Friday, March 13

Review: Wonder Woman (2009)

Wonder Woman
Directed by Lauren Montgomery

Produced by Bruce Timm

Featuring the voices of Keri Russell (Princess Diana/Wonder Woman), Nathan Fillion (Steve Trevor), Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta), Alfred Molina (Ares), Rosario Dawson (Artemis)

Wonder Woman is not easy to like. In her Silver Age apperances, she was either tied up to a missile or enthusiastically riding one. In the 80s, the campy TV series starring Lynda Carter firmly cemented Wonder Woman as an icon but it was more of a costume fetish, more the star-spangled bikini than the strength of character that captured the imagination.

Though George Perez revamped the title and infused the character with an origin rich in Greek mythology following 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wonder Woman still came off as a preachy, humorless, didactic super hero that no one in the Justice League wants to be sent on a mission with. Just ask Wally West aka The Flash.

Maybe it was a problem of writing from the male point of view which historically explains why Wonder Woman started out as a secretary to the Justice Society of America

It was only recently that DC Comics finally hired a woman to write Wonder Woman. Jodi Picoult was at a disadvantage though. She really had no room to build the character because her entry coincided with the launch of an epic crossover, Amazons Attack!, with issues and beats pre-planned by DC.

Much celebrated comic scribe, Gail Simone, who did wonders with the all-female supergroup Birds of Prey, is the new ongoing writer of Wonder Woman, and luckily, is also behind this new straight-to-DVD animation.

The movie begins with Ares, the god of War, battling the Amazons and their queen, Hippolyta. It's not a kiddie affair. There are copious amounts of blood, broken bones and even a decapitation in as early as its first ten minutes. This sets a more mature tone, far from the disco twirling of the Lynda Carter version or the bruise-free smack downs in Justice League Unlimited.

After Ares is beaten, Zeus interferes and asks Hippolyta to spare his son's life in exchange of an island that the Amazons can call their own, Themyscira, which is isolated from the rest of humanity;Ares will be kept a prisoner in the island. Since Hippolyta can no longer bear a child, she was also granted a daughter molded from clay and sand, the child Diana who will grow up to be Wonder Woman.

Years later, an American, Steve Trevor, crash lands in Themyscira. In what could be the movie's funniest scene, Hippolyta interrogates Trevor using the magic lasso which compels all men to answer truthfully. As she wraps up the questioning, she casually asks what else was occupying his mind and he answers that Diana has a "nice rack."

Diana, under a disguise, wins the tournament that would determine who will escort Trevor back to his "world." She is given the iconic costume, which reflects the colors of the foreign country. (Makes sense.) In another part of the island, the Amazon Persephone releases Ares. Diana and Steve Trevor team up to chase him down.

The greatest success of this animated feature is making Wonder Woman woman. A thinking, curious, vulnerable woman who wants more out of life balanced with a justice-fueled lust for breaking things. Instead of insisting on her ways (which she mostly does in the pre-Simone WW series), Diana here has a wide-eyed inquisitiveness comparable to Seven of Nine's in Star Trek: Voyager, and this makes too for quite a lot of humorous situations. The first time Diana sees a child---a little girl who is left out from swordplay by the boys---she instructs the child on the basics of disemboweling an opponent: "Thrust your sword. It would be more difficult to fend off." (Have I mentioned that the movie's really funny?)

Though the script glosses over making feminist motherhood statements, it does subtly deconstruct the nuances of male-female exchanges, which is more than enough for a superhero animation movie.

I will kick thy asses!

What the movie is never subtle about though is violence. Wonder Woman out-punches and out-classes the action choreography of recent DC animation movie releases including Superman: Doomsday and Batman: Gotham Knight, including the live-action Watchmen. The violence in Wonder Woman is calculated yet brutal, raging but passionate. The Amazons' sheer love of fighting gets across; I swear I could see a slight smile playing on Diana's lips even as Ares beats her to a pulp before which she utters, "Oh crap."

The final showdown in Washington D.C. recaptures the beautiful art of Amazons Attack!, with dragons raining down fireballs on the people below and an army of monsters fending off armored Amazons and flying horses. Jaw-droppingly epic.

Wonder Woman exceeded all my expectations and more. The voice casting is perfect; Keri Russell cleverly adds a softer side to Diana Prince while Virginia Madsen's Hippolyta is assured, confident, with a sprinkling of dry humor. Nathan Fillion's Steve Trevor is a little too casual for me and his delivery is always a little less than Russell's. With only a few omissions of Wonder Woman's powers---she doesn't fly here, and seems to be not gifted with speed by Hermes---this is DC's best animated feature so far. Even casual viewers will be hard pressed not to enjoy a tight, surprisingly well-written retelling of an icon's origin.

Disc 2 contains the documentaries Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream, and Wonder Woman Daughter of Myth: Historical Amazon Lore and it's Evolution into the Modern Day Wonder Woman Character. The disc also has two episodes selected from the Justice League series: To Another Shore and Hawk and Dove.

And because I can't help it, Amazon the Amazons here. Heh.



Andy Briones said...

I remember watching the Wonder Woman Lynda Carter series back when I was a kid. Lynda Carter is the bomb. I got goosebumps whenever she did that thang — you know, that spinning thang. Ehehe.

Any news about the movie adaptation of Wonder Woman?

Thor Balanon said...

The first season of Lynda Carter's WW was actually okay, campy but close to the comics. It's 2nd season where it got strange, she started talking to dolphins, etc. As they raised Carter's bikini cut, the quality went down.

WB is having trouble with the script of WW. They hired Joss Whedon but later fired him. Blasphemy! Stupid execs.

As an origin movie, this animation feature holds up pretty good. They could've used the cartoons' script for the movie with a little tinkering here and there and it'll even be better than Supes Returns.

So, WW still in limbo.

Faye said...

Heh! I thought you hated it. I was already thinking of probable post-modern feminist syet you could have used.

Thor Balanon said...

@Faye: What's there to hate? I can't believe that DC hit a home run with this one.

Kanezona said...

It's May 2009 and I haven't heard a peep out of Hollywood on the status of the Wonder Woman project. Where are they in the process now? They need to consider the action, pacing, story threads, and humor of the new Star Trek film for Wonder Woman, since audiences these days want it all in their action flicks. Not too cerebral, not too preachy, not all action and no character development. The origin story is basically written, it just needs some Hollywood updating and tweaking to appeal to today's special effects-savy audience. WB also needs to come to the realization that casting an unknown actress is going to give the character the boost it needs. Audiences will be going to see Wonder Woman, not Suzy Bigtime Actress AS Wonder Woman. That's one of the reasons, I believe, that Electra and Catwoman flopped, among other things like bad writing and uncompelling acting.

Thor Bee said...

"Not too cerebral, not too preachy, not all action and no character development."

Right you are, Kanezona.

And WB is miserably failing at their superhero genre barring Batman. It's strange that since the treatment of TDK was well-received, they're assuming that the audiences want all their superhero movies to be just like that---WB is also planning to reboot Superman to a much darker one. What gives?

And I definitely agree that it has to be an unknown actress, definitely not a big name so the studio/production can focus on the storytelling rather than working around the actress' persona.

As to the new Star Trek movie, I would have to quote you again: Not too cerebral, not too preachy, not all action and no character development.

Gene Roddenberry's vision though was sorely missing in the mix.