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From Under A Rock: Wonder Woman

May 27, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
6.9
The 411 Rating
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From Under A Rock: Wonder Woman  

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Next week, DC’s Wonder Woman is unleashed on the world. The reaction to the Warner Bros. DC universe has certainly been mixed so far, but hopefully the Amazon Princess can help steer the ship in the right direction. As we anticipate the film, we decided to take a look back at the 2009 animated Wonder Woman first.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman
Released: March 3rd, 2009
Directed by: Lauren Montgomery
Written by: Gail Simone & Michael Jelanic
Featuring the Voice Talents Of:
Keri Russell as Diana/Wonder Woman
Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor
Alfred Molina as Ares
Rosario Dawson as Artemis
Oliver Platt as Hades

Aaron Hubbard: For those who may not know, Wonder Woman is my favorite character in comics. I am both excited and nervous for the Wonder Woman movie hitting theaters in June, but I did feel like using it as an opportunity to spotlight Diana in a way that’s palatable for Michael and this column.

Michael Ornelas: I’m pretty unfamiliar with the specific stories of Wonder Woman, but I am more than happy to dive in and learn a little about her.
Ares
Building on Mythology
Aaron: This film is a loose adaptation of the plot of Gods and Mortals, George Perez and Len Wein’s relaunch of the character after DC’s universe reshaping Crisis on Infinite Earths. What I enjoy most about this adaptation is that it really dives into the aspects of Wonder Woman that makes her unique in DC’s canon; the Greek mythology. Several Greek Gods play a key role, there’s harpies and Cerberus around, and the culture of the Amazons is well explored. Diana’s solo stories are almost always best with a heavy focus on presenting them as heroic myths, and I think this did a good job at doing that.

Michael: It actually took me off guard from the get-go as I didn’t expect the tie-in to Greek culture and mythology. I didn’t know that was a part of Diana’s origin, but it’s actually a very smart way to start a casual comic book fan on Wonder Woman because it immediately contextualizes her in a setting many more would be familiar with. Seeing Ares as the primary antagonist was really cool, as he’s my personal favorite character in mythology (I even have a fish I have named “Ares God of War” Ornelas). It also allows the Wonder Woman franchise to tell stories in a completely different realm than the rest of the DC characters, and it gives her a space that is all her own.

Aaron: I think Ares was well handled here, even if I prefer the comic look over what they went with here. I also appreciated how they played into the complex family dynamics, with how Zeus will save his son and how Hades will manipulate Ares to get back at Zeus. And while the God of War is a near-total monster, I think they gave just enough humanity to him with his son’s death. It gives him a more personal reason to hate Diana (the daughter of the mother of their son, whom she killed). That said, I was glad they got Cheetah into the last frame, as she is the iconic Wonder Woman adversary.
Wonder
DC: Animated vs. Live Action
Michael: I don’t think anyone would argue that DC’s past few live action entries have been artistically successful. They make money, but they haven’t been living up to the hype and lofty expectations. On the other side of the coin, DC actually has a very good track record with the animated releases. It baffles me that they come out of the same studio (Warner Bros) and are so disparate in quality. I adore Batman: Under the Red Hood, and I think all of the Batman animated releases have been on the positive end of the spectrum. So when I was posed with the opportunity to review a Wonder Woman movie that was by DC’s animated department, I actually had really high expectations. I thought the movie is a welcomed addition to DC’s animated lore, and the story took advantage of the medium by visually representing a lot of interesting ideas in cool ways (I was a big fan of the island appearing before Steve Trevor’s jet crashed, as well as the destruction on Washington D.C.).

Aaron: I have a deep well of affection for DC’s history of quality animated products. From Justice League and Batman all the way back to the old Superman shorts. WB has produced a lot of quality cartoons, from Looney Toons to Animaniacs and their slew of great DC material. I really liked what they did with Diana here, and always wished they could make more Wonder Woman movies. Sadly, this didn’t sell very well, and the lack of success contributed to DC going to strictly Batman and Justice League releases for the animated features. Hopefully that will change. They’ve barely tapped into Wonder Woman’s potential. I’d love to see Brian Azzarello’s epic run tributed in some fashion.

Michael: I think that very well may hinge on the success of the live action film next month, which doesn’t look as promising as it should because the marketing efforts for it have left something to be desired. But any character as iconic as Wonder Woman definitely deserve multiple chances to leave that impression. Some of my favorite moments in this specific film came directly from situations you can only arrive at with Diana (I laughed out loud at the spot where Steve was just going on and on about personal details and asked himself “Why am I telling you all this?”, and it cuts to showing that his foot is on the Lasso of Truth). There’s so much under the surface with this character, and this feature made me want more, so it did it’s job with me at least, even if it didn’t quite find success on a larger scale.
Steve
Battle of the Sexes
Aaron: To me, the film’s secret weapon is Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor. He’s hilarious, making the most of a few clunky bits of dialogue but knocking it out of the park when he has great material. I really enjoy the back and forth he has with Diana, and it was a smart move to include him so they could play off each other and grow. But I also think this lends itself to one of the less good parts about this film; the gender politics. I can definitely see them trying to make a point, and sometimes it works, like when Diana helps a young girl learn how to fight so she can play with the boys. Other times, both Diana and Steve come across as stubborn and sort of unlikable. For me, it detracts from the movie, especially when Steve’s big “I care about you” speech comes after some awful mansplaining that does nothing for either of them. The film, to me, seems to be playing a little too nicely with the fragile egos of adolescent boys.

Michael: I actually felt very similarly about the film. Diana, as a woman, seemed kind of weak and like she was still living in a man’s world in this movie. It was also 8 years ago and I feel like feminism has made great strides since then, so in a way, it’s a relic of the recent past, but it didn’t make it any easier to consume. It wasn’t unbearable, but “detracts” is definitely the appropriate word here.

Aaron: Watching it actually made me appreciate DC’s decision to set Wonder Woman in World War I. The “fish out of water” gender stuff is definitely a huge part of Diana’s identity. But she was revolutionary because she was created in the 1940’s. Changing the setting here allows Diana to push back against antiquated gender stereotypes in an unambiguous way, and allows Steve to be a man ahead of his time. And I think that suits both of them better. I’m very glad Trevor is making it to the big screen and think Chris Pine is a great pick.

Ratings:
Michael: This was a solid entry into the pantheon of DC Animated features, but not the best. It was far from the worst, though. A lot of fun ideas were presented and mostly handled in interesting ways. I was a big fan of Steve Trevor and the way his character framed the narrative. I thought the voice cast overall was very strong (even going all out to get some names), and the film had the perfect tone, as it threw in comedy when it could, but so sparingly that it allowed the beats to steal their respective scenes. It almost reminded me of Batman: The Animated Series in that regard, and that’s obviously the bar when it comes to superhero cartoons.

B-

Aaron: I have mixed views on this. It played a huge part in getting me into Wonder Woman as a character, so it did it’s job well. But now that I’m a huge fan of Diana, I think the film could be better and she gets lost a bit in her own movie. Still, it’s a solid film in a solid series.

B-

Michael: I’d watch more animated movies starring Wonder Woman. Are there any more that are worth checking out? Or was this the first and last because of the aforementioned low sales?

Aaron: Yeah, you got it. I would say the best one to watch is Justice League: Doom if you want to see Wonder Woman handled well, although she’s also excellent in Batman/Superman: Apocalypse (which is more of a Supergirl movie than anything). Both kick ass.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming Wonder Woman?

Next week:

Michael: Next week’s pick is a movie I saw in theaters just because I thought the poster was interesting. I then learned it was written by Jim Rash (most famous for portraying the Dean on Community and his writing partner Nat Faxon (most famous for the short-lived FX series Married), who, as a duo, are Oscar winners for writing The Descendants along with Alexander Payne.
WWB
Aaron: Huh. That is an eye-catching poster, and not a bad cast either.

Michael: It’s a great coming-of-age film. Probably one of my favorites.

What’s your favorite star-studded indie film?

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6.9
The final score: review Average
The 411
Wonder Woman gets a mild recommendation from both of us. It's certainly a good direct to DVD animated project, but doesn't quite hit the highs of the best films DC has offered in this format. If you're looking for an introduction to Wonder Woman though, this may be a good place to start. And it was recently re-released on Blu-Ray, so it's as good a time as any to check it out.
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