Let me start out that I didn’t read the three-part Elseworld story of the same name. But I did hear a lot of good stuff about it. So much so that I did read the summary of Superman: Red Son. What I read was very interesting, even if I did want it to end in a somewhat different way. Basically, what I’m saying is that, when I watched the latest DCU Animated Original Movie, Superman: Red Son, I did have a good idea what it was all about but I didn’t expect it to be so good… even if it still ended differently but in a way I didn’t like.
If you haven’t read the comic nor this new film, don’t worry. This review is going to be SPOILER FREE. No big plot details or anything will be revealed here.
Superman: Red Son is an Elseworld take on the traditional Man of Steel story which imagines what it would be like if baby Kal-El landed in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas, USA. The story has Superman now as a symbol of Soviet strength and propaganda with Lex Luthor, the smartest man in America trying to find a way to defeat him in order to swing the balance of power back to the United States.
Like I mentioned before, I didn’t read the comic itself but I have read several summaries and reviews of the original Red Son comic so I’m pretty versed with the source material somewhat. The new DCU Animated Original Movie does change a few things here and there, some of them for the better, some of them… not so. \
I don’t consider this a spoiler but the animated version of Red Son does a massive rewrite of the third act. I mentioned that I didn’t really care for how the comic version ended but the changes they did for the animated version also didn’t work. In fact, it feels much more anti-climatic in the animated film. That’s not to say that the ending spoils Superman: Red Son as a whole. I will say that the way the story was told here was actually very good. Some of the more emotional moments worked really well, which is remarkable considering that Red Son isn’t really supposed to touch your heartstrings. But the moments that are supposed to do work.
Probably one of the things I really liked about how Red Son’s narrative went is that it, at least for the first two acts, shows that United States of America and Soviet Russia’s political ideas are not all good and not all bad. Both sides’ goals are all colored gray. Superman may be working for the Russian side but he’s doing so because he believes that his country will prosper if he does help. Luthor, even though he’s doing some unethical procedures in order to get the best of Superman, is doing it for both his ego as well as because he’s a patriot.
Another great thing about the animated Red Son is the voice cast. It’s a rather unorthodox voice cast but, ultimately, it works! I may be a little biased when I say Amy Acker’s version of Lois Lane is fantastic because I had (and still have) a massive crush on Amy Acker. Still, I will say she give a pitch perfect performance here. She’s both strong-willed but still can be tender at the same time. Roger Craig Smith returns as this Elseworlds version of Batman. He’s basically reprising his role from the direct-to-video Batman Unlimited films, but with a Russian accent. I liked it because there’s a menace to this version of Batman that is unheard of in the more recent portrayals of the Dark Knight.
Speaking of former cast members, Diedrich Bader, the man who took over the role of Batman in Brave and the Bold and the recent Harley Quinn series is back… as Lex Luthor! And, honestly, he killed it! He managed to make this version of Lex Luthor still sound incredibly smart and devious but still a sensitive soul. I honestly thought this was a big miscast but I can’t argue with the final result! Rounding out the excellent voice cast are Jason Isaacs and Vanessa Marshall as Superman and Wonder Woman, respectively. We’ve already heard Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman before in other DCU Animated Original Films so it’s no surprise that she sounds very natural in that Amazon frame. However, Jason Isaacs, despite having to do Superman with a thick Russian accent, has to carry the film and he does wonders with it, even if the accent does sound a little forced at times.
I did mention how the story does work as a whole earlier. However, there are some things that feel were cut out or just plain summarized in order to cram the comic arc into a 70+ minute film. Sometimes, things just happen, like Wonder Woman’s introduction. She basically shows up without any rhyme or reason. They then do a quick exposition dump because they can’t be bothered with animating how she made it to man’s world, which is very unsatisfying.
There is also an issue with Superman’s personality. Oh, I can buy his Stalin-like stance regarding how to ensure peace in the world. What I can’t get is how his opinion on how much death is too much. It generally fluctuates from time to time, depending on the circumstances. It’s an inconsistency that just couldn’t shake and I wish the writing was much better or they showed how conflicted he was regarding the issue.
The animation overall is really good but, at the same time, a missed opportunity. The fight scenes are really fun, especially the one between Superman and Batman as well as the one with Superior Man, the US version of the Man of Steel. Yet I can’t help but think that Red Son would’ve been better with a different art style. DC decided to use the artstyle they already used in Gotham by Gaslight. While the animation is indeed very good, it isn’t detailed enough to capture some of the more nuanced moments.
Superman: Red Son starts in the ’50s and ends in the tail end of the ’80s. However, you don’t really see any real changes with the buildings. Some of the characters do age but the ’80s version of those characters just look like their ’50 versions, only with gray hair or balding. I also think the film would’ve looked better if it used a more classic art design. Basically, if they made it look like the comics from the ’50s at the start and then gradually change it over the passage of time the film goes through, then it would have been phenomenal.
Besides these small glitches, Superman: Red Son is one of the better DCU Animated Original Movies to come out. It’s a fantastic take on the legendary Elseworld story and an overall good animated movie.
Have you seen Superman: Red Son? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!