Warner Bros. // 2009 // 74 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 3rd, 2009
Courageous Princess. Fierce Warrior. Legendary Superhero.
"Very cute, the way you just taught that kid how to disembowel her playmates like that."
Our story begins centuries ago on the island of Themyscira, where the noble Amazon queen Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen, Sideways) is doing battle with the evil God Ares (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2). The two have a long and troubled history. Years before this epic battle, Ares took advantage of Hippolyta and impregnated her. When the child was born, he was taken from Hippolyta and raised to be a warrior like his father. During the battle, Hippolyta takes revenge on Ares by killing their son on the battlefield. She is prepared to give Ares a similar fate, but Zeus (David McCallum, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and Hera (Marg Helgenberger, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) intervene. They say that Ares must not be killed, but that he will bound with shackles that will take away his strength. Only a God can break these shackles. Zeus and Hera also promise to reward Hippolyta, and give her a new child formed from the earth. The child is a girl, and she is given the name Diana.
Fast forward several hundred years. Ares remains in a Themysciran prison, and Diana (Keri Russell, Waitress) has become one of the most valiant warriors on the island...in theory, anyway. You see, the Amazons haven't engaged in war in many years, because they have never had any reason to. They have hidden themselves away from the realm of man, refusing to permit the world's corrupting influence to infiltrate their island paradise. Alas, it seems they cannot hide forever. One day, a U.S. fighter jet comes crashing onto the island. The pilot survives. He is a flirtatious and good-natured man named Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion, Firefly), and he is quite astounded by the strange new world he has landed in. Trevor is quickly taken captive by Hippolyta, who briefly interrogates him before determining that he is harmless.
Trevor must be taken back to, "the world of man," but who will take on the responsibility of being an Amazonian representative to the modern world? All the women yearn to have this privilege, not least of all Diana. It is decided that a tournament will be held to determine who gets the honor of bringing Trevor back and visiting America. Hippolyta does not want her daughter to take such a risk, and forbids Diana from participating. However, Diana is a strong-willed and determined woman, and she enters the tournament anyway, covering her face with a mask. Of course she wins the tournament, and prepares for her remarkable journey to the United States, where she will be given the nickname "Wonder Woman." The story has only just begun. Ares has broken free, and he has plans of unleashing hell on earth.
Wonder Woman has always been a challenging character for comic book writers to "get." While it's easy enough to rely on the basic archetypal structures of Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman is a bit more complex and complicated. She's a warrior and a champion of peace. She is a fighter and a diplomat. She's a strong and powerful woman, and yet she's been rather objectified by many writers. Over the years, while Superman and Batman have had multiple comic book series going on at once, Wonder Woman has typically been limited to a single title. For all the high points (the George Perez re-boot in the mid-1980s) there have been plenty of low points (the Denny O'Neill "Emma Peel" version from the 1960s). I always felt that Bruce Timm and his cohorts did a solid job with the character on the animated Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, and I had confidence that Wonder Woman would be a solid outing, at the very least. My confidence in DC's animation people was warranted. This fourth "DC Animated Universe" film is another winner.
The film combines various elements of Wonder Woman's mythology into a very satisfactory melting pot. The emphasis on Greek mythology from the origin story and the Perez run defines a part of the film, the romance with Steve Trevor from the early days of the character gets included, and the down-to-earth humor from the 1970s television series also manages to work its way into the proceedings. It's a deft balancing act mixes mythological warfare with casual conversations in a bar quite convincingly. Much like Superman: The Movie, the first portion of the film offers a grand and portentous origin, the second portion opens up the film to a much more familiar sense of humor, and the finale combines both aspects.
The cast here is mostly well-chosen. The decision to reunite Waitress co-stars Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion as Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor was a very smart move, as the two play off each other wonderfully (despite the fact that they probably recorded their lines separately). Fillion in particular gears up that trademark Captain Mal charm and brings a very welcome dose of goofy humor that plays very well when contrasted with the fire and brimstone plot. Speaking of which, Alfred Molina seems to be having a good time voicing the savage Ares, and Oliver Platt is devilishly good (pardon the pun) as Hades. Virginia Madsen brings a stony authority to Hippolyta, and Rosario Dawson is a good fit for Artemis (an aggressive and confident character).
The transfer is a good one, even if Wonder Woman looks a bit less spectacular than some of the other DC animated movies. The animation here seems a tad simplistic when compared to something like Justice League: The New Frontier (which remains the best of these movies), so the "hi-def knockout factor" is decreased just a bit. Still, that's an animation issue, not a transfer issue. The colors here are vibrant and sharp, and blacks are very deep. During the scenes that do feature rich detail, the level of detail is very impressive. One odd visual effect: some scenes attempt to mimic the "queasycam" cinematography look, which I think is a bad decision. Fortunately, such techniques are employed infrequently. The audio is solid, particularly during the battle scenes. The sound design is fairly immersively if not exactly complex. I did notice that the music seems dialed down just a bit low during several scenes, as if the producers were afraid of revealing that the booming orchestral sounds were being provided by synthesizers.
The disc is loaded with extras fairly typical of one of these releases. First up is a rather engaging commentary with DC Animation Guru (and Wonder Woman producer) Bruce Timm, DC Creative Affairs VP Gregory Noveck, director Lauren Montgomery, and writer Michael Jelenic. It's a very informative and pleasant track, loaded with tidbits on how a film like this one gets made. I wasn't as pleased with the two featurettes included here. "A Subversive Dream" (25 minutes) and "The Daughters of Myth" (25 minutes) both focus on various aspects of Wonder Woman and her history. While we do get a few insightful participants like Denny O'Neill (who is basically forced to apologize for his run on the comic book), Bruce Timm, and Alan Burnett, we're also subjected to comments from a load of authors who offer lots of banal and uninformed comments about Wonder Woman and her effect on society: "Girls found her empowering, and boys lusted after her sexually, while many gay men saw themselves in her." Things like that are constantly thrown out without any sort of explanation or qualification. Another bizarre aspect: these featurettes include interviews with Hugh Hefner, who talks about feminism and the strength and intelligence of the character. Right, because Hugh Hefner has done so much to promote the view of women as intelligent and strong beings rather than sex objects. Hurm. We also get a 10-minute sneak peek at the forthcoming Green Lantern animated feature, which I'm all ready excited about. It sounds like a pretty awesome space epic, though all we see here are rough sketches. Finally, there are four episodes of the Justice League animated show that focus on Wonder Woman, and the ten-minute sneak peek looks at all of the DC animated outings.
This film suffers from one of the problems that afflicted Lauren Montgomery's other DC animated film, Superman: Doomsday: it attempts to cram a bit too much plot into 75 minutes. This is a film that needs a bit more room to breathe. It either should have been given another 10 or 15 minutes, or the plot should have been made a little less complex (though I'm not necessarily sure the latter would actually make a better movie, so let's stick with the former). Additionally, I have a minor complaint about two small voice casting decisions. David McCallum is a fine actor, but he's far more suited to voicing Alfred (who he voiced in Batman: Gotham Knight) than he is to voicing Zeus. Additionally, Marg Helgenberger appears to be line-reading during her very flat turn as Hera.
Pacing issues aside, Wonder Woman is another fun and well-crafted outing from DC. Marvel may be dominating in the cinematic world (at least they were up until The Dark Knight), but DC is standing tall as the unquestionable leader in the direct-to-DVD animation market. Praise Hera!
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Green Lantern Sneak Peek
* Bonus Cartoons