Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wonder Woman Is A Fun Straight-To-DVD-Movie, But Is Hardly Original Or Incredible.

The Good: Generally decent animation, Good banter, Generally decent story
The Bad: Predictable, Overly simple, Light on bonus features
The Basics: A witty, fun and well-animated DVD, Wonder Woman doesn't exactly turn the super hero genre on its ear, but it is worth watching!

As last year was ending and I was looking to the new year, I decided that 2010 was going to be my "Wonder Woman" year. Yes, this is the year I've decided to devote to learning all I can about the super heroine Wonder Woman. Instead of simply going and looking up the condensed version (the Wikipedia articles alone have been mind-boggling), I've decided to go through all the source material I can. Since then, all I've gotten my hands on all sorts of things, from The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia (click here for that review!) to Wonder Woman: Ends Of The Earth (click here for that review). I've just gotten in the DVDs of the television series Wonder Woman and I know my wife has gotten me the 2009 Wonder Woman Hallmark ornament, so it's been a cool year for me! Last year, WarnerPremiere video released a Wonder Woman animated film, which I had seen previews for and I decided this was as good a time as any to pick it up and view it.

Wonder Woman, the animated film, seems to be the compromise the movie studios made after years of bungling the live-action attempt to create a film opportunity for the character. I followed the news about that debacle on the Sci-Fi Wire for years and when Joss Whedon was taken off the project, I felt a similar sense of loss as most fans of Whedon's works and Wonder Woman. It seemed like he would be a good writer for the project (but then, so would I . . .) and the irony here is that the animated Wonder Woman has a crisp sense of fun dialog, much like what one expects of a Joss Whedon production. This is a Wonder Woman origin story and as such, it is very accessible to all audiences . . . at least, those who can deal with a fairly high level of animated violence.

Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons wages a war against an army of men and monsters, which is feeding Ares, the God of War. Slaying their son and preparing to kill Ares, Hippolyta is demanded by the Hera and Zeus to stop. In exchange for staying her hand, Hippolyta and the surviving Amazons are given a magical island, Themyscira, which is hidden from the world of men. Soon thereafter, she is given a daughter whom she molds out of sand and is given life by the gods. Her daughter, Diana, is raised to be the best warrior on Themyscira and soon she has the opportunity to prove herself when one of the Amazon's betrays them and releases Ares back into man's world. This comes immediately after Steve Trevor, a United States Air Force pilot crash lands on Themyscira and must be returned to man's world.

Together Diana and Steve travel to New York City and then Washington, D.C., searching for clues as to Ares's whereabouts. When they discover his plan is to get his enchanted shackles off so he may once again feed on humanity's lust for war and killing, Steve loses the opportunity to stop him by saving Diana's life. As Ares amasses a new army, the U.S. military prepares to defend Washington D.C. against the mystical army of Ares cultists and monsters raised by the God of War. And at the forefront of the fight is Wonder Woman!

Throughout Wonder Woman, there is snappy dialogue which plays off the idea that Steve Trevor is pretty much a pig and a womanizer. This is actually funny frequently, like when he is tied up with an enchanted lasso which forces him to tell the truth and he grumbles "Crap!" This confounds the Amazons, who have never heard the colloquialism and he must explain it to them. Similarly, when Wonder Woman and Diana spar with Ares, Artemis and Steve, the dialogue is often witty and suggestive. Between the violence and things like Steve waking up to find himself tied to a chair surrounded by women and noting he hasn't had this particular fantasy since he was thirteen, the short animated movie earns its PG-13 rating.

As for the animation, I was pleasantly surprised. Having flipped through the channels to see the quality (or lack thereof) of the animation on many of the current superhero television shows - way too blockish! - Wonder Woman was a pleasant change. Instead of being hard lines and weird angles, Wonder Woman's animation is well-colored and features curves and a generally decent sense of physics to it. As a result, outside when superhuman battles are happening, characters in Wonder Woman look generally correctly proportioned (save that they all look like supermodels, which is delightfully addressed in the movie) and move in realistic ways.

But the animated film is entirely predictable to the point of being formulaic. Steve Trevor is Diana's obvious romantic interest and her initial indifference to him makes it That Kind Of Story where he must wear her down. Similarly, the plots involving Ares and his escape and quest to wreak havoc upon the world of Men are very obvious. This is a classic hero story and Wonder Woman makes a decent hero, but the writers hardly stretched for a story to build their heroine up with.

What makes it worth watching is that it is fun and generally smart. There are a number of allusions to Greek mythology that mythology scholars will enjoy and understand. The dialogue is amusingly self-referential, so Steve Trevor has a very adult presence in the film and makes comments that are adult-appropriate and I actually found myself laughing out loud several times while watching the movie.

The vocal talents of Keri Russell (Diana/Wonder Woman), Nathan Fillion (Steve), and Alfred Molina (Ares) are utilized exceptionally well and all three - as well as other primary vocal actors - use their talents very well. The film features all of the actors speaking with realistic emotion and a decent amount of emotional detachment when such is called for. As such, Wonder Woman seems a lot better, or at least smarter, than the average animated works.

But, ultimately, it is short and very average, even if it is fun. On DVD and Blu-Ray it comes with previews for Green Lantern, the animated Clone Wars and a feature length commentary track. There were more behind-the-scenes previews of this work on other DVDs, which makes it surprising that they did not include them on this disc.

Good for anyone who wants a fix of a fun superhero and is tired of all the testosterone in the genre.

For other films based upon superheroes, please check out my takes on:
The Dark Knight
Iron Man 2
Blade: Trinity


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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