Monday, June 5, 2017

Retro-review: Animated 'Wonder Woman' remains one of DC's best DVDs

If you've paid attention to the trailers on the last couple of DC Universe Animated Original Movies, you may have noticed that the 2009 animated "Wonder Woman" movie has been re-released. 

Naturally, I had reviewed it soon after it came out. The online review was posted on the precursor to this Cary's Comics Craze, a blog through the NORWALK REFLECTOR newspaper website where I mostly wrote op-eds and reviews on the Grissom era of the CBS TV series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." That part of the site went kaput after a series of supposed upgrades, so just in time for Wonder Woman Weekend in celebration of Patty Jenkins' masterful live-action movie, here's that review here on CCC for the first time … 

March 2009 — Imagine pitching an action-adventure piece based loosely on mythology wrapped around elements of a romantic comedy as your project to feature one of the most well-known superheroes ever.

OK, that might not be what Warner Bros. Animation intended, but that's what director Lauren Montgomery has done with "Wonder Woman" (rated PG-13 for good reason).

Sound weird? Absolutely. But, guess what? It works — in spades.

DC Comics, together with parent company Warner Bros., has been giving fans a regular diet of DC Universe Animated Original Movies starting with the Sept. 18, 2007 release of "Superman Doomsday." Last summer, Warner Home Video released "Batman: Gotham Knight" to tie into Christopher Nolan's live-action film "The Dark Knight."

Now it's time for the final third of DC's Big Three of heroes.

And "Wonder Woman" is arguably the best of the lot.

(2017 addendum: Ten years later, it remains one of my favorite DC animated movies and in my top five. And I've seen them all!) 

The gorgeous Keri Russell
The creative team has managed to do the impossible: Throw in all the characteristics fans are iconic to Wonder Woman and make the character dynamic.

Princess Diana is gorgeous, heroic warrior who embodies athleticism and sexiness. She stands up for women's rights in "man's world," yet kicks some serious behind. How can you not dig a woman who can keep with doing shots at a bar and kicks off her high heels to go kick the a** of a monster?

Actress Keri Russell (now in the FX series "The Americans") would not have been my first choice to voice Wonder Woman.

But her young, breathy voice gives the heroine a subdued sexiness and nicely characterizes how Princess Diana is a young woman who has been thrown into the deep end in being the first Amazon to leave Paradise Island.

Russell also gives the Amazon princess authority. In short, she is great.

Actor Nathan Fillion (best known for his roles in "Castle" and "Firefly") is a treat as pilot Col. Steve Trevor. His delivery is so good it's hard not to like the womanizer when Trevor is saying some sexist things. A huge casting asset, as pointed out in the very interesting audio commentary, is Fillion had befriended Russell when they costarred in the movie "Waitress."

One of the greatest moments — and there are many — is when Wonder Woman first arrives in Central Park in her invisible jet with Trevor. She sees a young black girl who is sad because she's been relegated to being "the damsel in distress" while her boy friends play with swords nearby. Wonder Woman gives her some advice on swordplay and sends the girl to join her friends, telling her to "give them hell," to which Trevor sardonically responds how "great" it is the girl now knows how to embower her playmates.

While there are plenty of lighter moments, not everything is levity.

In fact, the first 8 1/2 minutes of the film is warfare between the Amazons and the army of Ares, god of war (voiced deliciously evil by Alfred Molina, Doctor Octopus in "Spider-Man 2" — just one of the great cast members in "WW.") It is surprisingly intense with bloodshed, swordplay of course and even a beheading. The sequence is the animated equivalent of "300" or "Spartacus."

The color palette is breathtaking, making "Wonder Woman" the best looking animated project by WB. The story stays close to her December 1941 origin, but unlike, say the first third of "Superman: The Movie," the momentum doesn't slow down in "Wonder Woman" or get bogged down in the details.

It's a fascinating story that the WB needs to make a priority and spend the big bucks to sell in a live-action film. The ending moments put a nice cap on — and set up — for Diana and Trevor's relationship and is, by far, the greatest tease for an animated sequel I've ever seen. Let's see Wonder Woman tangle with Cheetah!

Grade: (the very rare) A+ 

Another 2017 addendum: At some point the Powers That Be promised never to make another animated film starring a solo female. Sadly, while Wonder Woman has been in many "Justice League" movies in the last decade, DC Entertainment and WB has kept to its promise. I said at the time that was an awfully short-sighted — not to mention sexist — business decision.

I can only hope the critical success and exuberant response from fans about the live-action "Wonder Woman" might change producers' minds. If that happens, I hope next original animated flick follows up on the 2009 one and isn't set in the New 52 animated continuity.

Wonder Woman as seen in the "Justice League Unlimited" animated series
The animated "Wonder Woman" extras include two documentaries on Wonder Woman, which dissect her comic book and feminist backgrounds. These were interesting, but a tad dry. I would have loved for the producers to have sought TV "Wonder Woman" Lynda Carter's feedback.

Also included are animated producer extraordinaire Bruce Timm's "bonus episode picks" — actually two "Justice League Unlimited" shows featuring Wonder Woman. One was included in the "Justice League: New Frontier" DVD. Most promising is the preview for "Green Lantern: First Flight."

Timm hinted at DC's next animated movie beyond "Green Lantern" in the commentary. I'm going to guess it will feature the Flash.

And if I were WB I'd be working hand-in-hand with the DC Universe Animation Original Movies team, using those DVD features to get the public primed for (and the studio ready to write, schedule and cast) live-action launches for the Fastest Man Alive and of course, Wonder Woman. Hint! Hint! HINT!

Extras: B

A final 2017 addendum: My assertions/hopes and predictions about seeing live-action takes on Wonder Woman and the Flash took a while to become reality after this 2009 review.

"The Flash" ended its third season on The CW two weeks ago and Gal Gadot as comicdom's greatest leading lady will be on the big screen three times in 20 months by the time "Justice League" is released Nov. 17.

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