Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wonder Woman (2009)

Directed by Lauren Montgomery.
2009. Rated PG-13, 75 minutes.
Cast:
Keri Russell
Nathan Fillion
Alfred Molina
Rosario Dawson
Marg Helgenberger
Oliver Platt
Virginia Madsen
John DiMaggio
David McCallum
Tara Strong
Jason C. Miller

By 2009, Wonder Woman had long since achieved pop culture icon status. However, whether due to a lack of confidence in her profitability, or just plain sexism, the character was relegated to merely being part of the flagship team of DC Comics, The Justice League. Granted, she was a major part of the team, but she wasn't afforded the same opportunities at being a solo character as Batman, Superman, and several other male characters on DC's roster. With DC Animated films proving to be successful on both critical and commercial levels, it was only a matter of time before Wonder Woman would get her own cartoon solo flick.

The movie starts centuries ago, before the birth of our heroine. Her mother Hippolyta (Madsen) is leading the Amazon women in a battle against Ares (Molina), the god of war, and his army. After defeating Ares the Amazons were given Themyscira, an island of their very own, where they will remain isolated from the outside world and the effects of time. The only man on the island is Ares, whom they are to keep as a prisoner for all of eternity. Zeus also grants Hippolyta a daughter, Diana (Russell), molded from the sands of Themyscira. Fast-forward about a millennium, and US pilot Colonel Steve Trevor (Fillion) crash lands on the island after being shot down. Since Ares has been their only example of manhood, the Amazons are understandably distrustful of Steve. They hold a massive competition to see who will escort Col. Trevor home, which Diana wins. To complicate matters, Ares manages to escape the island, thus making Diana's mission twofold. While out in the real world she must also find and capture Ares before he takes over everything.

As soon as Wonder Woman and Trevor arrive in New York, the movie takes full advantage of the fact she's a woman who has been completely sheltered from the effects of misogyny. When she meets a young girl who is crying because the boys won't let her play, Wonder Woman assures the girl she can do anything she wishes, picks up a branch and, as Steve puts it, teaches the girl how to "disembowel her playmates." After a couple more incidents that are jarring to her sensibilities, she laments how resigned women seem to be to "their place." To this point in the character's history, this is the most straightforward portrayal of Wonder Woman, in video form, as a person with a clear disdain for the state of her gender everywhere outside of Themyscira. This also marks her as a more serious-minded person than previous efforts. Though it strips away the sheen of camp associated with previous Wonder Woman movies and shows, it's a welcome change. It's our first clear indication that she understands there is more to the world than saving the world from supervillains and batting her eyes at Steve Trevor.


However, Wonder Woman's relationship with Steve isn't ignored. There is sexual tension between them with Steve even putting the moves on her after he thinks he's gotten her drunk. She is none too happy about this. The implication here is that even though she clearly has a thing for Steve, she is never at his mercy when it comes to their interactions with one another. She is her own person in all situations. This is perfectly in line with her behavior throughout the film, making her a consistent, if easy to figure, person. Her simplicity is not a problem because the outside world is constantly trying to complicate her. The drawback to all this is that their relationship, on the whole, falls victim to the film's one-and-a-quarter hour runtime. It's arc comes off as a bit rushed, not fully satisfying in the end.

The movie also does a nice job of developing Ares and following him on his quest to take over and, eventually, destroy mankind. This gives Wonder Woman something she lacked in earlier incarnations of the character, a formidable villain. Alfred Molina does excellent voice-over work in the role, even though he is hamstrung by the most comic-book like dialogue in the film. He is not alone in his excellence, either. Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion both do wonderful jobs as Wonder Woman and Steve, respectively. The rest of the cast includes such outstanding actors as Oliver Platt (Hades), Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta), and Marg Helgenberger (Hera), The most memorable of the bunch, and thus my favorite performance in the film, is that of Rosario Dawson as the constantly in a rage Artemis.

To this point, I've spoken of lots of story elements, but haven't mentioned the one that sells the movie: the action. Despite this being an animated film, it's no holds barred, and absolutely brutal. There are many onscreen deaths, including at least two decapitations. One of these is performed by Wonder Woman, herself. Believe it, or not, this is actually toned down from what it was supposed to be. The original cut of the film was slapped with an 'R' rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. DC then removed several things to get it down to a 'PG-13.' As you might imagine, parents' groups were up in arms over this. It's a problem that has plagued DC Animated for years, as the violence in their films has become increasingly graphic. I personally enjoyed the way the action is depicted, but I understand the beef some have with it. As usual, I bring it back to marketing and/or parents not paying attention to the labels. When will they realize that just because it's a superhero flick doesn't mean it's for your eight year old?

Being an animated feature frees Wonder Woman from budgetary and other practical restraints. It is free to tell its story to the best of its ability without worrying about what can't be done. The movie takes full advantage by giving depth to its protagonist while also making it an action-packed affair. Aside from the relatively quick and tidy bow put on our heroine's relationship with Steve, nothing feels short-changed. For the first time, we get a Wonder Woman whose sexuality isn't emphasized, but not totally removed, either. More importantly, she thinks critical of the circumstances of the entire world around her, not just how to catch the bad guy. It is not nearly as beloved as the Lynda Carter series, nor will it ever be. That said, this is the better adaptation of the character.

2 comments:

  1. I have seen this. I just realized that. Not all of it but enough to like it. I do like the animated version of the DC characters as I think it allows a certain freedom to do whatever visually without needing to do something big.

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