Saturday Morning Cartoons: Wonder Woman

It’s week 2 of DC Animated Universe Month on Saturday Morning Cartoons, and this week we’ll be looking at an animated feature about one of my favorite comic book heroines: Wonder Woman.

I was really looking forward to this one, for a few reasons. First of all, I love the Wonder Woman comic book series, when the character is written well. Just before I watched the movie, I discovered that one of the most celebrated Wonder Woman writers, Gail Simone, had co-written the script. I’d also heard an overwhelming amount of praise for this film, most notably from Bruce Timm, creater of Batman: The Animated Series and god of all things DC animated. Timm claims that Wonder Woman is his favorite DC animated movie. By the time I actually sat down to watch Wonder Woman, my expectations were extremely high.

Did the film live up to my high expectations? To put it simply: no. With a little more emotion: hell no. With the amount of rage that I felt after watching it: WHAT THE ACTUAL F#@% WAS THAT?!

Based on George Perez’s 1987 reboot of Wonder Woman for DC’s Year One initiative, Wonder Woman follows the story of young Diana (Keri Russell), princess of a race of female warriors known as the Amazons and daughter of Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen). After a devastating battle with Ares, the Greek god of war (Alfred Molina), the Amazons become disillusioned with the world of man and hide themselves away on the utopian island of Themyscira in a plane of existence separate from our own. With Ares stripped of his powers and imprisoned on Themyscira, the Amazons live peacefully for many years. Diana, however, finds herself bored with her peaceful life by the time she reaches young adulthood. She finally sees an opportunity to discover worlds beyond her own when a fighter pilot named Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) accidentally transcends the barrier between Earth and Themyscira and crash lands on the Amazonian island. At the same time, Ares breaks out of his prison and heads to Earth, hoping to conquer and destroy it. Diana wins the right to be the Amazons’ emissary to Earth on a mission with two objectives: bring Steve Trevor home and find Ares. Once there, she eventually becomes the superhero Wonder Woman.

This wasn’t a terrible movie. In fact, I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it bad. Wonder Woman had some real strengths, particularly in the areas of animation and voice acting. What impresses me about the animation is that it’s meant to mimic live-action filmmaking, using techniques like racking focus and soft light that I don’t often see in animation. Plus, it’s just plain beautiful throughout nearly the entire movie. When an animated film throws a shot like this at me in the opening scene

…of course I’m going to be hooked on the art immediately. The character designs are perfectly fine, though I wasn’t a huge fan of Diana’s design because I thought she seemed too scrawny.  Personally, I like my Wonder Woman muscular, but everyone has a different opinion about her build.

An example of soft light

Like Batman: Under the Red Hood (which I reviewed last week), Wonder Woman has an all-star voice cast. Keri Russell does a decent job as Wonder Woman, though occasionally she veers away from an appropriately regal-sounding character and into a self-righteous royal. Nathan Fillion reprises his role as Captain Hammer plays Wonder Woman love interest/comrade Steve Trevor, an uninspired and ever-annoying character, with enough humor and charm to keep the audience from cringing whenever he’s on-screen (nearly every damn scene). Though Russell and Fillion both turn out decent performances, the real stand-out performance here is Alfred Molina as Ares. Molina is no stranger to playing comic book villains, and voices Ares with just the right amount of roguish hubris, without resorting to melodrama to get his point across. Virginia Madsen and Rosario Dawson also star as Hippolyta and Artemis respectively, and do excellent work, as usual.

With all the good points I’ve mentioned, Wonder Woman could have been a truly great addition to the DC Animated Universe canon. Unfortunately, beautiful art and good acting can’t save the movie from its biggest fault: truly awful dialogue. I’m ashamed to think that Gail Simone, who’s a legitimately talented comic book writer, had anything to do with these lines. Nearly everything that comes out of these characters’ mouths is mind-meltingly stupid. What time Diana doesn’t spend spewing the sort of watered down pop feminism that you’d expect from a Wonder Woman parody…

“Remarkable: the advanced brainwashing that has been perpetuated on females of your culture, raised from birth to believe they’re not strong enough to compete with the boys and then, as adults, taught to trade on their very femininity,” (actual bit of Diana’s sermonizing from the film),

…she spends spouting tired one-liners that completely negate her “feminist” stance.

“How do you expect to defeat Zeus if you can’t even beat a girl?” (to Ares)

“Well, I have learned one thing: it’s not polite to hit a lady!” (proceeds to defeat Ares.)

Besides being rage-inducing for any rational viewer, this kind insipid dialogue results in the uneven characterization of the principal characters. The best example of this is Diana’s character progression. For much of the movie, she comes off as a naïve man-hater hiding her bigotry under the guise of protecting women’s rights, which is just wrong on every level imaginable. During the well-written years of the Wonder Woman comic, she champions for communication and understanding between men and women.

Here’s how the movie shows Diana’s character development: after less than a day on Earth, during which she sees two instances of someone being treated like a weakling because they’re female and then gets hit on a couple of times by the always tactless Steve, she instantly decides that she hates men. She sulks around for a while, until Steve gets angry with her and tells her that not all men are misogynistic. In another whiplash-inducing character turn, she suddenly loves Steve and decides to subscribe to America’s gender norms, represented by the one-liners that I mentioned above and a short scene where she lets Steve open a car door for her.

As much as I don’t want to be too harsh on this film, watching it is like listening to nails on a chalkboard for an hour and fifteen minutes for any self-respecting Wonder Woman fan. Even for someone who has no attachment to the character, this is a dramatically irregular and tonally confused movie that has been completely drained of any joy by its pseudo-feminist ranting. Though it has a decent plot and introduces Wonder Woman’s origin remarkably well, the dialogue isn’t anywhere near as clever as it obviously wants to be, the characters don’t show any real development, and Diana’s and Steve’s romance feels like rushed fan-service.

Wonder Woman’s gorgeous animation and talented cast just don’t make up for its glaring flaws. Ultimately, the movie just adds to the general public’s confusion about the character. As a result, I can’t recommend it to fans or newcomers to the Wonder Woman lore. If you’re really interested in Wonder Woman’s story, go read either Greg Rucka’s or Gail Simone’s run on the comic book.  Do yourself a favor and skip this movie.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Leave a Reply