I saw Persepolis a few weeks ago at a press screening for the Toronto International Film Festival, and last night I watched Superman/Doomsday. And really, there are no two works as spiritually akin as these two are: Marjane’s struggle against patriarchal fundamentalism is, dare I say it, exactly like Superman’s struggle against a giant killer alien hitting him repeatedly with a tanker truck.
Okay, not so much.
Persepolis is much, much better than the book was. This may seem like hyperbole, but I assure you, it isn’t – the dreadful events depicted in the comic take on much greater immediacy when they’re animated and happening in “real time” as opposed to when they’re static images on a page. The comic was interesting, and even involving, but for me it was never really very gripping. (Your mileage, of course, may vary.) The movie, on the other hand, is gripping – deeply so, both when it’s lightly entertaining (Marjane air-guitaring to Megadeth) and darkly oppressive (the secondhand, surrealistic accounts of the frontlines of the Iran/Iraq war). The same cartoony motif that is omnipresent throughout the film both makes the comedic bits funnier and the dramatic bits more poignant (and yes, I realize that you can say the same about the comic, but in the case of the film it’s even more apparent). And technically, it’s a marvel – simple black-and-white animation rarely manages to pull off the degree of liveliness that this flick does. Hell, most colour-animation films aren’t as lively as Persepolis is.
Early buzz has it that France has selected it as their entry for the Foreign Language Film category in this year’s Academy Awards, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it also get a nod for Best Animated Film in a year where thus far its only serious competition is Ratatouille. In short, it’s very, very good, quite possibly great. See it on the big screen if you can: it really is a beautifully made movie.
Superman/Doomsday is a retelling of the Death of Superman saga, pared down with a lot of the extraneous bits removed. Other than Doomsday and a few brief appearances by Kelex, this is a very pure Superman story: it’s about Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, and the complicated relationships they have, plus a lot of awesome earthshaking violence. Doomsday’s brutality is barely toned down at all – he brutally murders a lot of innocent human beings (although without much blood, to be sure), and later on in the movie Superman’s heat vision becomes genuinely terrifying as he wields it with the precision of a laser. (Well, it’s actually a crazy clone of Superman. I would have avoided spoiling that, but the moment he shows up it is SO GODDAMNED OBVIOUS HE IS A CLONE that I feel fine about it.)
What’s really wonderful about the movie is that, more than anything, this is Lois’ movie – she’s more the protagonist than Superman is, because Superman has a big-ass fight, dies, then is mostly offscreen for the majority of the rest of the movie until the SECOND big-ass fight. It’s Lois who has to deal with her lover being gone, and Lois who goes around trying to find out what the hell is up with Obviously Fake Replacement Clone Superman, and Lois who invades Lexcorp on a mission to discover the truth. (And, in case I haven’t made it clear yet, this is very much a movie about how Lois and Clark are a team, and I’m glad DC is one hundred percent behind that. Unlike certain other companies I could name, Marvel Comics.)
The voicework is pretty good: Anne Heche does a good Lois, Adam Baldwin is perfectly acceptable as Big Blue and James Marsters comes very, very close to matching the level of perfection Clancy Brown achieved as Lex Luthor in the Superman and Justice League cartoons. Not quite as good, but then again Clancy Brown just owned Lex, lock stock and barrel. The animation is generally good, despite the fact that the attempt to give Superman prominent cheekbones makes him look alternately like he’s severely aged or has weird facial scars.
Obviously, Superman/Doomsday isn’t going to be as general-interest as Persepolis is, but it’s a very well-made ‘toon feature and a decent Superman story, so if you like cartoons and you like Superman, you won’t be disappointed.