I know what you must be thinking, and no, I really am not usually that guy. I’m generally very open to the idea of adaptions making changes to suit the new art form, but Superman Red Son makes some interesting choices to differentiate itself from the comic that has left me puzzled. It still tells a cohesive story with some well-rounded characters, keeps the core themes intact, and delivers on the action we’ve come to expect from DC animated movies. Yet for some reason, it has left me wanting more; specifically the comic.
Red Son opens on a large farm field of a boy being chased and bullied by two other boys. This asks the audience to rely on pre-established knowledge of the original character to fill in gaps, as a little red-haired girl saves the boy, and then he shows he was not scared of them, but of hurting them. A well played out scene, and also entirely new from the comic, immediately telling previous comic readers to open your mind to new things happening. We then cut to 1955, and an American media outlet is showing it’s citizens a “propaganda” film of a superhuman man they’ve dubbed “The Soviet Superman.” Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is tasked by President Eisenhower with finding a countermeasure to this Superman. He opens by asking for something audacious of the President, and the battle of philosophy begins.
They do a good job of focusing on this Soviet Superman as he is tested through deceit, war, and many other challenges that come with a leadership position. I can’t really go any further without spoilers, and while many of you are probably familiar with the story already, I don’t want to take the chance. Luthor is also pretty faithful to the comic, albeit a bit watered down. Everyone else is just a caricature, relying heavily on our precompiled knowledge of the Superman world. I do get tired of movies, specifically the animated movies, relying on us having precompiled knowledge; and it is intentional. These animated movies are a way to appease the appetite of current fans until the next big blockbuster of relation comes out to make an attempt to expand the fanbase. This lack of respect for the art form leaves the creative team with a stripped budget that doesn’t leave much room for them to explore the downtime needed between all the action to help flesh out these characters more and allow the movie to stand on its own merit and not needing someone to have seen a Superman movie before.
Yet, I feel a big reason I’m left with this puzzled feeling is the track record DC Animated has with sticking to the source material pretty faithfully. In the past, movies that have altered their original story from the comic to this degree have changed titles to allow fans to properly gauge their expectations. Tower of Babel is one of my favorite Justice League comics, and when they adapted it into a movie plenty of changes were made, and the title simply became Doom for the animated movie. It’s still one of my favorite animated movies from them. It may be considered unfair to have this be such a knock against Red Son, but art is subjective, and in part what makes something subjective is emotional resonance. They created a giant hurtle for themselves because the only way to overcome this with universal praise between old fans and new is to outdo the original material; even just matching it in quality would leave room for debate.
That’s where we’re at now. I feel the material isn’t quite as good as the comic, but I still like the movie. I may be more forgiving, but there are plenty of fans who are not. I know only about 5%(even if that) of live-action comic moviegoers are dedicated comic readers, but that percentage significantly increases when you switch to animated movies. This, unfortunately, doesn’t bode well for its chances of living on like its counterpart or other DC Animated movies. I really wanted to love this movie like I love the comic. I was ready for and anticipating changes, be there are many here. So many that I don’t know if I’ll even choose to watch it again, myself. If a room consensus where to pick it for a movie night, I wouldn’t complain, but other then that I just don’t see myself watching this again. It was a fine watch, but sadly, that’s all it will ever be.