Brief Thoughts: Superman: Red Son
I really enjoy putting my reviews together. I honestly wish I could delve deeper into certain movies, but alas, I get incredibly busy and can sometimes only deal with movies to a briefer extent than I would prefer. This is why I write these occasional "Brief Thoughts" posts on movies I have seen, as I want to at least offer some of my own perspective on them. They may not be as polished, but I can at least get my opinions out there. This edition of "Brief Thoughts" features a review for DC Animated Universe's Superman: Red Son.
Superman: Red Son: 3 ½ out of 5
Based on one of the more fascinating Superman comics that I've read, Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Walden Wong, and Killian Plunkett, this animated adaptation has the feel of another successful compromise from the realm of DC's animated film series. It's not quite on part with the best this expansive library has come out with, in recent years (offhand - shoutout to the craziness that is Batman Ninja), but it does enough justice to the material while providing general audiences with an exciting Elseworld's tale.
The premise puts forward the "What if?" concept of young Kal-El (though not explicitly named as such) landing on Earth in the Soviet Union (back during the Cold War), instead of Smallville, and what it would be like if Superman was a communist hero. In presenting such a concept, it shifts the whole universe around, while still allowing some things to remain the same. Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, Brainiac, and even a gnarly version of Batman still turn up, but the origins, relationships, interactions, and results lead down a completely different, yet interesting path.
As a film, while it can't accomplish everything its literary counterpart goes for, it is, at times, somewhat better for it. The original material, especially when coming from Millar, can be extra comic book-y as needed, but a film needs more focus. That said, at 84-minutes, the scope of the story being told can't be as adequately encompassed. It draws in some inspiration from some other stories as well, but some areas needed more.
Some narrative and character shortcuts are taken to bring viewers to certain key moments from the comics, with some lacking the work to better develop how things go to a certain point. I'm being vague, but it's these areas that hold the film back. I also would have liked to see Red Son attempt to take on the ultimate ending, as seen in the comic, but I understand the choice in how this film plays out.
The animation is undoubtedly strong. There's a particular style to these films that sometimes makes them feel less detailed than they should be. That said, Red Son came close to evoking the feel of Batman: The Animated Series, without feeling like a rush job in the way other DC animated films have (I'm looking at you Batman: The Killing Joke).
Director Sam Liu does what's needed to deliver on one of his better efforts. Having to find a way to properly balance the action and the (more intriguing) moments focused on discussing the nature of Superman as a representative of the Soviets is important, and it works well as a way to appease people of mostly all ages for this PG-13 animated feature.
Adding to that is a terrific score to emphasize the Soviet aspect of it all, along with some good vocal performances (Jason Isaacs, Amy Acker, Diedrich Bader, Vanessa Marshall) to further hold it all together. There have been ups and downs when it comes to moving the various voice actors around with these roles, but the work is solid in this instance.
I like seeing the animated universe as a solid way to present Elseworld's tales, so it was great to see this take on a strong comic mini-series. I'm not as big on Superman as others, so knowing how much I enjoyed this comic and getting a chance to see this animated iteration work out was well as it did, made for worthwhile viewing.