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March 6, 2009 |

By TK Burton | Film | March 6, 2009 |

I confess that I am not a comic book geek of the caliber of some of our readers. I once was, years ago, but these days I content myself with Marvel’s Ultimate universe and not much else. That said, I still have a serious jones for comic book adaptations in other media, and it’s clear who the winners and losers are these days. Overall, Marvel seems to be winning the war when it comes to films, with the massive and obvious exception of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise. While all the Marvel films are not necessarily good (*cough*Punisher*cough*), and in some cases are downright seizure-inducingly, catastrophically horrendous (*cough*Ghost Rider*cough*), for the most part they are quite successful. DC films — less so. The Batman films, in all its incarnations, has brought them some success, as has the mixed bag of Superman films, but… Catwoman, anyone? Yet when it comes to animated television, DC is currently the clear-cut winner, thanks in no small part to the extraordinary work of guys like Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Marvel’s forays into animation have been hit or miss, especially recently. Their shows lack the maturity and cleverness that DC shows have. As far as full-length films go, their Ultimate Avengers films were rather uninspired affairs, although the recent Hulk Vs. offerings show more promise.

In any event, the work of Timm and Dini on “Justice League” (which would eventually become “Justice League Unlimited”) is some of the best animated work in modern television (as well as the work on “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Superman: The Animated Series”), showing a snappy, retro style and a more intelligent sensibility than your average cartoon fare. The characters have personalities and quirks, faults and weaknesses, loves and losses. Inevitably, movies would come out of those shows, and Wonder Woman is the most recent one.

The film centers around the titular (shut it) character, known among her Amazonian sisters as Diana (voiced by Keri Russell), and her quest to put a stop to the nefarious and psychotic Ares, God of War. Diana has been living on the island of Themyscira, when the plane of fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) crashes on their island. Shortly thereafter, Ares, who was being held captive on the island, escapes, and Diana is tasked with returning Trevor to the outside world, as well as finding and stopping Ares. Along the way, she deals with the violent and dangerous effects that Ares has on the populace, monsters, and a U.S. government that doesn’t understand the appearance of her island, and the increasing chemistry between her and Trevor.

It’s all a rollicking, exciting bit of entertainment, and it’s not your average kiddie cartoon, either. Nor is not your goofy, dippy Lynda Carter-esque Wonder Woman. There’s little camp to be found here. Instead, the themes of the movie are surprisingly mature, dealing with life, death, betrayal, xenophobia and its resulting jingoism, and a gender inequities. Sure, it doesn’t delve too deeply, but it’s still pretty advanced stuff for what is usually a child’s arena. The writing is top-notch, lacking the wooden dialogue that weakens many other animated superhero projects. Instead, the interactions between the characters simmer with real emotion, and the interplay between Diana and Trevor has a real playful sense of flirtation and attraction. On the other side of the coin, the bad guys are bad. Ares wants to raise an army of the dead to rule both the human world, and the world of the Gods. He uses people to get what he wants, and as they were in true mythology, the Gods are shown as deadly, venal and occasionally even petty. Characters die pretty harshly, and while there is minimal blood and no gore, there is a surprisingly dark edge to the action. At the same time, the movie maintains a sense of fun, of playfulness, allowing it to be viewed and enjoyed by adults and children alike — provided you’re willing to discuss some of the more grown up themes, Especially fun is Fillion as Steve Trevor, who succeeds in being funny, charming and yet still something of a cad.

Of course, all of this is helped by tremendous voice talent. Besides the luminous Russell who really makes a kick-ass Wonder Woman (if only vocally), Fillion is his dashing, charming best as Trevor, even when he stumbles through his clumsy attempts at flirtation. One of my favorite moments is when he’s tied up by the lasso and forced to tell the truth — when asked what he’s thinking by Queen Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen), he helplessly and shamefully replies, “God, your daughter has a nice rack.” Meanwhile, Alfred Molina does a wicked job as Ares, and the remaining cast is an animated army of talent. Rosario Dawson, Oliver Platt, and Marg Helgenberger all lend their voices to the film, and all do damn fine work. The animation is the usual superb, somewhat retro-ish style that followers of “Justice League Unlimited” and the Batman and Superman “Animated Series” shows utilize. It’s a smooth, fluid style that Bruce Timm has perfected over the years. The director, Lauren Montgomery, is also responsible for the excellent Superman: Doomsday and the even better Justice League: New Frontier, and she shows her story and characters the same respect and attention here.

Wonder Woman is another outstanding entry in the DC animated pantheon, benefiting from stellar production, solid direction and some remarkable voice talent. It does the iconic character justice — she neither suffers from excessive retconning, nor do they spoil her toughness and femininity with the silliness that pervaded the old live-action series. Sure, she’s got the silly outfit, the wristbands and the lasso, but they all work in the film’s favor — it’s not brought down by camp. Instead, Wonder Woman is as she was always intended to be: a beautiful, super-powered, warrior queen with a taste for justice, adventurous fighter pilots, and kicking ass.

TK can often be found staggering around his back yard, wishing for a zombie attack and shouting at leaves. He studies the dark arts of cheeseburger-making and cultivating the Merciless Pepper of Quetzlzacatenango. He wastes valuable time at Uncooked Meat, and can feel his wife rolling her eyes.

Wonder Woman / TK

Film | March 6, 2009 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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