The latest DC animated movie is something I never thought I'd see in any format – the definitive Wonder Woman story. It's also got some seriously bloody violence and a deliciously raunchy sense of humor.
Wonder Woman traces a fairly familiar version of the character's origin story. When fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) crash lands on the Amazon island of Thermyscira, he represents the first man any of the Amazons have seen in over two millennia. Queen Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen) organizes a contest to determine who will escort Steve back to man's world, and her daughter Diana (Keri Russell) emerges victorious. Eager to learn more about the world outside Thermyscira and to foster a new dialogue between the genders, Diana quickly finds nothing but disillusionment upon her arrival in New York City. Meanwhile, Ares (Alfred Molina), the god of war, has escaped from his Amazonian prison with plans for revenge against his captors and endless war for all humanity.
Minus the addition of Ares, it's a well-known, well-worn take on the character's origins, but it's a story that lacks the iconic sweeps of Batman or Superman's beginnings. The Wonder Woman story is full of a lot of potentially tricky elements, such as the heavy reliance on Greek mythology and the presence of some complicated gender politics. Wonder Woman's triumph lies its in willingness to embrace these same elements that have likely stymied so many previous adaptation attempts; Gail Simone and Michael Jelenic's screenplay places the Greek gods front and center, and Diana is true to her status and beliefs as a warrior princess.
The entire voice cast is strong, although the standout is, unsurprisingly, Nathan Fillion. At the panel after this Friday's screening, producer Bruce Timm noted that casting Fillion created the danger that Steve Trevor would steal the entire movie. Keri Russell's Wonder Woman is strong enough to hold her own, but it's certainly true the film succeeds in large part because Steve Trevor bridges the gap between the audience and the less readily accessible parts of the Wonder Woman mythos. This is partially because he never takes the stately Amazons terribly seriously, delivering a bunch of lines that are often incredibly, wonderfully dirty. Wonder Woman is the kind of movie where the lasso of truth compels Steve Trevor to tell Hippolyta, "Your daughter's got a nice rack." If you know anything about Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (and if you don't, this link is well worth clicking), it's hard to think this is not exactly what he would have wanted.
It's also the sort of movie where Wonder Woman tells a little girl to "Unleash Hell!" in a play swordfight, where one of the Amazons calmly reminds Hippolyta they could have kept Diana on the island by shooting her in the leg, and where half the bad guys in the movie end up getting decapitated, including a minotaur. This is probably the most violent animation ever to bear the DC name, and director Lauren Montgomery manages to keep the violence hardcore but never gratuitous. Indeed, that is the general secret to Wonder Woman's success – the film always manages to strike with its complex elements, whether it's exploring gender relations without sermonizing or embracing Wonder Woman's mythological origins while avoiding too many stilted explanations from the Amazons. The film is also resolutely accessible, requiring no prior knowledge of the characters in a way that wasn't really true of Superman: Doomsday or Justice League: The New Frontier (although there is a cameo at the end that will have any Wonder Woman fans cheering).
Wonder Woman is a film that boldly pushes the DC animated cosmos into more mature territory without sacrificing the sense of joy and, well, wonder that should accompany the introduction of such an iconic character. I can't imagine anyone making a better Wonder Woman movie, although I'd love to see this cast and crew give it a whirl. Bruce Timm mentioned at the panel that, if sales are good enough, there is the possibility of a sequel. I'd be willing to go one better. If ever there was a project deserving of another Timm-helmed animated series, Wonder Woman is it.