Superman: Red Son 2020
It’s still been difficult to try and get back into any sort of normal rhythm for this site, but I haven’t yet abandoned it. In fact, the site reached a major milestone the other day. We’ve reached 1 million total views! Thanks everyone for the continued support and visits. As for new movies, it seems like it’s mostly streaming and home video, including the DC Animated movies. I’ve always been a fan of alternate realities/Elseworlds stories, especially when it comes to superheroes. These characters have been around long enough that their origin stories are going to be multiple choice anyway. Why not allow writers to take things into more extreme directions if it’s going to tell an interesting story rather than just a slightly different shade of the same thing over and over. This takes the Superman origin story and turns it on its head. It’s similar and yet very different from the Batman Elseworlds story Gotham by Gaslight, turning Superman into a very different character rather than just injecting him into a different setting.
One of the most interesting things about this movie is how it doesn’t just place Superman into a different setting, it shows how a different upbringing and set of circumstances can create a very different outcome. And yet, there is still enough there that it still feels like Superman deep down at his core. It’s not a completely different character that has Superman’s powers, it’s just a different kind of Superman and that’s often difficult to pull off. Especially when this story turns Superman into a seemingly well-meaning-yet-tyrannical dictator, imposing his will on most of the world with the overall goal of human betterment. And yet, ultimately he’s inherent naivety allows him to be manipulated by those around him without him realizing it, first by Stalin and later by Brainiac.
The voice acting as always is on point, the Russian accents for Superman, Batman, and a few of the other characters aren’t over the top enough to be distracting. The rest of the characters are all typically American and are filled out by many of the usual suspects like Diedrich Bader playing Lex Luthor. The animation is also pretty standard for these DC Animated movies. While this movie does dial back the rating slightly from the handful of R rated features, it still has several significant moment of violence and death that set it on the far edge of the PG-13 rating that’s come to be expected for these DC Animated movies.
The overall story arc works well with a fair number of twists. As is often the case with these movies, the relatively short run time makes the plot feel like it’s moving at a rather brisk pace despite the fact that it’s about 10 minutes longer than many of the previous outings. There’s just a lot going on from the brief introduction of Superman as a child, complete with the similar set of morals where he runs from the bullies not because he doesn’t want to be hurt, but because he doesn’t want to hurt them. He also reveals himself to his childhood friend Svetlana who recommends that he share his abilities with the state. He then goes immediately to being a mostly propaganda tool for Soviet Russia, but rebels against Stalin after Lois and Lex Luthor reveal Stalin’s extreme methods for eliminating so-called enemies of the state. Including his childhood friend and seemingly only person to know his true identity Svetlana, as well as a young pre-Batman. As this is so fast paced, there’s not even a mention of either Batman or Superman’s civilian names as it’s not likely to be Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne. It’s not an awful decision as knowing their Russian names wouldn’t add to the narrative, having their names be the same wouldn’t feel right as they aren’t Russian names, and Russian-izing their names could very well be awkward. The only one that they did do was change Lana Lang to Svetlana, which does actually work pretty well.
This is really a story that doesn’t entirely have a strict hero or villain. Nearly every character presented in this story is some shades of grey. Superman as shown, has good intentions, but his naivety allows him to be easily manipulated by Brainiac into using his power to control the world without understanding the damage he’s actually causing. Of course, we have to take this all at face value because there’s no clear presentation of what actual damage is being caused aside from the typical class disparity of most societies. Superman frequently talks about all the good he’s doing and the prosperity the countries are seeing, and the entire set up is ripe for a deep thought exercise about the political consequences of his actions. But instead of all that, we just get some more action sequences with alternate versions of various DC heroes including the Green Lantern corps using a few names of well known Green Lanterns like Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and Kyle Rayner. Lex Luthor is also presented not so much as a hero, but he is acting in the best interest of the United States. He seems to have a decent relationship with Lois and while there are definitely shades of the villain Lex Luthor with his intelligence, arrogance, and superiority complex, the fact that his motivations to defeat Superman are actually in the best interest of the United States in this scenario turn those qualities into a positive rather than a negative.
This whole story is a fascinating look at how different circumstances can change the course of history. This gives a very different scenario for several different DC characters, and while there are definitely similar character qualities with Superman, Batman, and Lex Luthor, putting them in these different roles creates a rather fascinating scenario. It’s not often that you would see Superman as a dictator with an iron fist, a Batman who feels more like Rorschach from Watchmen, and Lex ends up being the catalyst for the heroic situation at the end. And while this movie just touches on the bare minimum surface level of these deep questions, it’s still satisfying to watch and see it all unfold. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.