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‘Superman: Red Son’ (review)

images via Warner Bros.

Executive Produced by Sam Register, Bruce Timm
Produced by Amy McKenna, Sam Liu
Co-produced by Jim Krieg
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Directed by Sam Liu
Starring Jason Isaacs, Diedrich Bader, Amy Acker,
Vanessa Marshall, Phil Morris, Paul Williams,
Roger Craig Smith, Sasha Roiz, Phil LaMarr,
Jim Meskimen, Travis Willingham,
William Salyers, Winter Ave Zoli 

 

Yo, this movie is liberal propaganda, but holy shit, it’s almost essential viewing in this current climate.

I haven’t read the book (by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett, et al) since it came out in issue form years and years ago, but before diving in, I gave it a reread. It’s novelty hasn’t worn off, even if I knew the twists and turns of the story from my previous experience. It’s still one of the best Elseworlds stories in the history of DC’s Elseworlds brand. It’s right up there with Gotham By Gaslight (also a direct to video animated feature). However, in this most recent read, it moves entirely too fast. I found myself finishing a chapter, asking myself if that was it, and looking back to make sure.

Not so with the animated adaptation.

The book depicts Superman as a Communist Russian.

The movie, however, depicts Superman as Superman, and I don’t think I can justifiably explain the difference. It’s almost as if whoever adapted this (the great J.M. DeMatteis!) tried to course correct Millar’s concept. The underlying themes are still there, but if there’s one thing the movie does better than the book is it gives everyone, even Lex Luthor, a sort of humanity in their portrayal.

Millar excels when he uses pastiches and stereotypes; DeMatteis, however, has the uncanny ability to peel the onion and find the layers. There’s a little bit (maybe more than a little, but less than a lot) of fat trimming, but the beats are more or less the same and the screenplay still gets to the same conclusions. Depending on your point of view, Superman and/or Lex Luthor save the day.

As it should be.

The Pete Ross character is missing from the cartoon, and thus a lot of undermining and machinations against Superman are gone. The Lana Lang stand-in (Svetlana…smart!) dies early in the film as opposed to being a part of Superman’s cabinet, which ultimately is a better choice as she makes a big difference in the way the movie ends (as opposed to the letter from Luthor in the book, which I freely admit that I prefer).

I <3 Soviet Batman. Even Wonder Woman gets a sort of #MeToo moment. Not that she is sexually assaulted or anything like that, but more like she reclaims her feminism in the narrative. It’s a striking difference from the book, but I think the truth lies less in the massaging in the story, but more in the time in which it has been presented. The Green Lantern Corps are less gung-ho assholes than they are in the comic, which is a bit of a bummer, but hey, at least Guy and John are there.

Extras are plentiful with a new DC Showcase: Phantom Stranger short from producer/director Bruce Timm , writer Ernie Altbacker and Starring Peter Serafinowicz, Michael Rosenbaum Natalie Lander, Grey Griffin and Roger Craig Smith; featurette, two episoded of Red Son: The Animated Series and a sneak peak for the upcoming animated feature, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.

I tend to dislike a lot of the DC Animated Universe stuff, but this one…I think this one is a winner. It’s a little warmed over, has a little less bite, but what remains is poignant and, in a way, a better portrayal of Superman. Worth picking up, for sure.

 

Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment,
the feature-length animated film is now available on
Digital, 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-ray Combo Pack.

WBHE provided a free copy of the title reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.

 

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