Superman: Red Son sets a new high standard for Warner Bros. Animation. It is breathtakingly good; a sophisticated, thought-provoking, and thrilling new take on DC's most beloved characters. The film, adapted from Mark Millar's limited comic series, changes the fundamental lore of fictional icons. Truth, justice, and the American way, the mantra of Superman, never existed. Kal-El's ship lands in Stalin's Soviet Union, not Kansas. The Man of Steel becomes the shining symbol of the proletariat. The hammer and sickle of the Russian revolution emblazoned on his chest.
In 1946, a twelve-year-old Russian boy (Tara Strong) shows his great secret to a dear friend. He has unlimited strength. He can even fly. He was not born on Earth. She convinces him to use his powers for the good of the communist state. Several years later, the Cold War pits the Soviet Union against the oppressive capitalist dogma of the United States. Americans watch propaganda reels of the astonishing Superman (Jason Isaacs). Industrialist Lex Luthor (Diedrich Bader) is tasked by President Eisenhower to uncover the truth behind Stalin's invincible puppet.
Lois Lane-Luthor (Amy Acker) meets Superman after his heroics save Metropolis. She alerts him to the truth behind Stalin's rule. While he loses faith in the leader, he believes more than ever in the principles of communism. The Cold War is transformed into the American led west versus Superman's Soviet Union. Lex Luthor becomes a never ending thorn in his side, but Superman refuses brute force to end the conflict. His communist ideology will defeat the class structure, wealth inequality, and disparities of an unjust American system.
Superman: Red Son is a brilliant discourse in political theory and humanism. His fervor and zeal for the American way is transposed completely into communism. But as time passes, Superman's view of equality for all turns into a dictatorial regime. His well intentioned efforts to bring peace and prosperity to humanity turns into iron rule. In two subplots, he faces a dangerous domestic terrorist, Batman (Roger Craig Smith). And befriends Diana of Themyscira (Vanessa Marshall), who supports his belief in a world at peace. She soon realizes the folly of war is ingrained in all men. Superman, for all of his ideals and conviction, cannot speak his own truth to power.
The script by J.M. DeMatteis is loaded with nuance. Lex Luthor is unscrupulous and ruthless in his fight against Superman, but not the expected villain. In fact, his point of view makes the most sense. America faces an enemy with god-like power. Anything that can be done to negate that threat must be considered. Superman: Red Son shades its lead characters in gray. There is a dangerous antagonist. But the baddie lies in wait, looking for the right moment to strike. Superman and Lex Luthor are taught a lesson in hubris.
Not to worry comic fans. The action scenes are downright brutal; for those who don't want to be challenged intellectually or feel compassion for the characters. Superman: Red Son is loaded with awesome fight scenes. The violence is not as bloody as Gotham by Gaslight, but certainly packs an entertaining wallop. Superman kicks a whole lot of ass, and takes a beatdown as well. Everyone gets a little comeuppance in this story. It makes their characters feel real when they are getting pummeled. Batman is especially vicious in this Russian iteration.
Superman: Red Son is phenomenal on every front. Fans of the comic genre will be captivated. Director Sam Liu has been integral to the Justice League's animated films for fifteen years. This may be his most accomplished effort yet. Superman: Red Son is a production of Warner Bros. Animation and distributed by Warner Bros. Entertainment. It is available now digitally with a DVD/Blu-ray release on March 17th.