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Wonder Woman (2009)
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by Mel Valentin

"Not quite must-see animation, but close enough for Wonder Woman fans."
4 stars

"Wonder Woman," the fourth straight-to-DVD animated feature film from Warner Animation and Warner Premiere (e.g., "Superman: Doomsday," "Justice League: New Frontier," "Gotham Knight") is an adaptation of the DC Comics character of the same name directed by Lauren Montgomery ("Superman: Doomsday") with a screenplay by Michael Jelenic and a story by Jelenic and current "Wonder Woman" scribe Gail Simone ("Secret Six," "Birds of Prey," "Welcome to Tranquility," "All-New Atom," "Gen-13"). A superhero origin story, "Wonder Woman" borrows much of its inspiration from George Perez's 1987 reboot of the Wonder Woman series that, in turn, followed the "Crisis on Infinite Earth's" mini-series that reset the DC Universe, cleaned up continuity issues, and gave major and minor characters "new" (more like revised) origins.

Wonder Woman opens in the distant past, as Hippolyta (voiced by Virginia Madsen), the Amazon Queen, leading a battle of her Amazons against Ares (Alfred Molina), the God of War, and their son, Thraxx (Jason Miller). Some Amazons fall in battle, but so does Thraxx. As Hippolyta prepares to dispatch Ares to the underworld, his father, the Greek God Zeus (David McCallum) stops Hippolyta from administering the coup de grace. In return for Hippolyta's forbearance, Zeus and his goddess wife, Hera (Marg Helgenberger), offer Hippolyta and the Amazons limited immortality (they can be injured and die, but otherwise live forever) and an island paradise, Themyscira, but with one condition: permanently keeping the depowered Ares prisoner on the island. In time, the gods reward Hippolyta with a daughter of her own, Diana (Keri Russell).

With training and instruction, Diana grows up into an intense warrior-princess who chafes at her overprotective mother's limitations on her activities. When, however, a U.S. Air Force pilot, Col. Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion), crash lands on Themyscira, and Ares makes good his escape into the outside world, the challenge falls on the Amazons to send one of their own to the outside world. After a competition leaves Diana as the winner, she’s rewarded with the Lasso of Truth, a golden tiara, and the Wonder Woman costume. From there, Wonder Woman follows Diana as she tries to acclimate to the outside world and its retrograde gender politics and stop Ares before he repowers and begins another war against humankind.

Wonder Woman efficiently covers the dramatic and emotional beats of the superhero (or superheroine, to be more accurate) origin story, from receiving or winning her superpowers and costume, to defeating her first major villain, with her maturation and independence providing Diana with the necessary character arc. Besides Steve Trevor, Diana’s foil and romantic interest, Wonder Woman includes several Amazons, Artemis (voiced by Rosario Dawson), Alexa (Tara Strong), and Persephone (Vicki Lewis), as well as Hades (Oliver Platt), the God of the Underworld, Zeus' brother, and Ares' uncle, here depicted as a self-indulgent, corpulent, duplicitous deity. Hades is less the familiar god of Greek mythology than Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and inebriation (Bacchus in Roman mythology).

Wonder Woman's animation is markedly better than earlier Warner Animation entries. Working with Korean-based Moi Animation Studio, Montgomery and DC animation producer Bruce Timm (Justice League: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman: The Animated Series), managed to strike the right balance between storytelling needs (e.g., character designs, visual compositions, background detail and texture, action set pieces) and the limitations of a direct-to-DVD production budget. Wonder Woman's fetish-oriented, iconic costume hasn't changed much (William Moulton Marston, a psychiatrist, co-created the lie detector test and, of course, Wonder Woman’s creator, was also a bondage enthusiast), so it still reflects outdated gender stereotypes.

Like Warner Animation’s earlier efforts, the depiction of violence in Wonder Woman tends toward the realistic (to the extent that animated violence can be depicted as "realistic"), fully meriting its "PG-13" rating. Amazons are, after all, warriors, and the Amazon warriors here fight and often fall in battle, their souls transported to the Greek underworld to do Hades' bidding. American soldiers who confront Ares' rampaging demon army in Washington, D.C. also die violently (mostly off-camera, though). Heads literally roll (typically vial silhouette). That violence, however, rarely feels gratuitous. Unlike its direct-to-DVD predecessors, Wonder Woman's running time doesn’t feel too short.

While "Wonder Woman" explored the "stranger in a strange land" scenario effectively, its usefulness in future sequels (if any) will be, at best, limited. On the other hand, DC Comics and animation fans can look forward to Montgomery and Timm’s next effort: Hal Jordan/Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps will appear in "Green Lantern: First Flight" later this year.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18538&reviewer=402
originally posted: 03/04/09 01:00:00
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  DVD: 03-Mar-2009

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