to the comic, where he takes over Superman’s empire and transforms it into the future Krypton. And while he's shown to be a neglectful husband and all-around arrogant jerkass in the comic, in the movie he is a good husband to Lois, showing genuine regret over forgetting their anniversary, as well as remorse after Lois chews him out on purposefully sending Superior Man to his death.
    • As a side-effect of their romance being removed, Wonder Woman does not undergo the Woman Scorned Face–Heel Turn that she did in the comics. Instead of joining in on Luthor's attack on Superman in the climax of the film, she tries to broker peace between the two warring nations. It's not until Superman tries to attack her first that she actually turns on him, and even then she decides to wash her hands of the conflict entirely.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Lana Lazarenko, Red Son's counterpart of Lana Lang, is called Svetlana in the movie. Admittedly, "Lana" can be used as a short form of Svetlana, but "Sveta" was far more common in the USSR.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: Wonder Woman has an unrequited attraction to Superman in the comic, but is strictly lesbian in this film.
  • Adaptational Species Change: Superman is a genuine Kryptonian here as opposed to being a descendant of Lex Luthor from the future.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • While Batman in the comic wasn't above murder, in the movie he kills everyone inside the Superman museum as he destroys it.
    • Superman himself no longer follows Thou Shalt Not Kill as he did in the source material, making him comparatively more ruthless, although he does later try to enforce nonlethal tactics. The character of Pyotr Roslov is also removed as a Hate Sink for the worst aspects of the Soviet system; once Stalin dies, everything that happens is Superman's responsibility. Superman even kills Stalin himself to take control of the Soviet Union, whereas in the comic Roslov was implied to have done it.
  • Adapted Out: Pyotr Roslov doesn't appear in the film.
  • Aerith and Bob: Somishka is by no means a Russian/Ukrainian given name, male or female alike. Lana is more plausible for a Ukrainian girl, but not so much. On the Bob side, we have almost every DC character who remained American in this continuity.
  • Affably Evil: Superman is still the same big blue boy scout he is in the comics, he just is focused on an incredibly bad set of values.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Batman and Superior Man get pretty sad send-offs, though the latter doesn’t really qualify as a villain.
  • Artificial Human: Superior Man is a construct created from the ground up from the DNA of Superman.
  • Bait the Dog: When Batman decides to destroy the museum, he tells the visitors that they have 10 minutes to evacuate, making it appear that he doesn't plan to kill them. Turns out the bomb is set to go off in 10 seconds.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: Facing an all-powerful communist dictatorship led by a Nigh-Invulnerable alien, Batman has no problem killing people; in fact he goes out of his way to do it.
  • Battle-Interrupting Shout: Diana interrupts to stop the Green Lantern Marine Corp from killing Superman, and tries to broker a peace between the two factions to no avail.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Batman rejects Superman's plan to reprogram him and blows himself up to avoid being turned into a lobotomized zombie slave.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Diana turns up to save Superman from the Green Lantern Marine Corp, and President Luthor in Powered Armor stops Lois Lane from being crushed by a pillar after Brainiac reveals his true colors.
  • Body Horror: Subverted by Superior Man. While he initially has an appearance similar to Superman's, his body gets more deformed as he receives more power from Lex Luthor. By the end of his fight with Superman, he's even more deformed than Bizarro from the Red Son comic ever was.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Invoked by Lex who unveils Superior Man bound in chains, which he then breaks out of in front of the gathered press. Played for drama when Diana has to break the Lasso of Truth to save Superman.
  • Break the Cutie: Diana. Breaking out of her Lasso of Truth to save Superman comes at the cost of part of her lifeforce. Then Superman tells Batman that he'll "help" him by lobotomizing him and imprisoning him in Moscow, which leads to Batman killing himself by blowing himself up. Diana promptly chews him out and concedes that man's world is Beyond Redemption.
    Diana: Mother was right.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Superman finally sees Stalin's benevolent facade for it the lie it is, after he finds one of his underground gulags, and reunites with Svetlana, who ends up dying in his arms. His confrontation with Stalin afterwards only confirms to him that his father figure really is a ruthless dictator, and he ends up killing him in response.
    • Diana loses faith in man's world after seeing the brutality that Superman is capable of and that man's world is resistant to her attempts at trying to build peace. As a result, the Themyscirans decide to cut themselves off from the rest of the world... forever.
  • Bully Hunter: In their youth, Svetlana would protect Somishka from the local bullies, fighting them off when they tried to attack him. When she tries to get Somishka to stand up for himself, he says he's actually trying to stop the bullies from getting hurt, as his superpowers have started to develop.
  • Celibate Hero: Superman is relieved when he discovers Diana isn't interested in him. He finds sex pleasant enough but says it's a distraction from work.
  • Cutting the Knot: The scientists working on Abin Sur and his ring were waiting to get permission to work on his body to retrieve the ring. Luthor bypasses it by just snipping his finger off, then have the ring fall off.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Svetlana, having been condemned to an underground gulag and suffering from an unspecified illness, dies in Superman's arms after he frees her and the other inmates.
    • The shrunken and bottled city of Stalingrad and its people are destroyed by Brainiac in the climax.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Josef Stalin is incinerated by Superman after the latter learned the truth about the dictator's atrocities, while in the comic, he was poisoned by Pyotr Roslov, who was adapted out here. Likewise Batman's parents die in the gulag before Superman turns up to save the inmates, instead of being shot by Roslov.
  • Disease Bleach: Diana's hair turns white and half her face is aged after she breaks the Lasso of Truth. She turns up later with her youth restored but her hair remains Locked into Strangeness, with her wearing a matching all-white outfit as opposed to the red-and-black outfit she wore in imitation of Superman.
  • Dynamic Entry: Superior Man does a Three-Point Landing in front of the Kremlin that blasts a crater in the ground, then shouts: "SUPERMAN!" so loudly he breaks every window in the place.
  • Eagleland: Superior Man is a Type II Eaglelander who spends a good portion of his fight with Superman ranting about being an American and hurling Russian slurs at him. And then played for tragedy when Lex betrays him. Superman himself notes he was just a victim of the governmental machine and propaganda.
  • Explosive Overclocking: Superior Man's powers depend on a power source managed by Luthor. Once he starts to lose against Superman, Luthor gives him more and more power, quickly diminishing his mental and physical faculties.
  • Expy: Before he becomes this to Bizarro, Superior Man is one to Ultraman, an evil counterpart of Superman from an alternate universe. More precisely, he resembles Ultraman's design from the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths movie.
  • Fingore: To remove the Green Lantern ring from Abin Sur's corpse, Lex simply cuts off his finger.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Superman discovers the underground gulag, there's a boy mourning his dead parents who gives him a What the Hell, Hero?, whereupon a colony of bats take flight.
    • During the fight with Brainiac, as Superman tries to break through his force field, eagle-eyed viewers can tell that it fades away. Naturally, Brainiac allowed himself to be captured in order to manipulate Superman into creating a world befitting his ideals.
    Brainiac: My force fields have been immeasurably improved since Stalingrad. You (Superman) barely pierced them then. And only because I allowed it.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Superman and Lois's discussion over the ideals of the USSR and the US. Lois argues that the USSR is an authoritarian empire that suppresses its own citizens while the US has the American Dream, while Superman points out that the US was built on the back of slaves, so neither of them can really brag about how great their country is.
  • Gut Punch: Superman (along with other "superheroes" who would usually be their friends if things had been different) and Earth fall short of Diana's hopes, leading to her concluding they are beyond saving ("Mother was right."). This leads to Themyscira cutting itself off from the world forever, never to be seen again. Earth had one chance and they blew it.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • When Superman finds out that Stalin was working Soviet civilians to death, he's completely disillusioned.
    • He gets an even stronger one when he finally realizes he's turning out no different from Brainiac, and by extension, from what Stalin himself called him at the beginning.
  • He Will Come for Me: Svetlana says she would have died in the gulag long ago, but she clung to life knowing that her childhood friend would one day come and save them. Superman carries her outside to the sun and she dies in his arms.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • It's the West that puts up the Iron Curtain, starting with the Berlin Wall, to stop the spread of Communism. Superman effortlessly tears it down.
    • Batman is an Russian anarchist terrorist. In real life radical anarchists helped bring about the Russian Revolution, only to be brutally suppressed by the Bolsheviks.
  • Incompatible Orientation: When Superman tries to kiss Diana, she promptly reveals that she's a lesbian.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Due to his artificial nature, Superior Man is viewed by Luthor as little more than a tool to test Superman's power instead of a thinking, living being. This mindset disgusts Lois, and she chews him out after he makes it clear he knowingly sent Superior Man to his death.
  • Kick the Dog: Superman could have used Brainiac to restore Stalingrad all along. He never asked because secretly he never wanted to.
  • Kneel Before Zod: When Superman kills Stalin, his bodyguards rush into the room and stare at Superman in horror...then drop their guns and bend the knee without having to be told.
  • Large Ham: Superior Man shouts every line of dialogue and shows very little restraint in combat.
  • Manly Tears: Superman weeps a Single Tear after killing Stalin. He also cries when Svetlana dies.
  • Might Makes Right: As Svetlana is dying, she says that this is a world where the strong rule, and so calls on Superman as the strongest of them all to protect them. Which he proceeds to do.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Superior Man is used as a puppet by Luthor and self-destructs upon reaching critical mass, much like in All-Star Superman.
    • Captain John Stewart yells "Light 'em up!" while leading the Corps' charge against Superman, in a similar manner to his Justice League Unlimited counterpart in the episode "The Return" when the Justice League attempted to defend Earth from Amazo. Bonus points for Phil LaMarr reprising his role as John.
    • Similarly, Superman killing Stalin with his heat vision is reminiscent of how Justice Lord!Superman kills President Luthor in "A Better World" (except that this time we see it happen on-screen).
    • In a video demonstration in the museum tour, one of the students in a classroom resembles Sherman from Batman: The Animated Series episode "I've Got Batman in My Basement".
    • An African-American Jimmy Olsen who prefers to be called James.
  • Named by the Adaptation:
    • Superman's civilian name in the comic wasn't revealed and is given here as Somishka.
    • Bizarro also didn't have an official name; here, he's called Superior Man.
  • Necessarily Evil: What Stalin justifies his actions as; he claims it's necessary for some people to suffer and die if it means the survival of the Soviet system. He pays for this with his life when Superman throws his words back in his face.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: James Olsen bears a strong resemblance to Barack Obama, which becomes crystal clear when he's appointed president.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Invoked by Batman, who in this reality is an anarchist terrorist trying to destabilize Superman's perfect communist state.
    "The only answer to this world of perfect order is chaos. We have to blow the entire system apart."
  • Pet the Dog: Superman treats Superior Man with respect (more so than Luthor himself) and shows genuine horror and remorse when Luthor overloads him.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Superman gives one before killing Stalin.
    Stalin: The unpleasant truth, my son, is that certain people must die in order for the system to work.
    Superman: Wise words.
  • Punch Catch: Wonder Woman, when Superman tries to attack her (to his shock, as no-one he's fought before has truely matched his strength).
  • Pure Is Not Good: Superman realises this about himself.
    Superman: Stalin once called me a blind kitten. So pure in my beliefs, so walled in by my ideals that I was unavailable to see reality.
  • Race Against the Clock: Spoofed; Batman kidnaps Diana and gives Superman ten seconds to find her; he blasts into their midst in eight, and Batman expresses disappointment as he was betting on six.
  • Race Lift: Jimmy Olsen is African-American.
  • Rapid Aging: Batman ties up Diana with the lasso of truth. Diana ends up breaking it in order to save Superman and stop Batman. Because the lasso is tied to her own lifeforce, she quickly becomes older and much weaker. After spending some time back in Themyscira, she gets better, though the white hair stays.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: The black holes powering Brainiac's spacecraft start to count down to destruction, apparently because Brainiac set them to self-destruct on his death, or so Lex Luthor claims... Conveniently, Superman is forced to do a Heroic Sacrifice to save the world, though Lois sees him later in his Clark Kent disguise.
  • Sexual Karma: Lois cites great sex as one of the reasons she puts up with Lex. Superman on the other hand has no objection to sex, but isn't really interested as it gets in the way of his work.
  • She Knows Too Much: Stalin sent Svetlana to the gulag just because she knew Superman as a child. He doesn't want anyone to know that Superman is anything other than a symbol of the State.
  • Shooting Superman: Averted; at least on the Soviet side where Might Makes Right, no-one's dumb enough to take a shot at him even after he kills Stalin.
  • Siding with the Suffering: An Alternate Universe exploration of the last son of Krypton coming to Earth, not in a Kansas wheat field, rather in a Soviet potato farm. He becomes the protege of Josef Stalin, and fervently believes in the Marxist manifesto. That is, until Intrepid Reporter Lois Lane points Superman to Siberian labor camps where disease and despair are rampant, and the mortality rate is about 45%. Upon seeing such misery inflicted on Soviet citizens, Superman confronts his mentor. Perestroika began early in this alternate Soviet Union.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Lex, of course. Lois even gives him chess pieces of himself and Superman as an anniversary gift, which Lex agrees shows impeccable taste.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat
    Lex: Special Agent Olsen. How is my favorite G-Man babysitter today?
    Olsen: Excellent, Mister L. And how's my most exhausting assignment?
    Lex: The usual.
    Olsen: Burdened by your own brilliance? Frustrated by the limitations of everyone around you?
  • Table Space: Superman and Ambassador Lee, who eventually admits that Superman terrifies him.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Stalin says that his actions are a necessary evil as certain people must die for the Soviet system to work. Superman replies, "Wise words" and kills him.
    • Superman dismisses Superior Man as a propaganda stunt to make him afraid, which he's certainly not. Superior Man turns up moments later and gives him a nasty shock, with Lex noting that he actually saw fear in Superman's eyes while fighting him.
    • After Batman threatens to blow up the museum, the guide calls everyone to evacuate in an orderly fashion as there is more than enough time—(bomb goes off).
  • This Cannot Be!: Brainiac panics (as much as a machine can panic, anyway) as Superman has torn through his ship and is about to rip him apart.
    Brainiac (voice distorting): This is illogical. You are m-m-merely a th-thing of f-flesh while I am-
    Superman: -a useless machine.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Jason Isaacs voices Superman as an adult while Tara Strong voices him as a child.
  • Today, X. Tomorrow, the World!: Superman helps the communist forces conquer South Korea in just three hours. He then gives a New Era Speech saying he's come not to conquer the Koreans but to give them a better life. He then adds that what he offers to the Korean people, he offers to the entire world. In fairness, Superman resists conquering the world by force because he wants to prove the superiority of the Communist system and figures the Western democracies will collapse on their own. Even when President Lex Luthor revitalizes the capitalist system, he only attacks after Lex launches the first strike.
  • Underground City: Stalin still has operational gulags, hidden under the Urals with lead shielding so Superman can't see what goes on there. He only finds out when Lois Lane (at her husband's behest) hands Superman a classified intelligence file revealing their existence.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: A two-tiered example. Superior Man is stronger than Superman, but doesn't have his lifetime of experience, so Superman beat him by outmaneuvering him. Superman himself, though, never learned any real fighting techniques, so once he's de-powered, Batman wipes the floor with him.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Throughout most of the movie Superman, for all his great power, is this to someone. First to Stalin, and later to Brainiac.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: The Green Lantern Marine Corp trap Superman by creating increasingly smaller confinement boxes around his body.
  • We Can Rule Together: Superman makes this offer to Diana when he thinks she's romantically attracted to him, though he's not offended when she refuses. Rather than help Superman rule the world, she offers to be a peace broker between the US and the Soviet Union. Superman refuses however, convinced that time will show the natural superiority of his system of government, and out of fear that Lex will convince her to turn against him.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • How Stalin sees himself, and how he tries to justify imprisoning innocent people in gulags and working them to death. Superman doesn't buy it even for a second, and kills him.
      Stalin: What you call atrocities... I call terrible necessities. For our vision of a better world to succeed, we must weed out the insurgents. The weak, the ones whose minds have been poisoned against the State.
    • Superman himself is a more straightforward example. While he starts off by killing whoever opposes him, he eventually turns to non-violent methods, getting other countries to join the Soviet Union through diplomacy instead of war, and brainwashing insurgents instead of executing them or imprisoning them in gulags.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Lois is absolutely livid over Lex purposefully overloading Superior Man and sending him off to his death merely to gauge Superman's power, and promptly chews him out over it. He is visibly regretful as she leaves.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: The leader of the bullies, after getting punched by Svetlana, tells her he'd beat her badly if she wasn't a girl.