DC’s latest animated movie explores the question of what would have happened if baby Superman landed in Russia instead of the U.S. The story originated in a 2003 DC Elseworlds comic book tale of the same name by noted writer Mark Millar, most familiar to film audiences as the creator of comic book stories that were adapted into the films Kick-Ass, Kingsman, Logan, and Captain America: Civil War. The new film follows Millar’s comic book blueprint fairly well, even expanding on a few points that were rushed through in limited panels in the book. Thanks to the intriguing tale and the presence of multiple Justice League members, Red Son is a real treat stuffed with action and thought-provoking plot development.
The movie opens with Superman’s childhood in Russia, a departure from the comic that spent its opening pages focused on Lex Luthor before introducing Superman as an adult. This being an alternate history of DC characters, Luthor is a brilliant American good guy married to Lois Lane, while Batman is a fellow Russian who has major issues with Superman. Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are also key players in the tale, and stay fairly true to their characters. Superman is eventually assisted by a reprogrammed Braniac, making for a compelling sight as the two usually evenly matched enemies seem to follow a master and servant relationship here.
With his Russian upbringing, Superman still wants to save people but takes a different path in his quest, realizing that with his unstoppable power he can help more people by actually ruling the country with an iron fist rather than passively standing by waiting for distress calls. Luthor and the Americans aren’t keen on his dictatorship, leading to a showdown between communism and democracy that rings far too true to our current geopolitical climate. While the comic continues on with a fascinating time travel twist after the showdown, the film ends after the big fight, a fine and very natural ending point that only shortchanges students of the original work.
The comic was adapted to screenplay by veteran comic book scribe J.M. Dematteis, and helmed by veteran DC animated films director Sam Liu. Most members of the voice cast are DC veterans as well, with the exception of fairly recent arrival Jason Isaacs (Star Trek: Discovery) in the lead role as Superman, somewhat of a thankless task for him since he’s saddled with voicing the most recognizable American superhero of all time with a thick Russian accent. That’s probably the most annoying thing about the otherwise superior film, as comic book readers never needed to worry about what Russian Superman sounded like, while here we’re forced to come to terms with the unsettling accent in all of its glory.
The 4K UHD disc excels with a bright, vibrant color palette, but fails to offer any better sound selection than the included Blu-ray's DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Still, that’s more than enough to ensure that all of the bone-crushing skirmishes are conveyed with decent surround and low-end power.
The extensive bonus features include an exclusive short starring Phantom Stranger, an obscure DC character whose origin and powers still aren’t clear to me even after watching the short. The story feels like a lost episode of Scooby Doo, with a group of teens in a van investigating a spooky house in spite of Phantom Stranger’s warnings.
Elsewhere, there’s a making of feature about the film with cast and crew interviews, as well as two episodes of a 2009 motion comic created from the original Red Son comic book, as well as two episodes of prior DC animated series from the vault. Finally, the bonus features include an in-depth look at the promising next DC animated movie, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.