Wonder Woman looks like the kind of thing you might find inked up a tattooist’s calf; buxom and beautiful, almost naked, and carrying a whip. But Wonder Woman, the fourth DC animated original, and the first of them to function as a proper, straightforward origin story, let’s you know how much of a mistake it would be to treat Princess Diana of Themyscira as a damsel. That whip – sorry, Lasso of Truth – would be around your neck, and your neck – seeing as this movie continues the animated tradition of maturing DC’s material – would promptly be headless. Equality, folks. It’s a fine thing.
The most noteworthy thing about Wonder Woman as a conception, and this version of Diana’s backstory in particular, is not the fact that she dresses like a prostitute while advocating for representational parity – that feels like the point, and mostly a clever one. No, what sticks out is how ably this movie highlights the absurdity of everyday, cavalier chauvinism, without ever becoming preachy or losing narrative steam. The commentary is there, for sure, and the more overt instances of it range from fun to funny to startlingly astute. But it’s mostly a welcome subtext to a really rather excellent action-adventure story – one that’s easily the best of DC’s offerings so far (I’m watching them in order), and also one that sets an extremely high bar for the forthcoming live-action version. If it’s even half as good as this, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
That story builds a framework by cherry-picking from Greek mythology and the more active parts of George Perez’s imagination. (His seven-issue story arc, Gods and Mortals, from 1987, provides a loose basis for Wonder Woman.) The components are moulded much like how Queen Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen) shapes Diana (Keri Russell) from sand: there’s Ares (Alfred Molina), Hades (Oliver Platt), and Zeus (David McCallum); there’s Themyscira, the man-free utopia that the Amazons rule in secrecy; and then there’s USAF Colonel Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion), who crash-lands there and quickly runs afoul of its guardians.
Fillion is perfectly cast as Trevor, and plays the airman as smug, bewildered and smugly bewildered. Once it’s established he’s no threat to the Amazons, he needs to be escorted back to New York; a task that falls, after some shenanigans, to Diana. But a defeated and imprisoned Ares, who was being held captive on Themyscira and has finagled an escape, is also headed to the Big Apple. You can probably guess how things go from there.
At least, you’ll be able to guess the broad strokes of the narrative, which holds few surprises. But what is surprising is the sheer quality of Wonder Woman, from its playful rom-com writing (by Gail Simone), to its sharp and colourful visuals, to its abundance of quality action. Balls are kicked and heads are sliced off aplenty. It certainly helps that Steve Trevor is your typical macho “ladies man”, as it allows him to be consistently upstaged and outdone by Diana. Sure, it might be a bit of a contrivance that her entire worldview is built around this generic meathead that she meets entirely by chance, but it’s worth overlooking that kind of thing just for how fun their back-and-forth exchanges are. Diana has an invisible jet, too, and you don’t see me complaining about that.
Lauren Montgomery, who directs, and the Bruce Timm-led production team, have really hit their stride here. This is a brisk and assured bit of filmmaking that establishes a character and sets her on a fun adventure with interesting things to say. And with a running time of 75-minutes, it’s in and out – which Steve Trevor probably won’t be.
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