I recently took another look at the DC Animated Film Wonder Woman. I wanted to experience a good DC film after the travesty that was the recent Batman v Superman. I recall that Gal Godot was Wonder Woman was one of the best aspects of that movie. While I disagree with that sentiment, I am very fond of the Amazon Princess, and wanted to be reminded of the great character I watched on Justice League when I was younger. While this entry is very good, it falls just short of great, or at least the great potential Wonder Woman has.
This film was made way back in the old days of 2009, and was one of the first entries into the DC Animated Films line. Something that occurred to me then, and seems to have more or less played out over the years, is that DC has a tendency to test out potential live-action big budget films with animated prototypes; an experiment to see how they could perform on the big screen, if you will. That certainly seems to be the case here for Wonder Woman, despite the great length of time it has taken Warner Bros. to get there (and they still haven’t 7 years later). This is a very good origin story for Wonder Woman, based on George Pérez’s reboot “Gods and Mortals” from 1987, just after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which rebooted the entire DC Universe(s). Given Pérez’s great history as a comic writer, with titles like The Avengers and The New Teen Titans under his belt, this is a good staring point. Plus, this film was written by Gail Simone, arguably the greatest female comic writer of all-time, so there is no shortage of talent when it comes to this film’s story, and it certainly shows.
This movie puts Wonder Woman in a modern setting, seeing her reactions to man’s world as we know it. I think this is the best place to start with her, instead of a period piece, because she is as new to the world as the world is to her, providing a great parallel contrast to her development as a character, and the development of man’s world into a place that is better in some areas and just as bad as before in others. The plot hits all the points it needs to for an origin film. The pacing is good, and there are no heavy twists to overcomplicate anything. The action is fairly good for what it is, standard PG-13 fare. You don’t actually see any of the blood or most fatalities, so don’t go in expecting God of War or 300. Diana’s character is rounded and develops well and naturally, as does the male lead, Steve Trevor, Diana’s own “Lois,” if you will. The animation style is pretty close to the designs of the legendary Bruce Timm, who is also one of the producers, so you know you can’t go wrong there.
The cast is, for the most part, pretty good. Virginia Madsen does alright as Diana’s mother Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, although perhaps she comes too close to coming off as too cold. Vicki Lewis also does okay as Persephone, as does Rosario Dawson as Artemis. Marg Helgenberger completely phones it in as Hera, but seeing as how she barely has any lines, it doesn’t really matter. Oliver Platt doesn’t quite pull it off as Hades. Voice acting giant and veteran Tara Strong gives an always great and versatile performance as Alexa. Nathan Fillion completely hits it out of the park as Steve Trevor, proving why he is one of the most charismatic people in the nerd circuit, bring wit and charm to the character, who also serves as a genre-savvy commentator. Alfred Molina is great as Ares, expected as he is one of my favorite villainous actors. Keri Russell does decently as Diana herself, but in my opinion, she doesn’t quite have the right needed balance of kindness and toughness to her voice that Susan Eisenberg had during her tenure on Justice League.
Despite all that, this film does have some pitfalls that begin to hinder it as they pile up. For example, it’s never explained exactly or where Ares’ army of men and monsters came from, let alone his modern-day “Cult of Ares” that somehow survived from antiquity. As with any new interpretation, the designs of the Greek gods can vary wildly, although only 2 are given any real screen time. Ares is just fine, but they really dropped the ball with Hades; I just cannot get behind that design. He’s way less James Woods and way too much Jabba the Hutt, and yes, that is as bad as it sounds. This film shows a subpar sense of space and time. We’re not really given much a frame for how much time has passed in the story, and characters just show up in locations with no explanation. How did Ares get an entire army of mythological creatures up to the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. without anyone noticing or doing anything about it? Furthermore, the Amazon’s home of the island of Themyscira is never given a definitive geographical location. I would assume it’s somewhere in Mediterranean Sea near Greece, but then how could Steve Trevor pilot a fighter jet to there from D.C. and back in a matter of minutes? Or how could the Amazon sail from there to D.C. in wooden ships and not take 6 months? A lot falls apart in the climax, and with its location of Washington D.C. and an army of Amazons, it bares resemblance to the story “Amazons Attack,” and that is not a good association. Although there is some good zombie nightmare fuel in the final fight, with undead Amazon warriors that are uncharacteristically agile and mobile for rotting corpses, it overall feels too rushed. The resolution, both Wonder Woman’s final fight with Ares and the battle in general, is too quick and nonsensical. After the big bad is defeated, Ares’s remaining army doesn’t get finished off or even disappear; they just kind of shrug their shoulders and wander off into the landscape of the National Capitol, where I’m sure they’ll just fade back into the void from which they came.
Still, problems aside, this film holds up fairly well. There’s just enough baggage from the missteps to hold it back from being truly great. There is a good and fair discussion of gender roles and modern feminism, ideas that Wonder Woman was always meant to exemplify. There is great balancing act from 3rd-wave feminism, which in my opinion is largely poisonous and based in anger and vengeance, and feminism’s more noble roots of equality and fairness. Overall, Wonder Woman is a good origin story for this great character, and a good base from which to start for the live-action version that’s coming up. Now let’s just hope they don’t screw it up.