Robot 6

Bloody Amazons Ahoy! A review of the new Wonder Woman animated movie

Wonder Woman is going to hit you

Wonder Woman is going to hit you

The front cover of the new Wonder Woman animated film has a big sticker on the front letting you know that it’s rated PG-13.

This struck me as notable for two reasons: 1) it’s not often that a studio feels the need to broadcast their movie’s rating in large letters on the front of the packaging; 2) Why in Hera’s name does a Wonder Woman cartoon need to be rated PG-13?

That last question got answered pretty quickly in the opening sequence, as generic Amazons and assorted male (presumably Greek) warriors engaged in bloodsports on a huge battlefield where they quickly commenced to stabbing, hacking, impaling and generally killing each other without pausing for breath.

Apparently we are in ancient times. Wonder Woman’s mother, the amazon Hippolyta, is battling the god of war Ares. Apparently they were lovers because they make references to “sharing the same bed.” Hippolyta also suggests Ares has a small penis. They fight, then she beheads her and Ares’ adult son (at least I think it’s their son; the film’s a little vague on that point).

Is it just me or does all that seem more than a bit … unnecessary?  The movie is well animated and the voice talents are good; all the technical stuff is well done, etc., but I kept dropping my jaw at what it was in service too and wondering aloud what the hell they were thinking.

I guess they were thinking “Screw the general audience, we need to appeal to the fans.” And, let’s face it, Wonder Woman fans are by and large, older men (and yes, some women too) who have grown to expect a certain level of “maturity” in their superhero stories, which, when on a budget, usually translates to “crude attempts at sex and violence.”

Magic lasso!

Magic lasso!

So no wonder there’s that big sticker on the front of the DVD. A lot of parents who are going to pick this up at their local library or store, look at the simple, colorful, cartoon image of Wonder Woman on the front and think that this is the perfect thing for little Bobby or Sally to watch while they get the laundry folded. At worst, maybe they expect something along the lines of the Justice League or original Batman shows — a little bit of punching and kicking, but nothing too extreme. They certainly aren’t expecting  beheadings (there’s more than one) and kicks to the groin (lots of those too).

Let me be clear here. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with aiming a Wonder Woman story at an older, narrower market. Nor do I want to come off as some prudish fanboy who laments how the grim and gritty era has ruined superhero comics (even though it has) and why can’t it all be like when I was a wee lad.

Still, it does seem to me as though something about the character is inherently resistant to this sort of bloody tone. Even when trussed up like a turkey and wearing a bondage mask, or kicking ass and taking names, there always seemed to be something rather sunny and hopeful about her disposition. I know she’s supposed to be a warrior, but she’s not freaking Rambo.

Then again, maybe it’s just that this movie seems like a cynical attempt to cater to the lowest common denominator of fanboys rather than any genuine interest on the filmmakers part in the character or her background.

Bondage!

Bondage!

The movie follows the basic outline of Wonder Woman’s origin. Created out of clay by Hippolyta, Princess Diana is raised on Paradise Island and a sheltered but idyllic life, though she longs for adventure. Enter jet pilot Steve Trevor, whose plane crash lands on the island after a fierce dogfight. (Does it say something about the movie that Steve’s assailants are never named and they never show up again?)

Anyway, Ares, who was imprisoned on Paradise Island (because killing him would have ended the movie real quick-like) escapes from his cell at roughly the same time and a contest is held to figure out who gets to go after him. You-know-who wins, gets the iconic WW costume and heads to America with Trevor to track down Ares. Along the way there’s lots of fights and snarky repartee and a blood sacrifice that’s totally stolen from the first Hellboy movie. The final sequence involves a huge battle that destroys most of Washington DC’s landmarks in the process. Oh, and there are Amazon zombies too.

Ares and Hippolyta, the perfect couple

Ares and Hippolyta, the perfect couple

I don’t mean to keep harping on the violence, but it really is the most striking thing about this movie, particularly since it refuses to show a single drop of blood. After being battered about the city like a pinball, Wonder Woman shows little more than a bloody nose for her pains. Swords are run through bodies with no sign of hemoglobin. It’s more than a bit cowardly and dishonest; at least Watchmen had the guts to show you the, er, guts. Wonder Woman wants to head in that general direction, but isn’t willing to go all the way down that road, which again speaks to the general cynicism of the filmmakers.

Another problem with the film is some of the supporting characters, namely Steve Trevor, who’s a complete douche. Constantly commenting on Diana’s “rack” and generally making supposedly funny remarks and double entendres, he gives the FHM crowd the ability to revel in his overt sexism without any guilty feelings because Diana slaps him around a lot. As though being able to put up with a horny jackass is some sort of sign that you’ve come a long way baby (not to mention making up for the fact that your main character wears a bustier and form-fitting underpants). This sort of faux-feminism really sets my back teeth on edge. I didn’t once buy Steve’s conversion to “nice guy” and I was surprised when Diana kissed him at the end. But then again, the comic book Steve Trevor was always a douche too.

The “special edition” version that I got comes with a pair of documentaries which are full of the sort of self-aggrandizing backslapping you’d expect with a DVD of this nature. There’s a lot of talk about how awesome and subversive William Moulton Marston was for creating a female superhero without ever once addressing his peculiar sexual proclivities and barely mentioning the fact that a lot of those early Wonder Woman comics were filled with bondage scenes. (They seriously try to brush it off by saying that women got tied up a lot in comics in those days, which made me laugh out loud.)

I suppose it’s naive of me to think that they would confront this aspect of the original material — they’re not going to alienate any potential fans or newcomers by acknowledging that WW’s creator was a bit kinky. That’s what all the son-beheading is for.

So to recap: Impalement and beheadings? You betcha! Slight kink and bondage motifs? Not on your life! Honestly, while I wouldn’t have necessarily wanted either in a movie of this nature, if I had to choose, I would have preferred more of the latter and less of the former.

Look at my bustier!

Wonder Woman always goes into fights chest first

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Comments

19 Comments

My GF and I tried to watch this over the weekend. We turned it off after the first 15 mins (right when Trevor drops his “good rack” joke). I thought what I did watch was oddly paced and over-obsessed with gender. Why did we need to see 5 mins of Steve Trevor in a jet plane dog fight? It’s a Wonder Woman movie, not a Wondy’s Pal, Stever Trevor movie. And why did the writers need to make reference to the lead character’s status as female constantly, over and over again? Of course she’s a woman! Does it continually need to be brought to the fore that this is a FEMALE superhero film and not a male superhero film?

I think this is a very tough review, but I think it missed one important thing: Is there a storyline on the Wonder Woman saga that could be set as an example of the kind of stories that could be done with the character?

There’s neither a Return of the Dark Knight or a John Byrne run equivalent or even an Emerald Twilight, so I think that the filmmakers went for something that could fit the basic things we know about WW and added a sort of romantic comedy, not really big departures from the original concept. I think the animated version it’s way better than expected, and probably more than we could’ve hoped with a live action version.

And you failed to say something important: WHERE DID THE INVISIBLE JET COME FROM?

From the same place Silk Spectre II got the gun in Watchmen.

Exactly WHAT would bondage motif bring to the plot? Are Amazon’s really that known for their bondageism? Or for hacking people with sharp objects?

Great review, Chris. Sounds like it is as bad as I thought it would be. I have a young daughter and I would LOVE to have an age-appropriate Wonder Woman cartoon that presents the character as a strong female role model to give to her, but alas, it appears it is not meant to be. As you said, there is nothing wrong with stuff aimed at an older audience, but it seems a project like this would be a great way to “get ‘em while they’re young” — something DC is apparently content to miss out on.

I watched the movie and throughly enjoyed it. It was very much in keeping with most of the last few years of the Wonder Woman comics (which everyone has an opinion on, but nobody ever actually reads). Statements like “over-obsessed with gender” in a WONDER WOMAN movie are kind of mind-boggling, and reveal more to me about the commenter than the film. If you’re paying the slightest bit of attention and aren’t just tuning in for a mid-third-season episode of the 70′s TV program, that’s been the history of the character since her first appearances, and certainly was the intention of the character by her creator.

Pretty clearly, comic fans have demonstrated no lack of taste for violence in their comics or comic inspired films in everything from Dark Knight to The Matrix to any other of a few hundred adaptations or homages, but when “the girl” does it (even in the well established manner of the post Crisis on Infinite Earths Wonder Woman as Amazon/ Warrior), then suddenly its an issue. This was, really, Xena level of violence at best.

The movie does take too many shortcuts in its very brief running time, from a lack of development between Trevor and Wonder Woman to a completely baffling lack of explanation regarding the Invisible Jet (a plot hole the Titanic could have sailed through sideways).

No, I’d not suggest that this level of violence or sexual innuendo is appropriate for a young child, but it fits in neatly with the exact same kind of thing you see every week in the pages of the comics you’re picking up. Condemning this movie for violence seems a bit disingenuous if you’re buying newer titles.

Director Lauren Montgomery is a veteran of the Timm Animated DCU, but this is her debut effort as a director, and perhaps some of these things might have been corrected by Montgomery on Round 2 in the director’s chair.

Was anyone this concerned about “getting ‘em while they’re young” with the recent Gotham Knight release, which was less kid friendly than this? Or even Superman/ Doomsday? Which featured Lex in a bizarrely homo-erotic/ sadomasochistic beat down with a Superman clone?

I recommend picking up the Perez, Jimenez, Rucka and Simone runs on Wonder Woman to see how closely this fits to the general tone of the comics. Plus, they’re a good read.

Ryan, just to be clear, it’s not just that I thought the violence and innuendo was inappropriate for kids, it’s that I also found it to be extremely crass and pandering.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be anywhere near as entertaining as this review.

I loved this movie! Granted, I’m a long-time Wonder Woman fan. I thought the movie did a good job of keeping the core of Wonder Woman’s history together, and attuning to the sensibilities of 21st century action movie fans. It boggles the mind that Virgin Mega Store has this in the Kids/Family section. It is NOT a kids’ movie. The rating system exists for a reason. I wish people would pay closer attention.

There are a couple of inaccuracies in the review above.

1. Steve refers to Diana’s “rack” once (while bound in the Lasso of Truth), not constantly.
2. Hippolyta never says anything about sharing the same bedroom nor about Ares’s penis-size. She says she hopes he shows more skill on the battlefield than in the proverbial bedroom. Further, she says he forced their son on her like a curse, alluding to his raping her. The film is not vague on this point, as the reviewer suggests. It is stated outright… twice.

At a discussion panel with the director and producer, I learned that a lot of blood was cut from the movie. The first cut received an R rating. The irony of the review is that I think this movie sublimated Wonder Woman’s peaceful compassionate roots and expanded the warrior idea to appeal to the general public. Wonder Woman fans tend to like a more Dali Lama-esque character who can also juggle 747s. The uber-violence is for the action fans, not the Wondie fans.

I’ve watched the movie five times now, once with the director/writer commentary. It’s a terrific ride, and lots of fun. The sexual innuendo is really funny, but I would trade the beheadings for bondage and impalings for spankings if I could. Just sayin.

Chris, I get that. I’d argue it’s no more or less crass or pandering than any other movie, live action or animated (of the DCU Animated films) then we’ve seen comic fanboys celebrate.

If we’re going to complain about the violence, the sexism, whatever… then lets hold it to the same standard as other films, live action or animated. I can buy the idea that tolerance for crassness exists on a sliding scale with context. But I’m less forgiving on the complaints of violence. If we believe the violence is extreme because we feel its extreme for our understanding of the character… that’s a completely separate conversation.

I do admit, of the other things I should have mentioned the movie could have used more of, I agree with Boston. The movie touched not at all one the original reason why Diana was sent to “Man’s World” in the first place, on a mission of peace. Maybe in a sequel? But with 80 minutes of run-time, there just wasn’t time to build a storyline that wasn’t going anywhere if they wanted their Big Fight at the end.

She was originally sent to man’s world to restore peace by beating the hell out of the Axis.

cool review and thanks to the comments!

wonder woman is a great role modle for young childern i am only 15 and i love wonder woman. She repersents the independence of woman.

I think that wonder woman is a great role modle for woman. Wonder woman repersents womans independence and strenth.

Personally, I think this was the best DC DTV movie yet. I don’t like it better than the DCAU, but having entire seasons to develop characters goes a long way. I liked it hands down better than Superman Doomsday. I thought the plot flowed a lot more smoothly than New Frontier.

I disagree whole heartedly with the reviewer. I found the movie neither crass nor pandering. Honestly, there is something for everyone. If this wasn’t your cup of tea, they do have DVDs of the Superfriends. I think those harken back to a time when comics and cartoons weren’t as violent and appealed to kids. Personally I’d take this version of Wonder Woman now as an adult.

Chris,
My main concern was not the violence. It was how the entire film was a soapbox of how women are just as equal to men (and comic book writers). It was all…. really? Yeah, Wonder Woman is all about feminazism.

“Pretty clearly, comic fans have demonstrated no lack of taste for violence in their comics or comic inspired films in everything from Dark Knight to The Matrix to any other of a few hundred adaptations or homages, but when “the girl” does it (even in the well established manner of the post Crisis on Infinite Earths Wonder Woman as Amazon/ Warrior), then suddenly its an issue. This was, really, Xena level of violence at best.”

Uh, how much of Xena exactly did you really watch?

Xena kills people in combat without blinking, there was no shortage of wounds and blood shown afterward, she was crucified twice (once tied to the cross with rope and had her legs broken, the other nailed) she use to pillage and burn villages down, stuck dead soldiers heads on spikes (and victims in villages on similar circular spikes left out to die) and in the finale she was shot with several arrows and later decapitated. I’d say that’s pretty violent.

Hi Angela.

Wonder Woman dispatches folks pretty handily throughout the movie and never bats an eye, if you haven’t seen it yet.

For all of things you describe, Xena was still a television program with no restrictions on it from being broadcast during daylight hours. My intention was not to shortchange Xena’s violence in an average episode, but touch on the story based levels of violence (Xena) versus what I would consider gratuitous violence or romanticizing violence for the sake of “kewl” (see: The Matrix). If you watched Xena and her tendency to stab a lot of people or hit them with her super-frisbee, then there’s a level of comparison there which TV standards and practices felt was okie dokey while our reviewer found the violence excessive in the review.

I was never an avid Xena watcher, but I caught enough episodes. Obviously not the huge Xena fan you might be, but if it were a Saturday afternoon and it was on, I’d watch.

The only problem with the violence in the film is that it goes against some of the themes the comic books have been working hard on for the better part of a half-decade now. In the comics, Wonder Woman makes a sober and deliberate decision to break a man’s neck (Maxwell Lord) in order to save Superman’s life, and not only did that become a catalyst for the multi-year Infinite Crisis, 52, and Final Crisis storylines that followed, but you saw WW spending quite a bit of time soul searching over her decision and also paying the penalty in both the court of public opinion and the court of law. In this movie, you see her (and Steve) kill a number of soldiers without batting an eye (a bit where she slits the throats of two guards with her flying tiara was particularly disturbing). The decapitation of Ares wasn’t as big a deal — he was a monster, after all — but I was bugged more by WW and her companion killing people and not even batting an eyelash. Not only that, but with the exception of Ares’ death (and, arguably, others during the big battle at the end), most of the killings shown were not necessary. Trevor didn’t have to break that guard’s neck; what happened to the old karate chop or knock over the head with a cosh?

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