Film Review: Superman: Red Son

While DC has struggled with their live-action films for the majority of the 2010’s – although they started the 2020’s off with a bang – their animated features have been consistently entertaining for almost two decades. The latest of these animated films, Superman: Red Son may not be the best, but it’s yet another solid entry in DC’s film catalogue.

The movie adapts Mark Millar’s 2003 Elseworlds tale that centers on an alternate universe where Superman landed in the Soviet Union instead of Smallville, Kansas. While the inherent compassionate nature of the beloved boy scout is still there, this Superman is a darker version of the classic character, and isn’t above committing horrifying crimes for the greater good. This draws the attention of multiple different DC icons (I won’t spoil them here for those of you who haven’t read the comic arc) who either side with Superman or try to stop him.

Jason Issacs is one of the most unusual picks to play the Man of Steel that I’ve seen, but he’s also one of the most memorable. Issac’s performance helps add even more gravitas and edge to the Red Son, and does a terrific job of making this incarnation of Supes stand out amongst the others, many of which were also played by extremely talented voice actors.

The rest of the main voice cast is great as well. Just about every major player in the film is a bleaker, sometimes even twisted version of their main-universe counterpart, and the voices of Roger Craig Smith, Diedrich Baker, Amy Acker, Vanessa Marshall, and others really help sell the story and sadness of this world. Travis Willingham is the best of the supporting cast and a highlight of the movie as a “weapon” meant to fight Superman.

Unfortunately, Superman: Red Son is held back from greatness by its animation, which is pretty disappointing at times. It’s not abysmal, but pales in comparison to other DC animated works, most of which look wonderful. I may have been more forgiving if there wasn’t such a huge reliance on computer generated animation during the battles. It was hard to stay focused on the fights – which had the potential to be fantastic – when a vehicle or part of the environment looks like it belonged in a cheap, forgettable animated work from the mid-2000’s. I don’t expect each of these movies to look as breathtaking as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm or Assault on Arkham, but this is a pretty big step down from the last few films.

All in all, Superman: Red Son is still a worthwhile watch for fans of the source material or animated DC films. The animation may be a letdown at times, but the absolutely stellar voice cast and multiple twists on classic DC characters make it easy to recommend.

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