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Wonder Woman (2-disc Special Edition)

The world of comic books adapted to movies has been pretty male-dominated so far. Sure, you get your Elektra and Supergirl, but the ones that have gotten the most attention (and resources) have been the male figures – Superman, Batman, Spider-man and the like. DC Comics has even focused on the male figures for their home video animated releases, with both Supes and the Dark Knight getting previous releases (Superman: Doomsday and Batman: Gotham Knight respectively). Now it’s the women’s turn, with an animated Wonder Woman movie. Not only does the Amazon beat the boys’ animated adventures, but this story is strong enough to make me wonder why we’ve had so many delays in getting a live action movie made. I was never a Wonder Woman fan growing up. The most I can say I knew about the character all came from the Lynda Carter series of the late ‘70s, which I’m told is not very faithful to the comic book. So when I heard about Warner Premiere putting together an animated movie focusing on Wonder Woman, I wasn’t that excited. Even the casting announcements, revealing the talents of Felicity Huffman, Nathan Fillion, and Alfred Molina didn’t interest me all that much. My disinterest was quickly proven to be wrong, because Wonder Woman is quite the story.

The movie gives the Amazon princess something I’ve never gotten from my limited exposure to the character – an origin story. The movie opens with a brutal battle between the forces of Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons (Virginia Madsen) and Ares, God of War (Molina). Over the course of the battle we learn of the ferocity of Artemis (Rosario Dawson) and see one of Hippolyta’s warriors wounded because of the bookishness of Alexa (Tara Strong). The Amazons emerge from the battle victorious, imprisoning Ares after slaying his son, but Hippolyta decides to isolate her people from the rest of the world in hopes that a war like the one they waged will never happen again.

Time passes and the Amazons continue to train, despite living in their own little Utopia. Hippolyta is granted the boon of a child by the gods, the princess Diana, who is raised as an Amazon and quickly becomes a rival of Artemis in battle. Their peaceful world is disturbed when U.S. Air Force pilot Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) crashes onto the island, causing conflict among the community and eventually providing an opportunity for Ares’ escape. Trevor and Diana return to the outside world to recapture the once fallen God, but Ares is not about to go quietly. He wants his power back, and revenge upon Hippolyta for his lost progeny.

Wonder Woman moves quickly through its story, rarely slowing down to explore much of the world it takes place in. For the most part, that’s a good thing. This is an origin story and, since we start the movie without Diana even alive yet, moving forward quickly helps us get to the point where she is a formidable warrior and dons the costume and title of Wonder Woman. Sure, it leaves me questioning things like how a God can be defeated, let alone imprisoned, but this is of little concern.

The vocal performances are fantastic, especially Russell and Fillion. I’ve always been a fan of both of theirs and their chemistry together is unbeatable. Fillion especially manages to steal scenes, proving he doesn’t need his looks for his fantastic comedic delivery (although I would wager many women out there want the looks too). Molina is kind of a strange pick to voice Ares, the God of War. While Molina has proven his penchant for villains in movies like Spider-Man 2, the visual style of the character doesn’t really mesh with Molina’s voice, resulting in something a little jarring while watching the movie. It doesn’t ruin scenes he’s in, but it does detract from them a little bit.

The story brings a nice mix of comedy and drama, making light of things like Wonder Woman’s invisible plane and the language of the contemporary world outside Paradise Island, while giving pretty decent service to the notion of a woman from a matriarchal society in the Modern world. The result isn’t heavily feministic (a trap it easily could have fallen into), but a nice blend of that sort of a mentality from an outsider who knows she has to make some effort to blend in. This is a character who will never be okay with relying strictly on her sexuality to get by, but also knows there is this whole other world beyond the one she was raised in. As a result, the middle part of the movie feels like that of an outsider experiencing our world for the first time; something you might expect from a story like Superman’s. It works well for Wonder Woman and really affords the audience the opportunity to get to know the characters, despite the fast pace.

As someone who had really only encountered the character in the old live-action television show, I was probably poised to not like this new animated movie very much, especially when the previous offerings from Warner Premiere haven’t exactly been that strong. Wonder Woman surprised me by delivering an enjoyable story that made me interested enough in the characters to wish there was more when the movie ended. Hopefully the studio will get enough feedback of that sort to bring back Russell, Fillion, and the rest for another Wonder Woman adventure in the future. At first glance I thought I was going to have the same complaint about Wonder Woman that I had about Batman: Gotham Knight. The bonus material has very little to do with the movie, but is more about the character’s history. Since Wonder Woman hasn’t gotten the exposure that Batman or Superman have gotten, the features are actually quite fascinating.

The first disc (and therefore the only contents if you pick up the single-disc edition) includes a commentary on the film and then a whole lot of advertisements for other DC Comic Animated releases, including movies like Batman: Gotham Knight that has been out for almost a year. The big draw here is the first look at the upcoming Green Lantern animated movie, which brags a cast that includes Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), and Victor Garber (Alias), with Christopher Meloni playing the movie’s title character. Considering the constant debate over who the best Green Lantern is among fans, it’s interesting to hear they’re going with Hal Jordan carrying the ring for the animated movie, but hearing the rationale behind that decision makes this featurette pretty interesting.

Disc two has two documentaries, each running about 25 minutes. “Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream” talks about the creation of the character in the context of the era she was created. I could have guessed about Wonder Woman as an inspirational figure in the battle over women’s rights, but I had no idea her creator, William Marton, was also behind the lie detector (which makes Wonder Woman’s lasso kind of interesting if you think about it). “Wonder Woman: Daughter of Myth” looks at the power of mythology that Wonder Woman builds on, as well as how the character has sort of inspired more modern female heroes, developing a mythos all her own. If watched back to back, the two featurettes get a little redundant about things like the era of Rosie the Riveter or the inspiration of the character for women’s lib, but there’s a lot of interesting information presented in a very concise format.

The only other material included on the second disc are two episodes of Justice League, hand picked by producer Bruce Timm. Like the episodes included on the Batman: Gotham Knight release, Timm’s picks relate thematically to the movie, but thankfully don’t overshadow the feature like they did with Batman.

Considering my lack of familiarity with the character, I would have welcomed a lot more content here if it had been offered. I could have used a look at how the character has evolved over the ages, or how this movie reflects elements of the comic book, particularly the “Gods and Mortals” storyline that the story used here is loosely based upon. While the commentary track does touch on a little of that, the second disc feels like there’s a whole lot of unused space that could have been used for more material.