Wonder Woman’s always been a problem. Either because her origins are just a little too “weird,” or just because editors and writers keep botching her (probably some of both), she has the odd position of being officially placed in DC Comics’ “big three” while simultaneously being far less “iconic” than Batman or even the increasingly-unpopular Superman. A Wonder Woman feature was always going to be a challenge, and with Joss Whedon being fired from the project, it’s likely to be a challenge that Warner Bros. will fail at (either by making nothing or by making something like Halle Berry’s Catwoman).
Instead, if you’re interested in a decent Wonder Woman feature, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with this direct-to-video, 75 minute-long release. If you’re at all familiar with the celebrated Justice League TV series produced by Bruce Timm, you might be forgiven for thinking, based on the similar character design and the participation of Timm, that this video ties in with that series in some way, but no, this is part of the “DC Comics Original Animated Movies” line, which retells classic DC storylines from the last 20 years or so, this time with PG-13 rated violence.
Of course, you’ll be forgiven if “direct to video animation” makes you want to throw your computer out of the window, especially if you’ve seen even the billboards for the Disney efforts in this category (Cinderella II?!). Fear not; this would be a solid if unremarkable effort as television, and with a little upgrade in script and some voice acting, it could probably fly on the big screen (honestly, most super-hero action would look better in feature-quality, hand-drawn animation).
Wonder Woman’s origin was last revised (this happens to the best of them, including Superman) in a 1987 relaunch of her title, and this film more or less follows that plot (albeit in our present day). The story swiftly moves from the mythology-lite origin of the Amazons, to the birth of Diana, to her introduction to first to a man and then to “man’s world,” and finally to a whole lot of fightin’, culminating in an apocalyptic battle in the National Mall (most of the monuments we see are older, but I found it especially remarkable that one duel took place in front of Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial wall!).
Voice-acting is a mixed bag, mosty due to the usual C-list celebrity stuntcasting that this kind of animation is now subject to; Firefly’s Nathan Fillion inevitably shines as male lead Steve Trevor, but Kerri Russell, while adequate, is obviously inferior to her Justice League counterpart, Susan Eisenberg (an actual voice actress, mind you). Some of the briefer parts are much worse, honestly.
Despite this, I quite enjoyed it, although I suspect you have to be at least favorably disposed to comic books to respond to it in the same way. As a project that only fanboys (and fangirls!) will probably be aware of, it makes less concessions to “normal” audiences than the theatrical adaptations tend to, but the characters are still engaging. Finally, the film looks beautiful on Blu-ray; the backgrounds are carefully drawn with vivid color, and the characters are simple but crisp. Action scenes are dynamic and “dramatic” scenes are convincing. You might well be surprised to see a non-theatrical release look this good (if you’ve got hi-def, that is).
In the end, I can’t deny that it falls short of the best Justice League episodes, but if you’re looking for more animated DC, it’s definitely worth a Netflix rental (and if you’re just curious about a well-known but under-promoted superheroine, it’s certainly much more self-contained and tightly focused than the Justice League saga). And it definitely beats Batman: Gotham Knight, the only other release I’ve seen in this “line.”