Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Wonder Woman" (2009)

Starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Alfred Molina
Written by Michael Jelenic
Directed by Lauren Montgomery

When an animated feature turns out to be this good, I get confused as to what makes it so difficult for DC and Warner Bros. to get their live-action "Wonder Woman" feature off the ground.  Based on the post-"Crisis" reboot of the character by George Perez, "Wonder Woman" begins with a massive battle sequence between the Amazons, fierce female warriors led by Queen Hyppolyta (Virginia Madsen) and the forces of Ares (Alfred Molina), the God of War.  After Hyppolyta defeats Ares' son in battle, Zeus intervenes and puts a stop to the war. 

Enraged that Zeus would allow Ares to slaughter so many of her Amazons, Hippolyta curses him out.  Hera (Marg Helgenberger) begs Hippolyta's forgiveness, constructing for her the hidden island paradise of Themyscira where the Amazons can live in peace and harmony without interference from the outside world.  She also makes Ares Hippolyta's prisoner, cutting off his godly abilities with a pair of magical bracelets.

Centuries later, Themyscira lies hidden from the world, shrouded in magic.  Ares is still prisoner of the Amazons.  Hippolyta, after overseeing the construction of her paradise, sculpts a child from the wet clay of the island.  With her blood, and a blessing from the gods, the child is given life - and named Diana. 

As Diana grows to be a young woman and a skilled warrior, she becomes intensely curious about the world outside of the island.  Her wishes are answered when a pilot, Colonel Steve Trefor (Nathan Fillion) crash-lands on Themyscira.  Diana is charged with returning him to America.  Unfortunately, at the same time, Ares is released from his prison by Artemis (Rosario Dawson), who was fallen in love with him.  Now, Diana and Steve must track down Ares before he can start a war that will rage across the Earth, making him powerful enough to take on the gods of Olympus and rule the entire planet.

"Wonder Woman" is definitely among the best of the DC Universe animated movies.  It features a stellar cast, fast and witty dialogue and superbly animated action sequences.  Even though the story it tells is now the nearly thirty years old origin reboot of this character that's never seemed quite as popular as she could or should be, it certainly feels brand new. 

If there's any problem I might have with "Wonder Woman," it's that after everything comes to a huge climax, the way Diana eventually defeats Ares seems a little too easy.  Though it has a certain poetry in mirroring events earlier in the film, it happens very quick.  In the original comics, Ares was defeated when Diana uses her magical lasso to make him realize the awful consequences of his plan, the idea being that truth would trump evil.  This is, perhaps, a bit less visually impressive for an animated action film.  Still, what we end up with seems to simple and neat, especially following the complex battle sequence that leads up to it.  It doesn't necessarily destroy the film, but it certainly deflates the climax just a bit. 

Keri Russell does a fine job as Diana, Princess of the Amazons.  She's brings strength and energy to the role, without coming across like some sort of super-powered, bitchy uber-feminist.  Her distrust of the world of man is neither blind nor stupid, making the character come across quite rounded.  Add in that she can bench-press a car, and you've got yourself a lasting, powerful female character. 

Nathan Fillion does his thing as Steve Trevor.  He's one of the few actors in the entire film that doesn't entirely disappear into his character, not that it's a bad thing, since he adds a lot of fun to the proceedings.  He might be a pig, coming on to Diana at every opportunity, but he's also a great guy.  He makes dirty jokes, but he's a nice guy - As he explains, he doesn't open doors or pull out chairs for a lady because he thinks they can't, but simply because it's the nice thing to do. 

As Ares, Alfred Molina is quite menacing.  He's got a great voice for villainy, bringing real menace to the role.  There are a number of scenes where he gets to taunt the heroes in a sort of classic manner, and he does so without being totally cheesy or ineffective. 

In terms of animation, "Wonder Woman" comes out on top, besting other DC Universe efforts like "New Frontier" and "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies."  The characters are designed quite well, with the Amazons having obvious Greek influences.  The movements are fluid and the fight sequences are staged quite well, especially a battle between Diana and one of Ares' minions that rages through city streets and into a shopping mall.  The final confrontation between the Amazons, the U.S. Army and the forces of Ares in Washington DC is also stellar.

Brisk, fun, full of great action and interesting characters, "Wonder Woman" is a top-notch entry from Warner Bros. Animation.