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Since her inception in 1941, Wonder Woman has been featured not only in numerous comics but in a whole variety of multimedia, most notably the 70s era TV series starring Lynda Carter in the title role. Other noteworthy appearances of the character include the Super Friends cartoon, the Justice League animated series, and its sequel Justice League Unlimited.
In 2016, audiences got to see the first live-action iteration of Wonder Woman on the silver screen with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While the film itself received heavy criticism, Gal Gadot's performance as the Amazon Princess was well-liked by both critics and audiences. It was no surprise that, as a result of this, Wonder Woman would be getting her own solo movie (a project that had been in development hell since 1996). And sure enough, a year later, Wonder Woman was released and was both a critical and commercial success. She would later go on to be featured in both the Justice League movie and Wonder Woman 1984.
As a long time fan of the character, I was thrilled that the live-action Wonder Woman movie was finally going to be a thing after years of speculation and doubt, and I was further elated that the film itself was not only an entertaining movie in its own right, but it gave a near-perfect portrayal of Diana and her mythos that were generally accurate to the source material. Fittingly enough, the filmmakers took much of their inspiration from George Perez's run on the book, along with elements from the runs of Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and even Brian Azzarello.
But the 2017 film wasn't the first movie to tell Diana's origin story.
Eight years earlier in 2009, producer Bruce Timm (of Batman: The Animated Series fame) and company released this animated film that was the fourth release of an ongoing series of direct-to-video DC Comics animated films labeled the DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Upon release, the film was generally well-received by critics.
Before we really delve into this movie, I should mention that the animated film was what got me both into Wonder Woman and comic books in general. I can remember genuinely enjoying the movie and wanting to learn more about the characters and the various stories the comics had to offer. Wonder Woman (or Wonder Woman '09 as I'll be referring to it as for clarification's sake later) holds a special place in my heart.
That being said, having spent the past several years reading comics and getting to understand Wonder Woman and her mythos better, I must ask both myself and those reading this, does this movie hold up after little over a decade? Does it hold a candle to the 2017 live-action film and its sequel? Does it represent the source material in a good way?
The film begins in ancient times as the Amazons are battling an army of warriors and demonic beasts, all of whom are lead by the Ares, the God of War. The Amazonian queen, Hippolyta, is engaging in a one-on-one fight with the war god himself. It's revealed that prior to the film, Ares has made Hippolyta birth him a son named Thrax, who is among Ares' army. Hippolyta manages to behead Thrax much to Ares' dismay and anger. However, Hippolyta quickly manages to defeat Ares as he tries to avenge Thrax. But before she can behead Ares, Hippolyta is stopped by Zeus, who demands she spare his life despite the carnage he has unleashed. Hera offers a compromise: Keep Ares a prisoner of the Amazons, shackled by bracers that deprive the war god of his powers. To help compensate for the Amazons' losses, Hera allows the surviving Amazons to live on an island, Themyscira, that is shielded from the rest of the world. The Amazons gain eternal youth as well. Sometime later, Hippolyta molds a daughter, Diana, from clay and said daughter is given life by the gods.
A millennia later, Diana, now an adult, has grown bored with life on Themyscira and is curious about the world beyond the island, though Hippolyta disapproves of this. Elsewhere, USAF Colonel Steve Trevor, a fighter pilot, along with his team are attacked in a dogfight. The team members are killed and Steve is shot down. Steve's plane crash lands onto Themyscira. Confused as to where he is, Steve explores the island, but soon encounters and is chased by a group of Amazons lead by Artemis, Themyscira's fiercest fighter. Diana joins the chase and manages to incapacitate Steve. Soon after, Steve is interrogated by the Amazons with the Lasso of Truth and is deemed not a threat the island. Through a contest of strength, the winning Amazon must help return Steve to the US. Diana volunteers, but Hippolyta argues that she isn't experienced enough for the task. A fellow Amazon, Persephone, suggests that Diana join her in guard duty over Ares while the competition goes on, which Hippolyta agrees with, much to Diana's frustration. Shortly afterwards, however, the bookish Alexa offers to take Diana's place to allow Diana a chance to enter the competition with her face concealed under a helmet.
After numerous trials, Diana wins the competition and Hippolyta concedes that Diana is indeed ready to take on the task of returning Steve. It's revealed that Persephone is a traitor as she kills Alexa and frees Ares (whom she had been seduced by over the years). Upon discovering this, Diana is given the additional task of recapturing Ares. Given a star-spangled outfit and a modified, invisible version of Steve's plane, Diana and Steve set of the US, with Steve offering to help Diana in finding Ares.
They arrive in New York City, where upon some investigations, Diana and Steve discover that, across the world, a pattern of numerous violent crimes has popped up since Ares' escape. Figuring that they must wait until they can pinpoint Ares' location, Steve and Diana go to a local bar. After several drinks, Steve tries to kiss Diana, who rejects his advances and storms out disgusted. As Steve tries to defend himself, the pair end up walking into an alley where they encounter a few street thugs, whom Diana manages to subdue with ease. Immediately afterwards, though, they encounter the demigod Deimos. After a prologued fight, Diana manages to ensnare Deimos in the Lasso, but he kills himself before Diana and Steve can get answers out of him. Among Deimos' remains, the pair find a clue that leads them to a gateway to the Underworld, where Hades resides. Ares intends to have his shackles removed by Hades (it had be established early on that the bracers can only be removed by another god).
After taking out members of Ares' cult guarding the gateway, Diana and Steve face off against Ares and Persephone. But when Ares summons harpies, Diana is incapacitated and Steve rescues her, though in doing so, lets Ares and Persephone escape. In the Underworld, Ares tries to appeal to Hades to have his shackles removed. It's only after Hades taunts Ares by showing his now frail and enslaved son Thrax that Hades finally removes the shackles, unleashing Ares' full power.
At a hospital that Steve has taken Diana, the pair begin to argue. Diana argues that Steve should've stopped Ares rather than save her and claims that he would've acted differently if she were a man. Steve counters by pointing how deeply critical Diana had been about both him and Man's World and further mentions how flawed it was for the Amazons to hide themselves from the world. The argument ends with Steve admitting that his saving of Diana wasn't based on her being a damsel-in-distress, but rather because he cares for and that world wasn't worth saving if she wasn't in it. The pair then head off to confront Ares and his newly formed army, and they make amends for their behavior before entering the battle, which is taking place in Washington D.C..
As the battle rages, members of the US government are questioning the president as to what to do about the current situation. They soon locate Themyscira as the potential source of the more mystical elements of the battle. The president, under Ares' influence, orders a nuclear missile launched at the island. The Amazons join in the battle as Diana takes on Ares. The launch of the missile increases Ares' strength and size and he quickly gains the upper hand on Diana. Ares' increased power also allows him the ability to raise the dead. The corpses of countless Amazons killed in previous battles are made animate and made to fight the living Amazons, Alexa being among them. When Artemis encounters Alexa, she discovers that Alexa is trying to communicate with her and further realizes that Alexa is saying an incantation, which Artemis recites before Alexa can kill her. The incantation frees the reanimated bodies of Ares' control. Artemis and Alexa lead a charge against the war god, but are quickly stopped by him as the corpses are made to fade away.
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Steve pursues the missile in the invisible jet and manages to destroy it before it can hit the island (the missiles used being invisible as well). Hippolyta confronts Persephone as the latter admits that she never meant to fall in love with Ares. Persephone is soon ran through with Hippolyta's sword, and in her dying moments says that while the Amazons are warriors, they are women, too. Diana finally manages to defeat Ares by lassoing him into a bolt of lightning he tries bringing down on her. Once incapacitated, Diana decapitates him, ending the battle. Steve returns to Diana, where they embrace and kiss. In the Underworld, Ares is now relegated to being yet another one of Hades' slaves alongside his son.
Days later on Themyscira, Hippolyta sees that Diana, who had to return home upon completing her mission, is missing Steve and the outside world. She returns the star-spangled uniform to Diana and grants her a new task: To serve as the ambassador of Themyscira and to protect the outside world. The film ends with Diana, now in a relationship with Steve, spotting The Cheetah robbing a museum and attacking officers. As she goes to fight Cheetah, a young girl identifies her as "Wonder Woman".
As I stated in the preface, Wonder Woman '09 was what got me to be a fan of the character, her mythos, and comic books in general. I owe this movie a lot for that.
That being said, this movie is a problematic one that frankly hasn't aged all that well.
To start off more positively, though, the animation in the film is actually pretty solid. The character models seem to have this Disney-meets-anime style going for them. The fight sequences are well-choreographed, never once getting confusing. The art direction is also quite nice as many of the settings are well-realized, such as Themyscira and its architecture. The voice-acting, for the most part, is also pretty good, with Alfred Molina as Ares, Rosario Dawson as Artemis and a brief appearance by Oliver Platt as a morbidly obese Hades being personal favorites of mine. (Molina's casting here is also interesting given that this isn't the first time he played a villain in a superhero movie, having previously played Doctor Octopus in 2004's Spider-Man 2). And lastly, Christopher Drake's score for the movie is really good and, at times, pretty dang epic, which is befitting for a Wonder Woman story.
But now for the negatives. The plot, which is partly inspired by the "Gods and Mortals" story arc I reviewed years back, feels oddly bare bones. This could very well be the result of the movie's 73-minute-long runtime not giving the movie more time to flesh out the finer details or even expand the overall scope of something like the origin of Wonder Woman. In the broad strokes, the story beats and character arcs are solid, but given such a short running time, the movie feels like it's moving from Point A to Point B in a rather artificial way. It's not helped by its otherwise brisk pace making the whole thing feel rushed. This bare bones nature of the plot feels particularly noticeable in the final battle sequence. The battle itself isn't a bad one, but it feels too confined to one area of D.C., whereas I could imagine it being so much bigger, like having the battle rage on further into the city or something of the like.
While I generally praise the cast here, I find the only one that doesn't work is, of all people, Keri Russell as Diana herself. This isn't to say she did a bad job, but rather she feels miscast as the titular heroine. Her Diana has a voice that'd be more fitting for characters like, let's say, Catwoman or Black Canary? Maybe even Captain Marvel or She-Hulk from the Marvel universe?
The film's PG-13 rating doesn't feel fully earned. While the movie does feature content that would warrant the rating, the movie also feels like it shies away from really pushing the envelope. Except for a few key moments, the movie is relatively and jarring bloodless. The coarser language used at times feels more PG-level (a recurring gag in the film is the use of the word "crap", which makes this element feel all the more cringe-inducing). The film initially got an R-rating by the MPAA due to it being much bloodier in the fight/battle scenes. The cutbacks on said bloodiness in order to get the PG-13 rating stick out like a sore thumb, sadly.
There's a cameo by Etta Candy in the film that's rather embarrassing. In most iterations, Etta's portrayed as a close friend of Diana's who is very spirited, has a devil-may-care attitude and is rather spunky. She's also portrayed as being stout. In this film, however, she has a more supermodel-like appearance is and is portrayed as someone who uses her feminine charms shamelessly to persuade her colleague Steve to do things for her, much to Diana's chagrin. It's a small scene, admittedly, but one that's rather cringe-inducing to watch and is only mildly salvaged by a humorous moment where Diana lifts Etta's desk with ease to retrieve a pen she had dropped.
Quite possibly the most glaring and frustrating problem Wonder Woman '09 suffers from is that it fundamentally misunderstands both Diana and her mythos. As I've stated in past reviews, Diana is a character who cares for the well-being of others, is very compassionate and is very optimistic about her ideals of peace, love, and equality. Here, however, Diana comes off as aggressive, at times vindictive and pessimistic and far more willing to kill. While she does come to recognize that not all men are horrible people, the vindictiveness of her first impressions of both Steve and men in general leave a lingering and unsavory aftertaste. In other words, Diana isn't exactly all that likable a character here, nor all that, well, wonderful.
Two scenes in this film really stick out to me in regards to the fundamental misunderstanding of Diana's character. The first is a scene in which she meets a young girl who's feeling left out by a group of boys playing a game of pirates (said young girl identifies Diana as Wonder Woman at the end of the film). It starts off sweet enough, but then it leads into a moment that rubs the wrong way: Diana teaches the girl how to properly sword-fight. It's well-intentioned, but the idea of Diana teaching a kid how to properly use a sword and "disembowel her playmates" as Steve joking puts it isn't a very Wonder Woman kind of thing to do. A potentially better way this scene could've played out is that Diana could've told both the girl and the boys how play-acting war-like behavior isn't really all that fun. Diana could further mention how she herself had to grow up learning combat skills but that she also had the chance to play with her sisters, something she found much more enjoyable. To resolve the issue, Diana could suggest to the kids that they could play something they can equally enjoy rather than leaving one of them out and not involve play-acting violence. (A special thanks to writer and fellow Wonder Woman fan David Berger for this alternative version of events).
And the second scene is the one where Diana and Steve encounter the street thugs. In this scene, Diana antagonizes the one thug holding them at gunpoint and when Steve tries warning her that they could get hurt, she says "maybe I want someone to get hurt". She deflects the bullets fired at her, grabs the thug by his throat, demanding an apology, which the thug does and she forgives him, letting him and the rest flee. Again, Diana's characterization here isn't very flattering and the idea that she'd want someone to get hurt flies right in the face of who she generally is in the comics. If they had axed that one line of dialogue and Diana's antagonism, the scene would've actually played out a lot less jarringly. In fact, the 2017 movie had a very similar scene to this and was handled so much better.
The unlikability isn't exclusive to Diana. Steve Trevor isn't all that likable a character, either. Throughout the film, while not without his good moments, Steve is portrayed as a "pig and a womanizer" as he later puts it when he and Diana make amends. Quite a few times, Steve is shown lusting after Diana and making suggestive comments about her and the Amazons, such as when he tries making a pass at Diana at the bar, saying that Diana "has a nice rack" when he's being interrogated and when he briefly witnesses a group of Amazons bathing in a spring shortly after crash landing on Themyscira. Taking all of these elements into account, it makes the eventual relationship between Diana and Steve really hard to believe in.
And on a final note, the feminist themes of the film are shockingly enough handled haphazardly. Given that Wonder Woman has been a feminist icon for decades, it makes sense that feminism would be a major theme in a feature film about the character, but this one misses the mark. Throughout the film, the Amazons have a thorough dislike of men, which is admittedly understandable given their own history, but with a character like Steve, the movie seems to vindicate their dislike despite its intentions to not do so. Diana's first impressions of the outside world also fuel this vindication (something that does get argued about in the hospital scene between her and Steve). The critiques they make about man's worst tendencies do have some validity to them, but the way it's expressed here come off as preachy and heavy-handed, something I imagine will frustrate both Wonder Woman fans and feminists in general.
Is this movie the worst thing ever? No, of course not. Is it the worst thing to ever happen to Wonder Woman? Again, the answer's no. While I've been hard on the film up to this point, I will admit that it's positives do make this something worth giving a once-over. Plus, I'd imagine fans of the 2017 film and it's sequel will want to experience this animated offering should they discover it. As I stated before, this movie made me a fan, but looking back on it now as someone whose gained a greater understanding of Wonder Woman over the years, it hasn't aged well. It makes me glad that the 2017 film was not only great, but it gave a wide audience a far more comic-accurate and generally more likable and earnest take on such an enduring and popular character. I should mention that in 2019, a second animated Wonder Woman unrelated to this one was released titled Wonder Woman: Bloodlines. Rosario Dawson, who played Artemis is this film, voices Diana in Bloodlines and not only is she more fitting for the role than Keri Russell was, but the movie itself is also far more accurate to the source material. So I'd encourage you guys to look into that movie if you're interested.
Final score: 2/5