Wonder Woman (2009)

Actors: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Virginia Madsen, Rosario Dawson and Alfred Molina
Animated, NTSC
Number of discs:
Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date:
March 3, 2009
Run Time:
74 minutes



In the pantheon of comic book heroes, few embrace as many contradictions as Wonder Woman. A veteran warrior and a naive innocent. A feminist stalwart and a bondage queen. An indisputable icon and a character who - at times - was kept around only because DC wanted to retain the rights to her.

Not only has Wonder Woman successfully balanced those disparate elements with incredible grace, but she's weathered the years since her inception without the boost that brethren like Superman and Batman got. There's been no blockbuster movie to help her out, no groundbreaking platform to introduce her to a wider audience. The most she could claim was a spot-on casting choice (Lynda Carter) in an otherwise mediocre live action TV show and a few precious episodes from Bruce Timm's great Justice League cartoon.

All that has changed. Warner's line of direct-to-DVD superhero films has finally given the Amazing Amazon her due, in a format which neither compromises the character nor forces her to play second banana. Though hardly perfect, it retains the same resolute devotion evinced by Batman Gotham Knight and Justice League - New Frontier, aided by some lovely animation and terrific voice casting courtesy of the legendary Andrea Romano.

Wonder Woman's slim 74-minute running time aims to present a comprehensive look at the character's origins, along with a villain worthy of her attention. One of Wondie's problems is that she never had a sparring partner on the level of a Joker or a Lex Luthor. The movie corrects that by giving her a doozy: Ares (voiced by Alfred Molina), the god of war, who opens the film by launching a genocidal attack against Wondie's ancient Amazon sisters. Led by their Queen Hippolyta (voiced by Virginia Madsen), they conquer his forces and take him prisoner.

The goddess Hera rewards them with an island paradise where they can live in peace away from the evils of man's world. Hippolyta receives a further gift in the form of a daughter, Diana - molded from clay and brought to life by the will of the gods. Flash forward several thousand years, when hotshot pilot Steve Trevor (voiced by Nathan Fillion) crash lands on their estrogen Shangri-La. A contest is held to determine who will ferry him home - and by extension, serve as the Amazons' ambassador to modern society. Diana (voiced by Keri Russell), now grown and itching to get a look at the world, enters the contest against her mother's wishes . . . even as Ares plots a deadly escape.

The set-up covers all of the main points in a timely fashion, while also facilitating plenty of well-choreographed action. Wonder Woman conveys the brisk, exciting pace necessary for such an endeavor without sacrificing the right sense of character - a balancing act facilitated by the considerable chemistry between Russell and Fillion. Their Hepburn/Tracy-style comic rapport offsets the more violent moments quite well, and yet never detracts from a unified tone. Optimistic fun goes hand-in-hand with the darker moments, and neither side ever undermines the other. A gorgeous art design completes the film's aesthetics, giving Wondie a unique corner of the DC sandbox to call her own.

Minor stumbling points occur when the romance shifts into higher gear: the running time is simply too truncated to establish it properly, lending it an unduly artificial feel. Certain key narrative moments jump the gun as well, and a number of logical questions (where exactly does that invisible jet come from?) never receive a proper answer. So too do the film's sexual politics walk a dangerously shaky path.

Though Wonder Woman's pro-feminist dynamic hits all the right notes, an odd bit of dialogue towards the end muddles the issue somewhat, and while Trevor ultimately proves his worth, his occasional bits of sexist oinking come across as too heavy handed early on. (His frequent comeuppances are admittedly quite funny, however.)

Director Lauren Montgomery counters those flaws with a resolute devotion to character. Diana herself emerges as a strong, compelling heroine without losing any of the quirks that make her human (something the Carter show never figured out), while Trevor's eventual heroics don't eclipse the real star of the show. Even comparatively minor figures like Artemis (voiced by Rosario Dawson) and Hades (voiced by Oliver Platt) feel fully-realized, and Ares's gleeful villainy gives both Wondie and her mother as much as they can handle. (Plus, he sports a mullet . . . truly the haircut of the gods!)

THE DISC: The single-disc DVD contains only the movie and an engaging audio commentary from the principle creative forces (though none of the actors are present). The two-disc version and the BLU-RAY edition adds a pair of documentaries about Wonder Woman along with a handful of episodes from the Justice League cartoon. Wondie's appearances on Justice League made for a great take on the character too, and if you aren't yet familiar with that show, then the extra cartoons are a good place to start.

WORTH IT? Absolutely. The Amazing Amazon has waited far too long for a proper vehicle, and the results here easily outweigh a few minor shortcomings. Hopefully, the powers that be at Warners and DC won't wait so long before showcasing their greatest superheroine in this manner again.

RECOMMENDATION: As with other entries in the DC Universe DVD line, this may be harsher and more intense than some parents realize. The PG-13 rating is well earned -there's plenty of blood and guts as well as some not-so-subtle sexual banter - though older children should be able to handle it without difficulty. Beyond that, Wonder Woman is perfect for comic book fans, animation lovers, action aficionados and little girls (whatever their age) who aspire to save the world.

EDITOR?S NOTE: Depending on what kind of movie fan you are, you might want to check out instead the two-disc version retailing for only eight bucks more than this vanilla single-disc edition ( list prices at the time of writing). For your eight bucks you get some cool documentaries on Wonder Woman's history plus two complete 2001 Justice League TV episodes. An even better bargain at only a dollar (!) more than the two-disc edition is the BLU-RAY version, which throws in yet another two Justice League episodes in addition to an excellent 1080p transfer. If all BLU-RAY disc prices can be held at these low levels one should seriously consider upgrading to this new format if one hasn't already done so.

- Rob Vaux



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