Marg HelgenbergerVirginia MadsenHadesAlfred Molina
Wonder Woman
Medium: film
Year: 2009
Director: Lauren Montgomery
Producer: Bruce W. Timm
Writer: Michael Jelenic, William M. Marston, Gail Simone
Keywords: superhero, animation, action
Country: USA
Actor: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger, Oliver Platt, Virginia Madsen, Skye Arens, John Di Maggio, Julianne Grossman, Vicki Lewis, David McCallum, Jason Miller, Rick Overton, Andrea Romano, Tara Strong, Bruce W. Timm
Format: 74 minutes
Series: << Wonder Woman >>, << Ares, << Hades, << DC Animated Original Movies
On the same DVD as: Justice League Unlimited: Hawk and Dove, Justice League Unlimited: To Another Shore
Website category: Superhero
Review date: 14 August 2010
It puzzles me, because it has more power than I'd have expected. Theoretically it's pretty formulaic. The plot's basic, being not just an origin story for Wonder Woman but also for the entire island of Amazons. I don't think the film has any surprises from beginning to end... but it works.
I'll start by listing the stuff I shouldn't have liked, if only because I'm still thinking it through myself. Firstly, it has lots of battle scenes. Battles are boring. Why am I supposed to care about a thousand people I don't know trying to kill each other? However here I think it works because the movie's as much about the entire Amazon race as it is just about Wonder Woman, so it feels right to have them fully participating. Mind you, it also helps that it's incredibly violent. The movie's PG-13 and they had to cut a few shots to avoid an R. Superman or Batman will just tie you up and hand you over to the authorities, but Wonder Woman's enemies are liable to get decapitated.
Secondly, it's an origin story. I can see the attraction for Hollywood scriptwriters, but they're almost never particularly good. They feel like the preamble you've got to get out of the way before you reach the good stuff. What's more, though, this isn't any old origin. It's like the grandmother of all origin stories, taking the idea so ludicrously far that it does actually manage to become epic. Our first sight of Diana is at the 8-minute mark, as a new-born baby. Nearly half an hour has passed before she puts on the costume. We see the Amazons going off to their island, which furthermore isn't called Themyscira until 19 minutes in and so until that point we can pretend it's called Lesbos. Maybe the scenes on the island get a bit slow from time to time, but as a result you can't say that the later stuff hasn't been set up at length and so in some way earned.
Mind you, they don't explain the invisible plane. They'd worked so hard at maintaining the classical aesthetic of Themyscira, but then... a stealth jet? That made me boggle.
This kind of story tends to depend on its villain. Great bad guy = memorable film. The one they've chosen here is Ares, the god of war, who it has to be said is pretty cool. I really liked what they were doing with Greek mythology, in fact, with the film's best scene for instance being the one in which Ares goes to Hades to ask him for a favour. Great character design there, too. I'd never expected Hades to look like that, but it's fitting and even a little reminiscent of Gerald Scarfe's work on Disney's Hercules while deliberately being a fresh take on the character.
Wonder Woman is fun too. She's pretty one-dimensional, being an Amazon warrior and not a lot more, but it's still a laugh to see her going up against the modern world. The feminist debates occasionally push their luck, but I think I only rolled my eyes at the kiss. Oh, and do I need to say that she's strong? "Smash up the building" strong. Wow.
Plot hole spotters will enjoy the scene where Nathan Fillion flies from America to Europe, yet only tries to shoot down the missile he's following when in sight of Themyscira. Then there's the moment where Wonder Woman gets ahead of someone she's chasing, despite the fact that he's just fallen about a hundred feet off a cliff. I liked the film, but I don't think they were breaking their backs over the script. I've just listened to the commentary track on the DVD and it's much less interesting than Planet Hulk's, where they were always talking about story and character. This commentary instead was getting excited about the art and animation techniques, although there's nothing wrong with that. Mind you, I was amused by the Sailor Moon influence in how much she used her headband, plus other anime nods.
The acting's fine. No one particularly stood out for me, but that means there wasn't anything horrible. You can't argue with Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, David McCallum and more. Fillion in particular makes his potentially annoying role entertaining. They even tried to get Lynda Carter for the goddess Hera.
The art's only okay, though. It's stylised in a manner that suggests the influence of a TV series, although I have to admit they do well at the tricky tasks of portraying mass carnage on a straight-to-DVD budget and helping us tell apart all these near-identical superwomen. On the downside, I couldn't tell the difference between the good planes and the bad planes in the dogfight. On the upside, though... zombies.
Overall, it's pretty good. You'll also get two bonus episodes of the 2001 Justice League TV series if you buy the two-disc DVD set, or four episodes if you buy the Blu-ray. I bought the two-disc set and I'll probably watch those episodes tomorrow. I liked this film, but I'm still trying to get my head around the reasons why. In particular, I haven't quite worked out why every so often I'd find a particular scene emotional, e.g. the bit at the end in which she's at last free to be Wonder Woman properly and smacks down the Cheetah. That got to me. I don't know why, but it did. To be fair, she is one of the few first-rank icons of Western comics and our number one superheroine, with the runner-up trailing far, far behind. (Who would that even be? Catwoman?) I'm not sure if I'd recommend buying it to a comics neophyte, but somehow it manages to be better than you'd expect.