Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kinda sorta liveblogging Wonder Woman, the direct-to-DVD movie

(Note: I posted the bulk of this with a different introduction at Blog@ late last week, but wanted to re-post it on EDILW just so I'd know exactly where it is and I'd have all my reviews of DC's direct-to-DVD cartoons in the same place. If you read it there already, feel free to skip down to the bottom, for a few thoughts on the "extras." Or, hell, ignore it completely, what do I care?)

—A presumably Amazon woman just took a battle axe right to the face and crumpled, her corpse just lying there on the ground in the middle of a battle…

—There’s that goddam cloud of arrows shot I was complaining about seeing in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold just the other day. I forgave the Batman cartoon, as its aimed at kids who probably didn’t see Hero four years ago and the dozens of homages since, but this is aimed at a slightly older audience who probably have seen it a few dozen times now. Surely there is a newer, fresher way to show a lot of arrows being shot during a battle scene.

—All of the jumping great heights and distances reminds me quite a bit of Troy and 300, to the point that I find myself trying to sort out which movie which image seems most like.

—Wow, there’s another dead lady…a horse just rolled over her and just destroyed the hell out of her legs. The horse gets back up, but not the lady. No cartoon horses were hurt in the production of this film. Cartoon ladies, on the other hand…

—My God, a beheading!

—A sex joke…? In less three minutes I think there’s been more violence and killing than I’ve ever seen in all of DC-related cartoons I’ve seen since Batman: The Animated Series put together… It’s definitely earned it’s PG-13 rating.

—The animation is really nice, by the way…quality-wise, this is right below Batman: Gotham Knight, and head and shoulders above the rest of the DC direct-to-DVD movie quality scale.

—Here’s a panty-shot up Ares’ skirt, for the ladies.

—Aw, the minotaur has such dainty little hooves! He’s darling.

—Rosario Dawson seems a poor choice for an Amazonian voice. Her voice is so recognizable, she just sounds like Rosario Dawson, not a different character, and it’s a little disconcerting seeing a slim white redhead and hearing Rosario Dawson. Dawson, by the way, would make a great Amazon in a live action movie.

—Oh women, always kicking men in the balls…

—Oh, there’s finally some blood. This battle has been surprisingly bloodless given the high body count.

—Aaaand there’s Beheading #2, before the six-minute mark…

—Hippolyte and Ares had a child together…? Did this happen in the comics? Or in mythology? I guess its been a really long time since I’ve read either.

—And now we’re on modern day Paradise Island. The design is really nice in general. The Amazons’ clothes, and the bits and pieces of their world, look like a nice, modern style of descended-from-ancient-Greek. They’re also a lot less nightgowny or toga-esque from what they were in the original comics, up through the Perez era, anyway.

—Horses? Diana’s going to go ride a horse? What, no kangas?

—Oh, it just occurred to me that this is Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion playing opposite one another again after Waitress.

—Feh. So, who’s this mysterious enemy with advanced-looking jet fighters shooting at U.S. jets? I assume they will remain unnamed. Which is quite lame.

This is one of those things that annoys the hell out of me, wherein a work is “mature” enough for all kinds of amped up action and fighting and beheadings and blood and sex talk, but not for, like, rudimentary acknowledgement of the existence of politics.

Interesting (to me at least) that while this story of Steve Trevor being shot down by enemies over Paradise Island was fine during World War II and would have worked just fine in the Cold War era, it doesn’t really work today.

Who could one possibly even imagine shooting Trevor down? Al Qaeda’s air force, which is just out patrolling the ocean…?

The Wonder Woman origin story, as presented in the original comics and re-presented by Perez during the Cold War, can’t contain the same elements and be seen as anything other than super-generic fantasy today. (Update: After seeing the rest of the movie, it occurs to me that these could be war planes from The Cult of Ares, which does have helicopters and uniforms and stuff, but if so, it’s never suggested, and it doesn’t make much sense for them to be dog fighting with the U.S. armed forces anyway).

—And another kick to the balls.

—Steve Trevor’s middle name is “Rockwell”…? I was not aware of that.

—“A nice rack”…? The Amazons are unfamiliar with the idiom “crap,” but they are familiar with the idiom “rack”…

—There’s a chariot race during the contest to see who should take Steve Trevor back to man’s world, but no kangas…? Lame.

No, that’s okay; I understand why they wouldn’t use kangas.

—“Castrate”…? Mommy, what’s castrate mean?

—Oh shit, Whatsherface just fucking impaled Wonder Woman’s bookish friend…! You know this is more violent and bloody than The Dark Knight was…

—The explanation of the Wonder Woman costume is elegant enough… (Update: Or it would have been, if Wonder Woman, like, met with any one in America in any sort of official capacity).

—The suiting up scene reveals that this Wonder Woman wears a pointy metal belt that would make it impossible for her to bend forward…

—What are you kids doing playing pirate at night in Central Park…?

—“Would you like you to teach you how to swordfight?” Man, Wonder Woman, you are a sucky babysitter

Mommy, what’s he mean when he says “arrested for solicitation?”

That’s Etta Candy…the…uh…fuck…is…? Whuh…? Buh…?

—Hmm, why’s Wonder Woman super-strong? They skipped over the gifts of the gods bit. Maybe all Amazons are super-strong?

—Hey, this Nathan Fillion guy is a pretty good voice actor… (Update: I've really been enjoying Fillion's new show Castle. I've had it on while drawing the little 'Twas the Night Before Wednesday cartoons the last few weeks, and I think it is A-OK).

Mommy, what’s tequila?

—Ha ha, Steve Trevor is drunk! And he tried to get Wonder Woman drunk! So she’d be easier to have sex with! And they drank a lot of alcohol!

—This Kerri Russel lady’s doing a pretty good job too… The voice cast is all very good, actually. Dawson’s the only one of the principals that stands out as not being subsumed into the character. Which, to be fair, might have as much to do with my being most familiar with her than anything else.

—This monster guy Demos has very dainty feet as well. Ares’ minions are all pretty big on top with slim little feet legs and doll-like feet.

—Holy shit, Wonder Woman just beheaded two snakes and stuck a shard of glass through dude’s hand…!

—And then she put a high heel! Into! Dude’s! Eye!

—You know, I was thinking this seems like an okay plot for a Wonder Woman movie, like a grown-up, live-action one, but this is so violent I don’t think it would get a PG-13 rating if it was live action. Certainly not without some changes.

—Hee hee, his beard killed him. That’s funny.

—Steve just threw a knife into a dude’s chest. I’m pretty sure that’s murder, since the U.S. is not actually at war with the Cult of Ares…Man, Steve and Wonder Woman are terrible role models…

—Hey, is that Abraham Lincoln that Ares is about to sacrifice…?

—I’m not sure what the magic words he intoned while stabbing Lincoln to death were, but they sure didn’t sound like “Sic semper tyrannis!”

Okay, so his blood pours into the door and it opens.

—I don’t like the Cerberus design. It’s not very inspired.

—Woah, Hades is fat as hell…And he snacks on grapes? Did he get that fat just off grapes? That’s an awful lot of grapes.

—Uh oh, there’s an army of mythological creatures in Washington D.C….I’m getting Amazons Attack flashbacks here…

—They never explained the invisible jet either, she just kind of has an invisible-ish jet.

—As with Amazons Attack, it’s kinda silly that, like a hundred people with swords and arrows can even stress out the U.S. military…at least here it’s unfolding quickly, so maybe the most powerful nation on earth didn’t have time to, like, find machine guns or whatever. One of the (many) weaknesses of Amazons Attack was how lopsided the two forces were, and that the weaker force seemed to be kicking the hell out of the stronger one.

—Hey, this Condi Rice is even hotter than our Condi Rice…

—Wow, did Bush just launch a nuclear missile form the White House itself…?

—Okay, this scene with the Steve flying through clouds of dragons? That would be very expensive to make in a live action movie.

—I like movies in which skeletons use swords.

—The zombie kung fu is pretty sweet; whatever the weaknesses of the film as a story or as a whole work, the action animation is all pretty great.

—And the invisible missiles gag was cute too.

—And there’s Beheading #3.

—Well, I didn’t expect to see The Cheetah in there like that, but that’s kinda neat…

Well, that’s that. In general this film suffers many of the same problems that the previous DC direct-to-DVD movies suffered from.

It’s way too short, so that characterization and motivation often feel forced and flawed. Certainly this isn’t true with the bigger, mythological business—Ares wants to cause war because he’s the god of war, Hippolyte wants to protect her daughter because she’s her daughter—but the relationship between Steve and Diana seems rushed and nonsensical, as does the way they go about her mission of stopping Ares.

It seems a little cheap too, which might seem like an odd criticism considering how genuinely impressive all the animation is, but a viewer can see the creators cutting corners and trimming costs. New York City, for example, looks like a ghost town; maybe 25 people live there, tops.

And, like its predecessors, it’s in a weird place where it seems definitely not for kids, but also not really for adults either, ending up in a place that, for me, is the most unsatisfying place, a movie aimed at no one. There’s a visible calculation about how violent, how bloody, how sexy something can be to get at the absolute edge of acceptable (whatever is defining acceptable here) without going over.

That said, I do think it was the best of these things so far, and I think the general structure, tone and point-of-view would have made for a perfectly decent big budget live action Hollywood blockbuster type superhero movie, assuming it had another twenty minutes to half hour to flesh itself out and perhaps better ground itself in the real world.

Bonus features!

—I listened to the audio commentary, by director Lauren Montgomery (an actual lady!), writer Michael Jelenic (Gail Simone gets a co-writer credit for the story), producer Bruce Timm, and maybe another person or two I can't remember. It's fairly interesting if you're curious about how these things get made exactly, and it's worth noting that a lot of time goes into discussing cuts. It sounds like the movie was at one point an actual not-terrible film, but had to be cut down to the insanely short run time of seventy-some minutes, so a lot of stuff had to go.

While the various filmmakers aren't like, openly bitching about it or anything, I get the sense that they know the movie is way too short and they know what it's lacking and where. Maybe given a longer leash—ninety minutes, more money—they could have made a great Wonder Woman movie. (Regarding money, I still don't understand the math of these things. Why spend money getting an all-star cast, instead of using cheaper, professional voice actors? If they had the lady who did Wondy's voice on JLU, for example, I can't imagine anyone would have not bought this thing.

—There's a short making-of featurette in which Paul Levitz, Dan DiDio and other comic book people appear. I think Denny O'Neil was in it, but he may have been in the Green Lantern featurette. Anyway, Paul Levitz says this is the best version of the Wonder Woman story ever. Paul Levitz is wrong, and he needs to re-read Wonder Woman Archives Vol. 1 again at his earliest convenience.

—What's with all the facial hair at DC Comics?

—There's also a making-of featurette about the next direct-to-DVD movie in the works, Green Lantern: First Flight. It features Hal Jordan, and will be set mostly in space, which is probably a good idea, since New Frontier already told the Hal Jordan origin story.

—Christopher Meloni, TV's Detective Elliot Stabler, will be playing Hal Jordan. I think having a professional actor whose career revolves around playing a police officer being cast to voice a space-police officer is a pretty good idea.

—In the part of the featurette explaining who Green Lantern is and why Hal Jordan is the imaginary boyfriend of so many DC comics fans, they first talk about Alan Scott for a while, noting he's just a regular guy who neither had superpowers or even had to work real hard like Batman to become super. I never really thought of that, but I guess Green Lanterns are like superheroes for lazy people. Anyway, then they talk about what made Hal so cool, how his being a test pilot really captured the zeitgeist of the time, back when so few people had ever even rode in an airplane. That is true. But isn't it also a good argument for why it was way past time to retire Jordan a decade or so ago when DC offed him in favor of a character who had what many Green Lantern fans then considered a cool job? Like, the mystery of riding in airplanes has sort of evaporated, now that more people ride them then passenger trains, right?

I didn't watch the entire thing, so I don't know if they ever got around to talking about John, Guy and Kyle, or how Hal Jordan became an insurance salesman at a time when kids thought that was the coolest job in the world.

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