Superman: Red Son
Violence, cursing, smoking in "Soviet Superman" reimagining.
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Superman: Red Son
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Superman: Red Son is a 2020 animated movie in which Superman lands in the Soviet Union as a young boy instead of the United States. Lois Lane is a heavy cigarette smoker, and is shown trying to quit after Superman chastises her. In this reimagining of "The Man of Steel," Lois marries Lex Luthor, and when asked why she's married to someone who isn't the most ethical man out there, she describes the sex with him as "phenomenal." Wonder Woman rebuffs Superman's sexual advances by implying that she's a lesbian. Unlike other superhero movies, the women here are independent and not reliant on a male superhero to rescue them from danger. Bullies chase young Superman through a wheat field, as one of the bullies threatens to "stomp on [his] ugly face." He's protected from the bullies by a tween girl who punches the lead bully in the jaw, resulting in blood. War violence throughout, including Superman killing some with his heat vision. Batman is a terrorist who survived the gulag and commits suicide instead of being resent to the gulag. Occasional profanity, including "s--t" and "bitch." Overall, the movie explores the use and misuse of power and the blurred lines between "good" and "evil," and presents an alternate history of the Cold War that could inspire discussion between family members about that era of recent world history, and how those events have helped shape the world we're living in today.
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What's the Story?
In SUPERMAN: RED SON, Superman (Jason Isaacs) grows up in the Soviet Union instead of Smallville, USA. His superhuman strength and ability to fly becomes a propaganda tool of Josef Stalin at the height of the 1950s Cold War. The Eisenhower administration in the United States, with the help of the high-tech weapons manufacturer Lex Luthor (Diedrich Bader), attempts to counter with their own "Superior Man." After Superman prevents a satellite from crashing into Metropolis, Lois Lane (Amy Acker) gives him classified documents showing what life is really like for millions under the Stalin regime. After Superman discovers first-hand the horror of the Soviet gulag -- and finding the girl who protected him from bullies when he was a young boy imprisoned because she knew the real identity of Superman -- Superman confronts Stalin. Finding Stalin's justifications to be reprehensible, Superman kills him, and assumes power in the USSR. He creates an alliance with Wonder Woman, and uses his powers to tilt the balance of power to the Soviets. But for all his ideals, Superman finds himself increasingly corrupted by power in the 1960s, as he has dissidents lobotomized, reprograms Brainiac to be his advisor, and must confront a Batman whose family was killed in the Soviet labor camps. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor becomes President of the United States, ushering in a prosperity that threatens Soviet world domination. As the Cold War wears on, Superman and Luthor must come to grips with how power can be misused, and the chasm that exists between the ideals and realities of both countries' ideologies.
Is It Any Good?
Superman: Red Son asks the question, "What if Superman grew up in the Soviet Union instead of Smallville?" The premise, and its historically altering ramifications, is engagingly explored -- in the DC Comics world as well as in the historical events of the Cold War. The shopworn "What if JFK hadn't been assassinated?" ideas are counterbalanced with an effective melding of these two alternate realities being explored, especially with the idea of Batman as a resistance leader against Soviet tyranny driven to avenge the death of his family in the gulag. The story is a thoughtful reflection on the hazards of unchecked power, and the difference between the ideals espoused by ideologues and the drawbacks of these ideologies in the real world.
That said, the heady themes tend to get lost in the moments of cartoon violence. Too often, the violent moments are as stock as any Saturday morning cartoon from the era when the lines between "good" and "evil" weren't as blurred as they have been in contemporary takes on the superhero. For parents old enough to remember "Super Friends" from the 1970s and '80s, it's hard not to be reminded of moments from that show when, say, Superman stops a satellite from crashing into Metropolis, or Superman goes mano y mano with one "Superior Man." One almost expects to hear a narrator bellow, "Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice..." during these moments. This inability to effectively mesh the action with the story prevents Superman: Red Son from being the great movie it could have been.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about this version of Superman. How does this "Soviet Superman" compare to the "Man of Steel" we're all familiar with?
How is the Cold War used as a backdrop to the central events of the story? What is substantially different from what happened as a result of Superman growing up in the USSR instead of America?
Was the violence in this movie necessary to the story, or did it come across as gratuitous?
- On DVD or streaming: February 25, 2020
- Cast: Jason Isaacs, Amy Acker, Diedrich Bader
- Director: Sam Liu
- Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Superheroes, History
- Run time: 84 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Violent content, bloody images, suggestive material, language, thematic elements and some smoking.
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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