Wonder Woman: Animated Original Movie DVD review

A brand new animated Wonder Woman movie arrives on DVD. Barry reviews it, and finds it's something of a treat...

Wonder Woman

Remember the days when He-Man would be forced to plough through a small army of Skeletor’s moronic henchmen? When the Turtles fought hordes of faceless foot soldiers? Without exception the non-human characters would be despatched by being thrown off-screen and then shown to be dazed, but crucially alive.

The first sequence of this movie gives us an extended battle between the Amazons, lead by Queen Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen) and Ares, the God of War (Alfred Molina, no stranger to playing comic book villains) and his army, the likes of which we haven’t seen before in animation. The exhilarating five minute sequence, very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s 300, culminates in a beheading.

Whew.

Zeus (David McCallum) steps in to stop the Amazons slaughtering Ares, who is instead bound with magic gauntlets and made effectively mortal. Only another god can set him free. As a form of compensation, Hera (Marg Helgenberger) offers the Amazons a new beginning on the island of Themyscira where they’ll be shielded from the ravages of ageing on a man-free utopia.

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We cut to an unspecified period later and, on a stormy evening on this paradise island, Hippolyta is moulding herself a child out of dirt (there’s only so much entertainment a tropical island can provide). After pricking her thumb and smearing blood on her claybaby’s forehead, lightning strikes it and it turns into a real one. Unsurprisingly, the baby starts to cry. I bet Wonder Woman keeps the story of her birth a close secret; if her fellow Justice Leaguers found that out they’d piss themselves laughing. Especially Batman.

After the credits, and all grown up now, Diana wonders aloud after a fight with Artemis (Rosario Dawson) what was so bad about men. Is it possible they’ve changed? Her mother shows her Ares all locked up and explains that you can’t trust the wicked disloyal nature of Man. Hmm.

Later, injured in a dogfight, fighter pilot Steve Trevor’s (Nathan Fillion) plane crashes in a lake on Themyscira. After evading furious naked Amazons in a nearby waterfall, Steve soon encounters a furious clothed Amazon: Diana. He attempts to run away again and she kicks him in the balls.

Taken back to the Amazons, the introduction of the Lasso of Truth makes Steve admit that he thinks Diana’s breasts are impressive. The Queen proclaims that the true nature of Man is laid bare. Hmm.

Hippolyta decides that he’s to be taken back to his home country, and the emissary to the outside world is to be chosen by a contest. Diana wangles her way in under disguise and predictably wins while Steve is threatened with castration.

She suits up, hops in her invisible jet (yes!) and embarks on her mission to take Steve back to the USA…

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This is the latest in the line of direct-to-DVD animated movies from DC and Warner after Justice League: New Frontier and the anthology-style Batman: Gotham Knight and, unlike its predecessors, this is very much an origin story.

Unlike Batman and Superman in previous DC Animated series, Wonder Woman has only ever been a supporting character. With this release we begin to realise that this hasn’t been a disservice to the character; the studio and DC just wanted to do justice to the Amazonian princess.

We’re all familiar with the story, but the mandate from DC was to ensure the movie stuck to canon as much as possible (it follows the Gods and Mortals arc by George Perez from 1987), to bring the saga up-to-date and relevant and to make it big. I’m confident this is going to be seen as the definitive telling of her origin. With a script by acclaimed current monthly writer Gail Simone and a production team led by Bruce Timm, this 71-minute movie revels in its Greek mythology versus a modern day sensibility backdrop.

From the first kick to the balls in the opening sequence you can tell the film has a heavy feminist slant. In fact, when the second comes mere minutes later, you begin to wonder if this might be a recurring theme of the movie. And it is a bit heavy-handed.

You get the feeling that if Diana hadn’t met a misogynistic idiot like Steve Trevor, she wouldn’t have much justification for her anti-male stance. However, the two characters’ comic rapport is exceedingly well written in the main with some very funny one-liners, especially one that pokes a little fun at some of the stranger Greek myths.

After the first epic action piece you know this movie isn’t going to pull any punches. This is rated 12 and is pretty intense. The characters are all well established; each Amazon has her own distinct personality and look, a mean feat when you consider the art style. Though in keeping with the Bruce Timm style, this is a new look for Wonder Woman, designed by director Lauren Montgomery, that has elements of both her Justice League Unlimited and New Frontier looks.

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Wonder Woman‘s establishing cast is gradually introduced, not necessarily where you’d expect, but in a way that works well. A couple of reviews have complained about the lack of explanation about the invisible jet, but for me, just the inclusion of the jet is almost enough to give the movie a 5 star review. According to the commentary there was going to be a line explaining it, but the writers couldn’t think of any reasonable justification. The time is much better spent on character development and plot arcs, though.

With a comparatively short running time and considering it’s an origin tale, there is a lot of story and it’s only toward the end that you feel certain things may have been rushed or overlooked.

There are plenty of sequences throughout the film that take your breath away with both their amazing backgrounds and the very rich colour palette. The opening battle scene has such a distinct look with lots of reds, yellows and browns and there are a number of large scenes with an unbelievable number of moving elements onscreen at once.

Extras Like other DC Animated releases, this 2-disc set pack contains a huge amount – and variety – of additional content. On the first disc alone we have an informative commentary by the creative staff. These people are seasoned professionals in the world of commentaries so you don’t just get awkward play-by-plays of the action. They go into huge amounts of details on creative decisions as regards the story, the history of the character and the rating. Character design and what had to be left on the cutting room floor also play a big part. The director is very free with her praise for, among others, the Korean artists for their work during the large crowd scenes with loads of moving elements, but it doesn’t turn into a love-fest.

A first look promo of the next movie, Green Lantern: First Flight and short documentaries on previous movies also feature, as well as a 10-minute history lesson on Wonder Woman and the evolution of the character.

The second disc backs this up with two further comprehensive documentaries focusing on the history and the mythology of Wonder Woman and two of Bruce Timm’s favourite episodes of Justice League Unlimited prominently featuring the character.

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For my money, this is the best of the DC Animated Movies so far. Dedicating a movie on this scale to a character unproven to stand alone in the world of animation could be seen as a bit of a risk, but a production team this dedicated and faithful to the property means you end up with something especially beautiful.

As well as an origin, we get distinct arcs for each main character leaving an opening for a sequel featuring an enemy very familiar to the Wonder Woman mythos.

Film:

5 stars
Disc:
5 stars

Wonder Woman: Animated Original Movie is released on 9 July.

Rating:

5 out of 5