Release Date: March 3, 2009
Own it on DVD and Blu-ray
Director: Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Michael Jelenic, William M. Marston, Gail Simone
Stars: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Virginia Madsen, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Oliver Platt
MPAA Rating: Unrated
I was recently given the opportunity to view the recently-released animated Wonder Woman movie; featuring the voice talents of a number of well-known Hollywood stars. Anyone who knows me knows that Wonder Woman has been an obsession of mine ever since I was a wee lass, and so I was pretty gosh darn excited to see this film. However, it occurred to me when writing this review that many people may only associate Wonder Woman with the epically campy 70’s television show starring the lovely Lynda Carter. Or some of you may know bits and pieces of Wonder Woman’s back story, but maybe not enough.
So, here’s the skinny.
Wonder Woman is a DC Comics superheroine originally created by William Marston, a psychologist who was famous for inventing a systolic blood-pressure measuring apparatus which was crucial to the development of the polygraph (the forerunner to Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth?). Marston reportedly struck upon the idea for a new superhero who would triumph with love, and his wife, Elizabeth, said, “Fine. Make her a woman.” Wonder Woman first appeared in comics in 1941 as a 6-foot-tall Amazon superhero who represented a form of female empowerment, sent to the World of Men as an ambassador of peace. In 1972, Gloria Steinem placed Wonder Woman on the first standalone cover of Ms. Magazine.
According to her origin story, Wonder Woman/Princess Diana’s body was created from clay, and imbued with a soul retrieved from the Well of Souls. Once her soul was placed into the clay, she immediately came to life, and was blessed with metahuman abilities by six Olympian deities. Demeter, Goddess of agriculture and fertility, blessed her with strength from the Earth spirit Gaea. Aphrodite, Goddess of love and beauty, blessed Diana with exceptional beauty and a heart full of love and compassion. Pallas Athena, Goddess of wisdom and war, granted Diana wisdom, intelligence and military prowess. Artemis, Goddess of the hunt, animals and the Moon, graced her with the Eyes of the Hunter and Unity with Beasts. Hermes, God of speed, granted Diana superhuman speed, and the ability to fly. She is, in essence, TOTALLY AMAZING AT EVERYTHING.
Now that you are up to speed on Wonder Woman’s history, let’s take a look at the new animated film …
- Princess Diana/Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (voiced by Keri Russell … yes, Ms. Felicity herself)
- Steve Trevor (voiced by Nathan Fillion) – a smooth-talking (or at least HE thinks so) pilot and self-professed ladies man
- Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (voiced by Virginia Madsen)
- Ares, God of War (voiced by Alfred Molina) – he bears a striking mulleted resemblance to Khan … KHAN!!!
- Artemis (voiced by Rosario Dawson)
- Hades, God of the Underworld (voiced by Oliver Platt) — he bears a slight resemblance to a humanoid version of the Jabba the Hut, and is NOTABLY sassy
The movie opens on an epic battle between a fierce race of warrior women, the Amazons, and Ares, the God of War, and his minions. As the battle progresses, it is revealed that Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Ares had been lovers and had a useless boy-child together, Thrax. During the battle, Hippolyta ends up beheading Thrax (who seemed like a moron anyway, and probably deserved it), and is ITCHING to also do some major damage to Ares. Zeus, however, intervenes and keeps her from killing him, urging Hippolyta to spare Ares’s life. Zeus’s wife, Hera, who acknowledges that her husband is a total wanker, also sticks her nose in and comes up with a weak compromise – she puts magical gauntlets around Ares’s wrists which, in essence, make him mortal, but with the caveat that only another god could release him from these bracelets. In compensation for this, the Amazons are plunked down onto their own magical, mystical island, Themyscira, where they can be kept away from EVIL MAN, and get the mighty-fine privilege of holding Ares as a prisoner for the rest of time. Sounds like a bum deal, but what do I know?
Since Hippolyta seems rather down in the dumps about this whole situation, the Gods decide to help a sister out and give her a child that wasn’t created through an “unholy union,” and who (hopefully) won’t turn out to be as useless as Thrax. Hippolyta picks up a hunk of sand from the beach, which gets hit by lightning from the Gods, and TA-DA! The handful of muck molds itself into a baby girl, whom Hippolyta names Princess Diana (a.k.a. Wonder Woman).
Years later, we see a dog fight in which a charismatic American fighter pilot, Steve Trevor (apparently a ladykiller), watches as the rest of his squadron gets creamed (including a female rookie, who is the first one to get shot down). As Trevor is flailing about in his plane, someone deliberately disrupts the magical cloaking forcefield which keeps Themyscira hidden from the eyes of the outside world. Trevor crashes on the island and ends up in the middle of a Skinamax flick. Wandering a bit dazed through the forest, he luckily stumbles upon a pond full of naked, young, nubile Amazons bathing themselves and splashing each other (pillow fight, but with water!).
After being chased away, Princess Diana eventually comes upon him, and, after some general fisticuffing, captures him and brings him back to the Amazons who, using the Lasso of Truth (which forces those bound by it to be completely honest) get Trevor’s back story. Instead of killing him, Hippolyta decides that Trevor should be returned home. Diana, ever the over-achiever, volunteers for the task, but Hippolyta won’t allow it, choosing instead to stage a competition amongst the Amazons for the task. Diana, defying her mother’s wishes, disguises herself under a helmet and heartily trounces the competition, winning the right to be the Amazons’ representative to the world of Man.
Hippolyta gives her the iconic Wonder Woman costume, festooned in stars and stripes (the colors of the U.S., to “demonstrate respect”). She also gives her daughter a FABULOUS tiara, the Lasso of Truth, a pair of indestructible bracelets (made from parts of Zeus’s shield and fashioned by Hephaestus himself) and an invisible plane. And with those gifts and her blessing, Hippolyta sends her on her way to accompany Trevor on his journey back home. Soon after, as perhaps to be expected, Ares escapes from his cell in an effort to wage a war on humanity … and it is up to Diana, with Trevor by her side, to help stop him.
All in all, Wonder Woman is an entertaining film, with a solid storyline, well-developed characters, smart dialogue and a strong feminist tone.
While this movie is definitely a solid recounting of Wonder Woman’s origin story (something some viewers may not be familiar with), the movie didn’t feature many of Diana’s powers, including her gift of flight and her ability to communicate with animals, which were prominently featured in the original comic book version of the character. While Wonder Woman has gone through a number of incantations throughout the years (including a stint in the 1960s during which time she completely surrendered her powers), why strip her of the bulk of her powers here? It isn’t clear in the film why Diana is so strong and powerful, since it is not really made clear that she has been given SUPERPOWERS by the GODS. As a result, I felt that, at times, she comes off more like a modified version of Xena, rather than the Wonder Woman that I know and love.
The voice talents in this film, while not exceptional, were solid nonetheless. Keri Russell, who plays Diana/Wonder Woman, does an okay job, but isn’t notably heroic or forceful in her delivery, at times seeming to simply recite her lines, rather than making the role her own. Performance-wise, I have to give a special shout-out to Oliver Platt, who played Hades with a certain amount of sass. Nathan Fillion, the voice of Steve Trevor, does a great job – he is believable as a playboy who can also be serious when the situation calls for it. Trevor is also given some of the most comical lines in the film – during one scene in the movie, he refers to Themyscira as “chastity belt island,” and later states, upon Ares’s rush on the Lincoln Memorial, “Nobody messes with Lincoln!” Rosario Dawson, who plays Artemis, also plays her as a particularly strong character, and manages to come across as a warrior with a strong Island-of-Lesbos vibe.
The film’s animation is solid and sharp. The angular style seems to be pretty consistent with some of the other Justice League animated films. Overall, the film is packed with a good deal of action, and lots of violence (including some rather viciously bloody scenes, especially the opening battle sequence). Interestingly enough, the firm also appears to be packed with many prominently-featured phallic symbols, between horses, rockets, swords (some of the Amazons refer to their “thirsty swords” in the opening battle scene), and, well, scenes with the Washington Monument.
There is an extremely strong (at some points, almost angry) feminist overtone to the film, which I personally enjoyed. In multiple scenes, the film brazenly depicts women brutally killing and dying in battle. In another scene, when Diana first arrives in New York as Trevor’s travel companion, she lands in Central Park, where she comes upon a group of little boys playing pirates, and a little girl who appears to have been cast aside by them. The little girl, crying, tells Diana that they left her out of the playfighting because they “need someone to save.” Diana, thinking this is ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT, pulls a Mr. Miyagi and teaches the little girl how to properly swordfight. The little girl subsequently runs over and invades the group of boys, proceeding to whoop the shit out of them, hooting and hollering.
In another particularly noteworthy scene, Trevor has the bright idea to take Diana to a bar, thinking he is going to get her wrecked and take her home (stating, “Amazons may have a truth lasso, but I have tequila!”). After multiple rounds of drinks, Trevor is hammered, while, Diana (of course) is stone-cold sober. Trevor drunkenly makes a pass at her, which royally upsets her, causing her to yell, “You tried to get me drunk. As if you could out drink an Amazon, you pathetic lightweight!” It is scenes like this which highlight Diana’s overall disdain for men, which eventually becomes a major talking point in ensuing conversations with Trevor.
In another strong scene, Diana wakes up in a hospital with Trevor by her side after a fight with Ares, and proceeds to chew him out for saving her rather than stopping Ares (who manages to escape as a result). In this scene, Diana and Trevor get into some of the most meaty and meaningful dialogue in the entire film. Trevor criticizes the Amazons’ choice to isolate themselves from men (“The Amazons ain’t so perfect either. You act brave, but cutting yourselves off from the outside world was cowardly. Not to mention stupid. Like less communication between men and women is what the world needed.”), and tells Diana that her generalizations of men are inaccurate (“You met your first man, what, like 15 minutes ago? And you think you have us all figured out. Well, I’m sorry, but not everything a man does is to further some misogynistic agenda.”).
Another noteworthy, female-empowerment-laden scene takes place as one of Trevor’s very female, very blonde, co-workers comes upon Trevor and Diana in the hallway at his office. Attempting to flirt with Trevor by acting like a helpless floozy, the blonde asks him if he can retrieve her pen for her, which appears to be trapped under her desk.
Diana, incensed, asks the blonde, “What is WRONG with you?” adamantly stating to this woman that, as she appears to be physically strong and in good health, she should be able to retrieve her Bic on her own. Diana, ever the take-charge gal, hoists up the blonde’s desk (one-handed) and retrieves her pen. She then turns to Trevor and launches into a tirade in which she states that American women have been brain-washed, beaten down and made to feel weak … and as a result work to trade on their femininity like it is a commodity.
Overall, the film provides a good deal of commentary regarding gender roles in modern American society. With chick flicks like He’s Just Not That Into You and Confessions of a Shopaholic recently released, a movie with female strength and power as a central element is needed perhaps now more than ever. While the candid conversations about relationships and gender roles in this movie sometimes appear to simply scratch the surface of the issues, they are still strong, informative and poignant.
Written by T.D.M. Wonder Woman is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. For more information on the film, visit WonderWomanMovie.com.