Four Torches (Out of Five)
Wonder Woman’s most difficult balancing act has never been to find a way to save the world from Nazis, or act as an emissary from the paradise of peaceful Themyscira Island to the rest of the violent world.
No, it’s been to find a way to present a reasonably authentic female action hero to an audience that is made up primarily of male fans.
DC Comic new direct-to-DVD adaptation Wonder Woman, the latest in an animated movie series that has also included Superman Doomsday and Justice League: The New Frontier, does it by emphasizing the “warrior” aspect of the Amazon women and piling on the action — some of it pretty gritty — while also playing up the story’s feminist, female-empowering roots, and even venturing out into some mild social commentary.
And they pretty much pull it off without a hitch.
It helps that they didn’t cheap out on the production. The script is smart, the animation looks great, and they’ve hired an absolutely top-notch cast of voice talent: Kerry Russel (terrific as Woman Woman); Nathan Fillion (a cheeky Steve Trevor); Alfred Molina (always reliable, as the villain Ares), and Virginia Madsen (gloriously regal as Queen Hippolyta).
But the producers of this movie know where their bread is buttered. The action is thick and heavy, as in this scene where Steve and Diana Prince, Wonder Woman’s alter-ego, take on some heavies in an alley:
Wonder Woman is far cry from the typical female in the world of superheroes: the long-suffering crime-fighter’s girlfriend, a la Batman’s Vicky Vale or Spiderman’s Mary Jane, or even the scantily-clad, one-dimensional superhero that exists to be the object of all the male heroes’ sexual desire: the Watchmen’s Silk Spectre, the Fantastic Four’s Invisible Girl, or the X-Men’s Jean Grey.
This latest Wonder Woman even has an in-your-face feminist point-of-view.
“Remarkable, the advanced brainwashing that has been perpetuated on the females of your culture,” Diana tells Steve at one point. “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.”
But it’s not all a treatise in Women’s Studies. When those robbers attempt to rob Diana and Steve, she not only refuses to hand over their money, she — hilariously — ask for an apology, “for contributing to my present disillusionment with men in general.”
After all of Diana’s gender-generalizations, we also get Steve’s male perspective. “Newsflash!” he says. “The Amazons aren’t so perfect either. You act brave but cutting yourself off from the outside world was cowardly. Not to mention stupid — like less communication between men and women is what the world needed.”
In other words, this latest Wonder Woman actually tries to say something interesting about the relationship between the sexes.
Still, one line seemed weirdly out-of-place in this tale of female empowerment: a character’s very retro accusation to Queen Hippolyta that “the Amazon are warriors, but we are women too” — as if women are somehow required to have motherhood and men to be “complete.”
And let’s be very clear: these women can be empowered, mostly because they’re willing to fight on men’s terms, on the battlefield, and also because they’re god-like in their beauty. Toward the end of the movie, an aide to the president says they’ve been saved by an army of “armored supermodels,” which pretty much sums up how most American men seem to like their “empowered” women.
As for the story, it didn’t break much new ground, with a relatively faithful (if graphically violent) explanation of both the Amazon’s and Wonder Woman’s immortal originals, and a mildly formulaic plot about Ares’ plan to make the modern-day world even more violent.
Still, the movie knows what it wants to do, and it does a pretty good job doing it.
Woman Woman has been released in three editions: a single movie DVD, a blue-ray edition, and a two-disc edition with four hours of material that includes two documentaries, Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream (about the comic book’s impact) and Wonder Woman: The Daughters of Myth (about the character of Wonder Woman).
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Check out the movie’s trailer: