Wonder Woman (The DVD Movie)
Well, that was disappointing. I knew that watching Wonder Woman’s origin story made into an animated film would have some overly familiar bits, but I didn’t expect to be so put off by the attempts to make it new and modern.
The movie starts with Hippolyta and Ares fighting. As someone who’s not particularly interested in Greek/Roman mythology, I was bored waiting for the title woman in the costume to show up. Instead, we got battle, clay baby, Amazon bickering, and then cut to the fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion). It’s a problem stemming from the source material that it takes a good while to get to her most famous imagery.
I also had an issue, having seen so much promotion for this movie centered on the voice talent, relating to the characters. When Artemis jumped into battle, I heard Rosario Dawson (and then wondered why the character was so pale-skinned).
The look for the character used for this movie gets away from the sex-kitten wasp-waist style used in the Dini/Timm Justice League, thankfully, but it doesn’t follow the current good-girl art style of the comics, either. It’s almost more influenced by Don Heck or Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, with an angular style that some may criticize for not looking feminine enough. Her hair, for example, is here just long and simple, a shape that’s easier to animate. Thinking back to some of the classic Wonder Woman comic covers, you’ll notice artists like Brian Bolland, Terry Dodson, and Adam Hughes draw big, unbelievable flowing hair. This film uses a more realistic, less of a “fantasy woman” approach. Some won’t like that; it’s unfamiliar, and it does take some getting used to, but ultimately, I appreciated seeing it.
The contest takes place as expected, with Diana (Keri Russell) masked behind a “combat helmet”, which also makes her unrecognizable to the viewer. In another note, the lips on everyone are weird. They’re large and distracting. The full outlines look particularly odd on the men, while the women look like they have a very well-stocked Max Factor supplier nearby (since everyone has a different shade).
Fanboy Trevor and Gender Politics
Steve Trevor’s first view of the Amazon’s island was like some softcore fantasy: he spies random women bathing in a pool with a waterfall and splashing, hee hee, each other. I didn’t mind it too much, because that’s the kind of nudge-nudge approach many people think about when you say “island of women only”. But that’s not the only insinuation in the film, which may explain the “some suggestive material” aspect of the rating, and they got tiring. I expected better behavior from an Army officer in a foreign kingdom, and remarks like “Chastity Belt Island” are borderline offensive, not smart or witty.
And that’s the problem with writing Trevor as some kind of fan/frat boy — it’s not entertaining, and it’s off-putting to some of the potential audience. More to the point, it’s clichéd. For example, Trevor tries to get Diana drunk. That he succumbs and she doesn’t is predictable, the staple of a number of movies.
This is a Wonder Woman for boys. She’s a wise-cracking hero, and there’s an awful lot of fighting. When she suits up for the first time, there’s a boob shot where she reaches into her cleavage to adjust her bustier. There are even zombies!
The script tries to take on gender politics — Wonder Woman, for example, helps a little girl left out of playing pirates because she was female by teaching her how to fight — but ignores such neon signs as explaining the star-spangled bathing suit. Its colors are justified, but not its cut. Then there’s Etta Candy, here a flirtatious blonde who looks like the generic well-built woman. Not having a version more faithful to the comics is a huge loss. I miss both her look (overweight, a pleasant change from the standard comic body) and her character, as a woman who can hold her own through skill.
The script is the movie’s biggest flaw. It goes for the cheap wisecrack wherever it can, which led to me wondering where an Amazon learns the phrase ‘pathetic lightweight’ in reference to alcohol and “why do the Amazons not know the word ‘crap’ but understand that ‘rack’ means breasts?” Diana can either be a fish out of water (not understanding an attempted mugging at first) or able to keep up with Trevor’s slang, but not both.
Overall, I had a hard time battling apathy. I’ve seen Wonder Woman’s origin many times before, and I’m not interested enough in animation to be interested in seeing it again just because it’s now a cartoon. I was willing to turn it off a half-hour in, but I sat through it, only to see the battle with Ares work out just as expected. I also thought the animation should have been better, by which I mean more professional and less jerky.
As others have noted, there is a lot of violence in the movie, with battles among mythological warriors, various creatures, and the Amazons. It deserves its PG-13 rating.
Disc One Special Features
- An audio commentary with Bruce Timm, Gregory Noveck (DC rep), Michael Jelenic (screenwriter), and Lauren Montgomery (director). This is full of cringe-worthy statements, like the concept that you can distort male features but too many lines make women look ugly, so it’s much harder to create distinguishable female characters when you have more than a couple of them.
- A sneak peek featurette about the upcoming Green Lantern animated film
- A featurette on the making of Justice League: The New Frontier
- The promotional Wonder Woman piece that was included on the Watchmen motion comic
- The same kind of thing for Batman: Gotham Knight.
I’m wondering now if they did one for Superman: Doomsday. If they didn’t, then this is a pretty nice collection of background on all the DC animated films so far.
Disc Two Special Features
The second disc in the two-disc edition contains two documentaries and two Justice League episodes: “To Another Shore” (the one with the Viking Prince sequence based on Joe Kubert artwork) and “Hawk and Dove”.
“A Subversive Dream” (15-20 minutes or so, I lost track) gives the history of Wonder Woman and discusses William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and in the context of the limitations placed on women in the 1940s. Among the many authors and talking heads are Denny O’Neil (who wrote the series in the 60s, during the white jumpsuit/I Ching period), DC representatives Gregory Noveck and Dan Didio, Michael Uslan, and of course, Andy Mangels, noted Wonder Woman fan, and Trina Robbins, “comics her-storian”.
The Marstons’ partner Olive Byrne is mentioned in passing only twice, her role relegated to “assistant” to them both. And the predominance of ropes and chains in the comic is attributed to Marston wanting to express his ideas of social control visually. Only O’Neil even hints at the sexual bondage aspects. After all, this is only a PG-13 DVD.
Hugh Hefner says Marston’s wife was responsible for creating the idea of the character. Christopher Knowles, another writer of a book about comics, says his wife was responsible for the observation that measuring blood pressure could detect lies, which led to the invention of the polygraph. Hefner later says that the world would be a better place if it was run by women, as Marston postulated, and is the only one to talk about “repression”. Hefner provides the most interesting comments in the piece, which surprised me immensely.
I very much appreciated that the captions identified the speakers more than once. That is, even if someone is labeled on-screen at their first appearance, when they return later on, they’re identified again. But when watching this doc, it really stands out when someone like Noveck uses the word “kid” when he really means “boy”.
“Daughter of Myth”, the second featurette (25 minutes), focuses on the character’s origin, mythology, and the idea of Paradise Island. Usually, they talk about classic comic book stories in these kinds of features, but that material is missing, another disappointment.