Wonder Woman (2009, Warner Home Video)
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I’ve always been wary of many of the direct-to-DVD animated superhero films, from both Marvel and DC. I wasn’t that impressed with Justice League: The New Frontier, nor was I bowled over by Ultimate Avengers. I thought The Next Avengers sucked, and that Batman: Gotham Knight was extremely overrated.

So perhaps it makes sense that it would take the DVD introduction of Wonder Woman–the first and greatest of all female superheroes–to break the mold and deliver one of the best animated adventures ever.

Created by William Moulton Marston in 1941 as the female-empowering answer to Superman and Batman (based on a suggestion from his wife, Elizabeth), Wonder Woman was very nearly an instant smash success, whose powers of flight, near invulnerability, super strength, lasso of truth, powerful wisdom, indestructible bullet deflecting bracelets and bombshell beauty have always stayed nearly unchanging, even though the character herself has undergone various iterations brought on by different writers throughout her publishing history.

The new Wonder Woman direct-to-DVD adventure stays true to her origins in Graeco-Roman mythology, while also borrowing from artist/writer George Perez’ excellent updating of the Amazon’s story in his 1980s run on the title, following DC’s 1985 continuity-revamping epic Crisis On Infinite Earths.

The story begins centuries ago, during a brutal encounter between Amazon forces led by Queen Hippolyta (voice of Virginia Madsen) against Ares (voice of Alfred Molina), the god of war. Hippolyta is enraged that Ares has “forced a child” upon her (the implication is that Ares raped her, much in the way Hercules did in George Perez’ run on the comic), and she’s out for vengeance. Part of that vengeance comes when Hippolyta actually kills the young demi-god, surprising Ares with her will to carry out the act. She then manages to get the upper hand on him and is about to follow suit, until the intervention of Zeus (voice of David McCallum), the king of the gods, who demands Ares be spared. Zeus’ wife Hera (voice of Marg Helgenberger) tempers Hippolyta’s need for payback by setting a pair of power draining bracelets upon Ares, rendering him helpless until and unless those bracelets are removed by another god. By way of atonement for Hippolyta’s misuse by Ares, Hera provides a secluded island for her and the Amazons, where they will remain immortal forever.

Eons later, Hippolyta is lonely for a child of her own. Under Hera’s direction, she sculpts a child out of the clay of Paradise Island, and that clay is infused with life. The child grows to become Princess Diana (voice of Keri Russell), who becomes the most powerful of the Amazons, highly skilled in the ways of combat. When army pilot Steve Trevor (voice of Nathan Fillion) accidentally crashes on the island, Diana gets a chance to prove her worth via a contest of skill, so that she can not only escort Trevor back to “man’s world,” but also so she can recapture Ares, who has escaped his imprisonment with the help of an Amazon who has turned traitor. Dressed in armor which represents the standard of the country to be visited as a sign of respect, Diana heads off to this new land to fulfill her destiny as Wonder Woman.

Producer Bruce Timm, the guiding force behind the successful animated Justice League series, chose wisely in director Lauren Montgomery (Legion of Super-Heroes, Superman: Doomsday). Under her direction, Wonder Woman is an absolute triumph on every level: the animation is some of the best ever seen in any of the DVD-direct series from Marvel or DC, the layout of each scene is masterful, the voice work by all involved–particularly Fillion (Serenity, Dracula 2000) as Trevor, Molina (Spider-Man 2, The Da Vinci Code) as Ares and especially Rosario Dawson (Clerks II, Seven Pounds) as Artemis, the leader of Hippolyta’s soldier force, is first rate. I had initial doubts about Keri Russell (Felicity, Mission: Impossible III) as the voice of Princess Diana. While her vocal work isn’t quite as powerful as her co-stars, she does suitably anchor the film with an earnestness and dedication to her character.

Wonder Woman is rated PG-13 and it definitely earns it. The film pulls no punches, as there are several on-screen beheadings, impalings with swords, a couple of shots to different men’s family jewels, and Wonder Woman herself–being a fierce Amazonian warrior–kills her opponents without reservation in the heat of battle. Although the film can be enjoyed by kids, the crisp, witty script by Gail Simone (only prior credit: one episode of Justice League) and Michael Jelenic (Legion of Super-Heroes, Jackie Chan Adventures) is definitely geared more to adults, no doubt.

Extras on the two-disc set include an excellently insightful and humorous audio commentary by producer Timm, director Montgomery, DC Creative Affairs VP Gregory Noveck and Jelenic. There’s a first look at the upcoming animated Green Lantern direct-to-DVD film, which basically gives background on the origin of the character with some rough storyboards. For some odd reason, there are background details on Justice League: The New Frontier and Batman: Gotham Knight, two DVDs which have been out for a while already. Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess has interviews with the voice cast and goes into detail about the making of the film. It also goes into the background of the character and her creator, which makes the documentaries Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream and Wonder Woman: Daughter of Myth fairly redundant. There are trailers for Lego Batman, Inkheart, Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, as well as two episodes of Justice League Unlimited: “To Another Shore” and “Hawk and Dove”, which highlight the power and wisdom of the Amazonian Princess.

So overall, Wonder Woman is a great DVD to own. Much like the underrated title character, it has a rich story behind it, great animation, and enough action to satisfy the most demanding fan. Finally on the animation front, the Amazonian princess is given proper respect so that she can take her place alongside her “older brothers,” Batman and Supes.

It’s been a long time coming, but at last someone’s gotten it right.

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