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Wonder Woman

Warner Bros. (2009), Warner Home Video (March 3, 2009), 1 disc (plus digital copy), 74 mins plus supplements, 1.85:1 ratio, Dolby TrueHD/Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

An Amazon princess escorts a lost pilot back to the United States and finds herself saving the world from Ares, the god of war.

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The Sweatbox Review:

In comic book lore, there are three characters that set the pattern for most of the superheroes that followed. The first of these archetypes was represented by Superman, the science-themed, super-powered alien hero. Then came Batman, a human who trained himself to the peak of human perfection, and used both his mind and body to battle crime. The triumvirate was completed with the introduction of Wonder Woman in 1941, a female hero borne of mythology. She was the creation of psychologist William Moulton Marston, celebrated inventor of the early lie detector machine. Her first appearance came in the pages of All Star Comics #8, which detailed her origin story. This tale was retold and expanded upon a few months later in Sensation Comics #1, and her success soon led to an eponymous title of her own. She also became a member of the Justice Society of America, the group featured in All Star, but as a sad sign of the times, she was relegated to being their secretary— this, on a team that several non-powered members who could never hope to best her in battle.

Even when the comic book editors could not see past her gender when assigning her a team role, she still stood as a role model for girls and women everywhere. Though her comic sales have frequently faltered, she has always remained an icon of feminine power. Her appearance on the first cover of Ms. magazine and the initial success of a live action TV show in the 1970s spoke to her enormous appeal to the general public, even when most weren’t actually reading her adventures. It is her bankability among the masses that led to Warner Home Video approving of her headlining her own direct-to-video movie, following in the footsteps of previous features starring Superman, Batman, and the Justice League.

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Bruce Timm remained in the executive producer’s seat, and this time directing duties went to Laurel Montgomery, who was one of three directors on Superman: Doomsday. No doubt her gender helped to land her the job this time around, but it’s far from the only reason. Judging by Wonder Woman, she is very adept at staging action, humor, and drama. She did such a good job that I can almost forgive her for deciding to abandon the iconic Wonder Woman “twirl” that I loved so much in the Linda Carter version. (I gasped in the audio commentary where Montgomery said that she couldn’t change clothes by twirling because Wonder Woman was not a magical hero. Apparently her “magic lasso” actually runs on batteries.)

This movie begins with a battle between Amazons, men, and beasts, all under the auspices of Ares, god of war. The Amazon queen Hippolyta turns the tide of battle and is ready to kill Ares, when his father Zeus intercedes on his behalf. Hera, Zeus’s wife, appreciates Hippolyta’s sense of injustice at this, and manages to negotiate a settlement of sorts. The Amazons will be given an island paradise, where they will stand guard over Ares. Years pass on the enchanted island of Themyscira, and the queen is granted one more favor from the gods, as a child of clay is given life, giving Hippolyta a daughter she names Diana. Once grown, Diana becomes rivals with Artemis, previously the best of the female warriors. All this time, Hippolyta insists that the Amazons remain vigilant and that they keep themselves secluded from men. Having been badly betrayed by Ares previously, she wants no further contact with mankind.

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That proves to be difficult when an air battle erupts above the island. In a moment of compassion, Hippolyta allows the island to be seen, so that the sole surviving pilot can crash land relatively safely. This is of course Air Force pilot Steve Trevor, and he finds his safety threatened again immediately when the other Amazons decide to hunt him down. Diana manages to get to him first, and though she bests him in combat, Trevor becomes instantly smitten. His flirty remarks gall Hippolyta, but she feels it is the Amazons’ duty to see him safely home. She announces a competition to determine which of the Amazons shall venture to the United States in order to bring Trevor to his people.Diana is denied the opportunity to participate, but manages to get around her mother’s wishes. The competition proceeds with Diana in disguise. Meanwhile, something sinister is happening at Ares’ prison. Soon it will become apparent that Diana not only will by the Amazon’s emissary, but she will also have the mission of stopping Ares in his efforts to wage war over all the Earth.

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I have to admit that during all this part of the story, I remained a little bored. The story hit most of the points it was supposed to, and there were some funny one-liners. The animation was great, but the story seemed too pedestrian. I know, a story about a race of beautiful women, and steeped in ancient mythology, shouldn’t be boring; but I just can’t say that I was too enthralled to this point. Fortunately, that changed halfway through the movie. Once Dina comes to Washington, D.C., and begins interacting with a new culture, things start to get interesting. On Themyscira, she stands out a little, but is still really part of the crowd. In Washington, she is something else altogether. From teaching a little girl how to use a sword, to her unique way of dealing with street crime (not to mention Trevor’s lame advances), Diana becomes much more interesting when separated from her usual world.

Then, once Diana and Steve encounter Ares, the danger ramps up considerably; and by the time heck totally breaks loose on Capitol Hill, I was downright enthralled. Swarms of beasts, charging Amazons, and an army of zombies certainly got my attention and made for a rip-roaring good time. The script even surprises by addressing obvious yet almost taboo subjects concerning Amazons and families, in a poignant way. And then, the ending sets the stage for the continuing adventures of Wonder Woman that had me anxiously awaiting another chapter.

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The story by writer Michael Jelinic, with material from current Wonder Woman comics scribe Gail Simone, hits a nice balance between action and humor. Diana’s personality is quite consistent with previous interpretations, but the “flirty horndog” persona for Steve was something fresh and entertaining. While I enjoyed the new Steve, I was less impressed with having his associate Etta Candy portrayed as just another blonde rival. I’m not saying that I wanted her to be 300 pounds and chomping chocolates all the time like in the early comics, but this movie’s take was just too far from what has ever been seen of Etta before. At least, she could have been left a redhead, if nothing else! (Though, I did like the fact that Diana disliked her not as a romantic rival, but due to Etta’s feigned helplessness. It was a good character beat for Diana, but Etta was the wrong foil to use.) I found some descriptions of the mythology uneven, as the script gives a nice explanation for the star-spangled costume, but then has an invisible plane appear without any explanation whatsoever (apparently Timm was behind the decision to eschew any explanation for the plane).

The action is not particularly bloody, but it is undoubtedly gory. Swords find their way in all sorts of places and cut off various body parts. And, while the Amazons do not care for Trevor’s potty mouth, there’s nothing here to offend modern sensibilities; but do remember that various factors— both visually and thematically— do earn this movie a PG-13 rating. I do have to say that this movie had the best use of the word “crap” to ever appear in a DC Comics cartoon.

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As far as how this movie ranks with its predecessors in the DC Universe line, I’d still place it behind Justice League: The New Frontier (I just love that story), well ahead of Superman: Doomsday, and probably a little ahead of Batman: Gotham Knight. Certainly, Wonder Woman is a strong entry in this line, and it makes me even more excited to see what they do with Green Lantern next.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Director Lauren Montgomery, executive producer Bruce Timm, writer Michael Jelinic, and DC Comics guy Gregory Noveck participate in the feature’s Audio Commentary. With just a few silent lapses, they otherwise do an entertaining job of describing their decisions in crafting the movie. Montgomery’s odd slight of “the twirl” (which has recently returned to the comics pages) appears here, as well as justifications for the presence of the invisible plane and the replacement by arrows in the “bullets and bracelets” routine during the competition. I appreciated that even the creators often found themselves conflicted in how to present the Wonder Woman mythology, as they tried to rectify different versions as well as changing sensibilities. I can’t say that I necessarily disagree with their final choices, but we all know it would have been nice to see “the twirl.” Am I right?!?

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All special features are presented in the 16:9 ratio, though just in 480p resolution. There are two good-sized featurettes lasting nearly an hour altogether. Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream (25:35) is a surprisingly detailed look at her creator, William Moulton Marston, and the influence of his accomplished wife on the character’s creation. Famous comics fans such as Michael Uslan and Andy Mangels are joined by comic book creators like Dennis O’Neil and Trina Robbins, as well as academic scholars to help place Wonder Woman’s creation in proper context, in terms of the comics as well as a symbol of feminism. They all continue their discussion in Wonder Woman: Daughter Of Myth (25:38), which naturally focuses more on Greek (and Roman) mythology, but also brings up the Linda Carter TV show and a bit more of Wonder Woman’s comics career. Her various cartoon appearance are not discussed, nor the failed television pilots. The famous Ms. magazine cover gets a shout out, and O’Neil takes his lumps for de-powering the character in the 1970s. One unfortunate aspect of these featurettes is that while they do an admirable job of spotlighting Marston and his wife, no mention is really made of Wonder Woman’s original artist, H.G. Peter. Peter’s work was unique and wonderful, and he stayed on the character for a whopping seventeen years. Many examples of his work are shown in the featurettes, but without due credit, an unfortunate oversight. At least we do get a single photo of him, with Marston and their editors.

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A First Look At The Animated Feature Green Lantern: First Flight (10:12) has no animation in it, but there are plenty of looks at storyboards and pre-production artwork for the upcoming movie, as well as a truncated history of the character. The voice cast also appears and makes some comments. The disc also has similar looks at the three previous DC animated movies, which we have all seen before on other discs both before and after their respective releases.

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The Bonus Episodes on this disc are actually four episodes of Justice League/Justice League Unlimited that cover the range of seasons from that program. Paradise Lost was a natural choice, and appears on disc in the 16:9 ratio for the first time— something even the Season One Blu-ray release amazingly did not offer. (It still boggles my mind.) Paradise Lost is a Blu-ray exclusive, while the 2-disc DVD version of Wonder Woman also has Hawk And Dove (maybe my least favorite Justice League episode) and To Another Shore (the cool final season Unlimited episode with the Viking Prince).

A digital copy also comes on a second disc.

Case Study:

We’re looking at the Blu-ray here, but there were also single and double-disc DVD editions. The Blu-ray itself comes in a standard Blu-ray case, with a foil slip-sleeve. I didn’t care much for the cover artwork when I first saw it, but the foil sets it off nicely, particularly since it is embossed.

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Ink And Paint:

I have come to love animation on Blu-ray. After foolishly saying for years that hi-def wouldn’t help traditional animation, I have eaten my words a few times now. True, there is not much difference in some scenes, but in others there is a vibrancy that standard def cannot quite match. This is especially true in scenes that include detailed effects work or backgrounds. Best of all, the picture is unmarred by compression artifacts. Now that I am use to hi-def, I have really come to resent the compression artifacts that are so common on DVDs. This movie has many vertical pans over architecture and stairs, which often gives DVD fits, but here they are handled smoothly. There was just once exception, in an establishing shot of a hospital, that gave me an excuse to knock the video score down a notch; but I’m really being picky. This 1080p, 16:9 picture is gorgeous. Incidentally, the shots taken for this review are not indicative of the true Blu-ray picture, as one can’t rip them straight off the disc without a lot of headache.

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Scratch Tracks:

The audio comes in two flavors. There is a Dolby Digital track, which sounds decent enough. But switching over to Dolby True HD is a revelation of auditory goodness. With this switch, the sound field seems to expand and become more enveloping. The bass still leaves a little to be desired, and the rears are a little under-utilized, but the clarity of everything else is a delight. There are also English and French subtitles.

Keri Russell gives a surprisingly forceful performance as Wonder Woman. Nathan Fillion is predictably great as the wisecracking Steve, and Alfred Molina is appropriately smooth and sinister as Ares.

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Final Cut:

After an epic opening battle, it took it a while to warm up again, but in the end I found this movie to be a great time. Plenty of action throughout makes this a comic fan’s dream, and the writing is sharp enough to make the quieter scenes enjoyable as well. There has never been a better time to be a superhero fan, and this movie lives up to the reputations of the previous Warner Premiere features that have starred DC characters.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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