Tuesday, March 3, 2009

People That Like Puns Might Call It - Wonderful

Despite my dreams of a Joss Whedon-directed live action film, the movie gods and fools that DC Comics and Warner Bros have in charge of these things conspired against me. So there's no Wonder Woman movie, no Flash movie, no Green Lantern movie or Justice League movie, while Marvel plots ways to pump out one Punisher movie after another. No, DC seems dedicated to carving out a small niche with animated films as we saw in "New Frontier" and "Superman: Doomsday" and now this "Wonder Woman" film.

Thanks to a tougher attitude this nice little flick isn't high drama or a great action film, but its violent, funny and has a "Clash of the Titans"-style battle set in Washington, D.C. that puts the comic's recent Amazons Attack! storyline to absolute shame. In the interest of full disclosure, we're reviewing the Blu-Ray copy of the film below the cut.

I'll give the opening battle this: even if the animation style can't compare to the Batman/Superman/Justice League television series, it had to have set the record for opening scene decapitations for an animated film. So right off the back, we know that writer Michael Jelenic and director Lauren Montgomery are getting everything they can out of the PG-13 rating. There's neck snapping, blood, death, bonding over tequila and explosions... oh and lots of shots to the nuts. Which is only appropriate in a story about the greatest warrior in the DC Universe.

In the title role, Keri Russell ("Mission: Impossible 3") does a better job than Lucy Lawless from "The New Frontier" but the facial animation and sharp lines give a rather inhumane feeling to everything. Still she does a fine job with a difficult role. The Diana of this story follows a substantive part of the plot from George Perez's 1985 reboot of the character with a few substantive differences from other versions of the origin tale. Here, Diana is a fully grown woman, who's been trained in combat for millenia, but she's always been the child of her people and knows nothing of the outside world.

"Justice League Unlimited" veteran Nathan Fillion steps into the male lead role of Steve Trevor with gusto, rollicking as a fun-loving fighter jock that's right in his wheelhouse. Since Diana can carry more of the dramatic weight and fighting, Trevor gets to pull out one-liners one after the other.

The rest of the cast is pretty impressive throughout. Alfred Molina is in full Doc Ock villain mode as the God of War, Ares. He chews his share of scenery like any good comic book villain. Rosario Dawson and Virginia Madsen are both good, but unexceptional as Artemis and Hippolyta, respectively. Oliver Platt is the least interesting performance as Hades. Of course there's a couple of wonderful segments featuring John Di Maggio ("Futurama").

The plot is pretty thin, but there's jokes, monster brawling and invisible jets to more than fill the 74 minute running time. The continual improvement in the DC animated films takes yet another substantive step forward in this movie.

As far as special features, the first thing I checked out was the preview for the upcoming Green Lantern animated film. Unfortunately, it's pretty much a simplistic review of the Green Lantern history and then someone compares it to "Training Day"... um, yeah, that isn't a great sign. But, hey Daddy Bristow himself (Victor Garber) plays Sinestro and that is a good sign. Besides that, the disc includes four Wonder Woman-centric episodes of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited selected by Bruce Timm. Of course, I would wager most of the DC fans that pick this up probably have the JL box sets by now.

"Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream" is a slightly romanticized take on the origins of the Wonder Woman character as created by William Moulton Marston. And the phrase "mirror of our society" applied to comic books always rubs me the wrong way. In all honesty, most mediums of entertainment are easily described that way, so its nothing special. But the idea that the age of the typical comic consumer back then was younger, when people are more open to the imprinting of new ideas seems very appropriate. Whereas the first documentary is more interested in society's views and the impact of the character, "Wonder Woman: Daughter of Myth" deals more with the mythological history of Amazons and the character history, significantly intercut with clips from the main movie.

The commentary track is recorded by numerous members of the creative team including Jelenic, Montgomery and Timm. The track was actually recorded before the voices were completed and that's a huge mistake given that so much of whether or not the film works is the voice acting. Because of this the tone is much more directed at the technical aspects and that gets old well before the film wraps up.

None of the special features on my version of the film were worthy of repeated viewing and aren't very informative for people already familiar with the history of the character and her evolution in comics. But the film itself is a nice, quick action piece that still pulls off an epic vibe.

Final score: B

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