This year’s New York Comic Con was chock full of announcements, panels, special guests, and premieres, but nothing could hold a candle to the premiere of DC’s most important film of the last few years. I know what you’re thinking: “But Luke, how could any film have been more important than Batman Begins or Dark Knight?” Well, to be honest, Batman is a bankable franchise. The series wouldn’t have had so many films if it wasn’t marketable. No, the success of the Wonder Woman animated movie means quite a bit more for the character, and DC’s future efforts with the franchise. Thankfully, the team behind the latest animated venture was more than up to the task, and delivered a film worthy of having the Amazon’s moniker attached to it.
First and foremost, the direct-to-DVD film is the origin story of Diana. The film opens during an epic battle between the Amazons and the forces of Ares on Themiscyra. Opening the film with such a huge conflict immediately brought the first sequence of Saving Private Ryan to mind. While nowhere near as graphic (it is an animated feature aimed at both children and adults after all), there are moments where we witness the cold brutality of the battlefield, and get an idea of just what Amazons are capable of. Without spoiling too much, eventually Ares is defeated at the hands of Hippolyta. Zeus and Hera appear to lay judgement down upon him, and decide the Amazons will be in charge of his imprisonment. For reasons I won’t go into for sake of spoilers, Hippolyta wishes to have a child, and molds a baby out of the earth. She prays to the gods, and a big lightning bolt comes down, thus giving life to baby Diana.
The film then jumps forward to when Diana is presumably in her early 20s. The Amazons have since hidden the island of Themiscyra from man’s eyes, and continue to flourish as a female only society. There are some small character moments to flesh out Artemis, Hippolyta, Diana, and a few others. We learn that Hippolyta may regret having no contact with the outside world, and through some twist of fate, Steve Trevor’s damaged plane is able to crash land on the island. For the sake of this film, Steve Trevor comes off much more as young Hal Jordan (womanizing, cocky, brash) than one would have expected, but it works well. Eventually, there’s a tournament to see which Amazon will be the ambassador to return Steve to the world of man, and even though Diana is banned from entering, she manages to sneak in and win.
The movie really takes off once Wonder Woman and Steve return to man’s world (New York). The two share quite a few great character moments, and the chemistry between the two is a treat to witness (the bar scene in particular is a stand out moment). As you can guess, Ares manages to free himself, and when he returns to the modern world, vows to take it over. The final third of the movie is incredibly action packed, and showcases just how talented the people working in the animation department of DC really are. I’m not going to tell you how it all ends, but save for one forced moment, the whole experience is extremely satisfying.
As for the people behind the movie, writer Michael Jelenic and director Lauren Montgomery should be applauded for the way they bring the character to life in this film. One of my favorite things about the direct-to-DVD features is the way they break away from the TV series style (not that there was anything wrong with it. I love those shows), and establish their own look and feel. It helps separate the universes in which they take place, and gives each movie a distinct style. Jelenic’s script encompasses pretty much all the best parts of the character, and with the help of Gail Simone, he’s able to give Diana the movie she so richly deserved. Montgomery’s solo directorial debut goes off with nary a hitch, and proves herself a worthy successor to Bruce Timm (now working as producer). You also can’t discount the importance of voice director Andrea Romano, who once again is able to get the most out of the actors lending their vocals to their 2-D counterparts.
Speaking of the voice actors, while Keri Russell is excellent in this film (she does a young Wonder Woman that others will aspire to emulate), the show is stolen by Nathan Fillion’s work as Steve Trevor. The man flat out takes over each and every scene he’s in. Even in moments where he’s only given one line, that single line is the part you’ll remember the most. It’s just as much a testament to Jelenic’s script that Steve Trevor is so fun to watch, but Nathan truly brings the character to life. It makes me a bit curious what New Frontier would have been like had he been cast as Hal Jordan there. Don’t get me wrong, I think Boreanaz did a terrific job, but Fillion is channeling Hal Jordan so heavily in this movie, it’s uncanny. Simply put, Alfred Molina’s Ares is a regal bastard. Truly vile, yet so mannered, you will never think of Ares as any other way after his performance. Virigina Madsen’s Hippolyta, as well as Rosario Dawson’s Artemis, are great, but we spend so little time with them, it’s hard to say just how memorable the performances will be. Just to go back to Keri’s Diana once more… she does a wonderful job going from naive to confident in the span of the film, and should further animated features arise in this franchise, she will be hard to replace.
I could go on at length about how good this movie was, but instead, I’ll just say that when the DVD (and Blu Ray) hits on March 3rd, it will be worth every penny. The perfomances are wonderful. The look is terrific. Most importantly, Wonder Woman finally has her big break. Even if it takes a little longer for a live-action version to come, fans will be more than happy with this film in its stead. Seriously guys, they did it.
Be sure to check out TheQuarterbin.com for video interviews with the director Lauren Montgomery, writer Michael Jelenic, and producer Bruce Timm.