From the makers of the excellent Batman: The Animated Series, this is the fourth in a series of direct-to-video animated features spotlighting the iconic superheroes of DC comics. Based loosely on iconic artist George Perez’s rebooting of Wonder Woman’s origin in the late Eighties, this opens like a sword and sandal movie with Amazon warriors facing hordes of monsters and Queen Hippolyta (voiced by Virginia Madsen) locked in battle with her lover-turned-bitter enemy, Ares the god of War (Alfred Molina).
Following his defeat, and the intercession of Zeus (David McCallum) and Hera (Marg Helgenberger), Ares is imprisoned and Hippolyta’s amazons are granted eternal youth and peaceful seclusion on the mystical island of Themiscyra. In the meantime, Hippolyta creates herself a daughter who grows up to be the beautiful Diana (Felicity star Keri Russell), a.k.a. Wonder Woman, bravest, wisest and strongest of all amazons. Centuries later, their quiet life ends when hotshot, American air force pilot Steve Trevor (Firefly’s Nathan Fillion) crash lands on Themiscyra. Shortly thereafter, an Amazon called Persephone (Vicky Lewis) betrays her sisters and sets Ares free. Having proved herself worthy in combat to become the amazons’ emissary, Diana flies Steve - aboard her invisible jet plane - back to New York where they must stop Ares from conquering humanity.
Those of you with fond memories of Lynda Carter in the campy Seventies TV series may be longing for a live action movie, but until that gets off the ground this snappy, exciting cartoon feature will do nicely. Mostly an origin story, drawing from Perez’s “Gods and Mortals” story arc in the comics, it’s a good starting point for newcomers as we see Wonder Woman (never referred to as such until the final scene) gains her bullet-proof bracelets, magic lasso, tiara and invisible jet-fighter before donning the crimson push-up bra and star-spangled hotpants we know and love. In keeping with the comics, Diana becomes a post-Buffy feminist heroine, albeit somewhat brusque, and screenwriters Michael Jelenic and Gail Simone yoke considerable humour from her observations of mortal men and women.
Much of the humour is mildly risqué, as when the magic truth-telling lasso compels Steve to observe “God, you’ve got an amazing rack!”, while the film borrows many of its monsters and large-scale set-pieces from 300 (2007). Thankfully, it does not share the same neo-fascist politics. The script wisely lets Steve defend humanity’s foibles quite admirably, while a key plot point rests with the fact that while Hippolyta’s enforced seclusion brought the amazons peace and immortality, it also denied them love and family.
After a promisingly epic start, the film settles into more conventional Saturday Morning cartoon territory, playing fast and loose with Greek mythology (several goddesses are rechristened Amazons, Hades’ wife Persephone becomes Ares’ mistress) with monster battles and a ranting villain out to take over the world. However, it still proves inventive and engrossing, with poetic twists like Ares’ discovery of his dead son in the Underworld and a touching bit of heroism from murdered Amazonian bookworm Alexa (Tara Strong). The animation is slick and engaging, reaching a delirious height amidst Diana’s pulse-pounding battle with Ares, while monsters come raining down on Washington D.C. Monuments are shattered (“Nobody messes with Lincoln!”) and a mentally unbalanced president launches a nuclear strike against Themyscira. Typically for a Bruce Timm production, the voice actors are well cast, with Russell and Fillion sparking off that same chemistry they shared in Waitress (2007). Also listen out for Oliver Platt as the corpulent Hades and Rosario Dawson as Artemis, feistiest of all the amazons.