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

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."

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.

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.

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.

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