A Different Son Of Krypton
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce reviews Warner Bros. new animated film Superman: Red Son out now…
Superman: Red Son
Director: Sam Liu
Cast: Jason Isaacs, Roger Craig Smith, Diedrich Bader, Amy Acker, Vanessa Marshall, Paul Williams
Superman isn’t in Kansas anymore.
That’s basically the premise of Superman: Red Son, which first began life in 2003 as a comic written by Mark Millar. Under DC’s ‘Elseworlds’ imprint, it was one of the more infamous ‘alternative’ continuity storylines – in an era before every second comic book seemed to fit that description. Its notoriety came partly because of a simple yet clever central premise: what would happen if Superman had landed in the Soviet Union instead of the USA? From this idea Millar crafted a characteristically intriguing story that took in an alternative history, explored morality and also tried to examine the fundamentals of the Superman character by placing him within a completely different context.
17 years later and Millar’s story gets an adaptation within the realms of the DC Animated Universe. Keeping many of the core beats of the original, Superman: Red Son tries to provide a modicum of intelligent discourse on the nature of politics and personal ethics whilst concentrating on all the action orientated antics one would expect in a superhero film.
The Cold War changes when, in the 60s, the Soviet Union introduce Superman to the world – a man dedicated to upholding the ideals of Communism. Raised by Stalin, the Son of Krypton has a strong moral outlook and sense of right and wrong. So, when confronted with the truth of the gulags, Superman takes matters into his own hands and decides to lead Russia – and the world – into a new way of implementing the ideals of the revolution. Over in the US, philanthropist Lex Luthor is tasked with helping defeat Superman and stop the spread of communism. Soon Superman is fighting threats both externally and internally, with his methods becoming all the more questionable and the dividing line between good and evil becoming increasingly thin.
Those who are fans of Millar’s original may bristle at some of the some of the changes made for this adaptation. The story is hugely simplified (a large plotline regarding Stalin’s actual son is dropped here while the motivations of both Luthor and this story’s iteration of Batman are also given much less depth). Yet while this means that the film can lack emotional heft and complexity, the fact that the entire story focuses on Superman does provide some interesting questions about the character as a whole. Exploring the inner morality of Kal-El, we are asked to think of issues of nature verses nurture. Is Superman inherently good? Or is it the influence of those who raised him? Certainly, there are plenty of shades of grey here and, in some ways, the entire exercise is a slight riposte to the entirety of the superhero genre in general. A genre that teaches good and evil is as simple as black and white and that might is right. Certainly there are points (such as talk of making America great) when there are a sly few digs at the state of modern politics.
Yet Red Son is still, at heart, a comic book movie and all much of it relies on action set-pieces as Superman battles a Bizarro version of – erm – Bizarro or finds himself helpless and at the mercy of this universe’s version of Batman. These moments are entertaining enough, and the animation style is very much in the style of the DCAU shows such including both the 90s Batman and Superman animated series. While it is sometimes simplistic – all square jaws, clean lines and primary colours – there is a pleasing parallel with some of the lines and style of Soviet Propaganda.
Voicing is fine, with Jason Isaacs providing a Russian accented Superman (and his accent is a little less tortuous than some on offer in this movie) and Deidrich Bader providing a more traditional Lex Luthor.
Superman: Red Son is a fine addition to the DCAU canon and, while it doesn’t have the depth of Millar’s original, is still a fun diversion with plenty of fun across the way.
The Bluray come complete with a ‘Phantom Stranger’ short, with the titular DC character voice by Peter Serafinowicz. A twisted tale involving a group of 60s teenagers and a mysterious man who wants to do more than simply dance with them, it comes across as an adult version of Scooby Doo. There are also two episodes of the Justice League show from the 2000s telling the story ‘A Better World’ in which an evil alternate Justice League try to take over from the traditional heroes. Again, it’s a lot of fun.
Superman: Red Son is available now from Warner Bros Home Entertainment on Bluray, DVD and digitally.
Here’s the film’s trailer