SUPERMAN: RED SON 4K Blu-ray review – the DC Elseworlds series gets an animated treatment

SUPERMAN: RED SON 4K Blu-ray review – the DC Elseworlds series gets an animated treatment

If you’re not familiar with SUPERMAN: RED SON‘s comic book origins, just know it is perhaps one of the greatest Superman comic book stories ever told. Released as a three-issue deluxe format mini-series as part of the “Elseworlds” line for DC Comics, the concept was simple – what if Kal-El had landed in Russia instead of America, and become a superhero (or rather super-weapon) for Stalin and the powers that be in Russia. It’s a story that still cleverly managed to include several fan-favorite characters from the comics, like Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Lex Luthor, and even implemented Elseworlds versions of Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, and a Russian Batman! It was an at times dark tale written by Mark Millar, and beautifully illustrated by Dave Johnson, Killian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong.

This week the popular mini-series is being released as an animated film, as SUPERMAN: RED SON hits DVD, 4K Blu-ray and regular Blu-ray. Like some of the other animated DC movies based on comic book source material, this adaptation makes some considerable changes, and even adds a few story elements that were not present in the comics. The opening for example is considerably different from the books, showing Superman as a young boy living on a farm and discovering his powers while hanging out with his friend Svetlana… or “Lana”, which hardcore Supes fans will know as a nod to classic Superman’s friend Lana Lang. This opening scene is actually included to also set up a later sequence which is pretty emotionally powerful, but again is used to simplify the story a bit for viewers. Certain scenes feel right out of the comics, such as the Russian Batman’s introduction and his ultimate attack on Superman and Wonder Woman… but even his origin in the story here is altered considerably from the source material. Another element that strays greatly is the American creation of Superior Superman, which in the movie is a heroic-looking classic Superman archetype, whereas in the comics he’s more of a hideous Frankenstein’s monster type. Even the fight between Superman and Superior Superman is altered as well. Some of these story changes are beneficial for a simplified viewing experience, but I could see how some might be frustrating for fans of the comics. The screenplay for the adaptation is written by J.M. DeMatteis, who has written some classic comic book stories, and while this take on the source materials feels very by-the-numbers, that may have been by design to make the narrative less complex.

The voice cast is pretty great, with Jason Isaacs as Superman, Sasha Roiz as Hal Jordan, Amy Acker as Lois Lane, Diedrich Bader as Lex Luthor, Roger Craig Smith as Batman, Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman, and Phil Morris as Jimmy Olsen. I was also very happy to hear Phil LaMarr once again voicing John Stewart, and there’s some inspired voice casting with Paul Williams as Brainiac. I do wish they could have included some of the more known voice actors who have done these characters previously, like Susan Eisenberg who has been Wonder Woman in animated form countless times, and perhaps Tim Daly once again as Superman, but the voices here are good enough to make the material work. The only real fault of this adaptation is that it very much dumbs down the original story, which again may have been done out of necessity, as the full comic story would likely be more like a three-hour film. But by cutting out some of those elements and in some cases re-writing what was already there, it does seem like we’re getting a very watered down version of what made RED SON so great in the first place. There’s also a few “diversity and inclusion” alterations here that I didn’t mind, but I imagine it could offend some more traditional comic book fans. For example, Wonder Woman here is not into dudes (at all), and Jimmy Olson is… shall we say… no longer white. Again, I didn’t mind it, but this is the kind of stuff that gives online trolls a fire in their belly. The overall end result is still fairly entertaining though, and the presentation is handled well by director Sam Liu, who started his career working in comics. Even the musical score by Frederik Wiedmann, who has composed several of the DC direct-to-video animated films, is surprisingly moving and sounds top notch for a home video release.

Click to see full-size.

BONUS CONTENT: The 4K Blu-ray package offers a few nice bonus features, including a behind-the-scenes called “Cold Red War”, which includes interviews with the filmmakers, and RED SON comic artist Dave Johnson, and delves into the background that influenced the comic book series and take on the Superman mythos. While this does a good job of exploring the origins of the story, I would have liked a bit more content here, perhaps showing the animators working on the comic-to-film designs, and maybe some additional interviews with the voice talent… surprisingly there are none. Another special feature is two episodes of SUPERMAN: RED SON – The Motion Comic, which puts sound and voices to and animates the actual comic book panels, and should give you an idea of how they changed certain elements from the comics to the film. But perhaps the best bonus content on this release is a new DC Showcase Short for PHANTOM STRANGER, a classic DC supernatural hero that never seems to get the spotlight enough. In the short, which is very trippy 1960s in style, Peter Serafinowicz (THE TICK) provides the lead character’s voice, and Michael Rosenbaum voices the villain. You can also watch trailers for other DC Animated films like JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK: APOKOLIPS WAR and others, and you can even watch the two-part JUSTICE LEAGUE Animated Series episodes “A Better World Part 1” and “A Better World Part 2” as well. The only thing missing I would have really liked to have would have been an audio commentary, but I’m also big into commentaries anyway, so that’s more of a personal preference.

Rating PG-13 (there is mild cussing, and some death scenes that might be intense for young children)

English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS-HD 2.1

Widescreen 1.75:1 Color

Check out this clip from the film:

And here’s a trailer for the movie:

Purchase SUPERMAN: RED SON on 4K Blu-ray or regular Blu-ray

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.