Wonder Woman is back headlining a DC film, and although it takes an admirable journey through the Amazon warrior’s rogues gallery, her return is hampered by a script that can’t balance the many threads it weaves.
Since DC started releasing its line of animated films in 2007, only 2009’s Wonder Woman has given a female hero the opportunity to headline a solo feature. Since then, the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line has grown to three dozen projects, many of which centered on Batman and Superman. Forced, then, to carry the weight of so much expectation, Wonder Woman: Bloodlines tries to pack too much into the brisk 82 -minute runtime, allowing for only the briefest of (re-)introductions to the iconic hero, her world and her roster of villains.
Rosario Dawson reprises her role as Diana, opening with a throwback to her heroic origin. The first 15 minutes or so re-tell the story, which is a somewhat-baffling decision. After the 2009 animated film, Patty Jenkins’ live-action blockbuster, and decades of comics and television series, it’s perplexing that so much time would be devoted to re-establishing something we already know, especially in a story as crowded as Bloodlines. There’s a bit of additional information within the generally accepted backstory, as Diana goes to live with Dr. Julia Kapatelis (Nia Vardalos), an expert in ancient Greece, and her daughter Vanessa (Marie Avgeropoulos), who were so prominent in Wonder Woman's 1987 comic book reboot.
However, the film doesn’t devote half as much attention to setting up Diana’s relationship with Julia and Vanessa in this prologue as it does to re-telling her journey from secluded princess to modern hero, until it jarringly flashes forward about 10 years, to the modern day. The audience is then asked to believe that Vanessa pivots from devoted daughter to illegally selling one of her mother’s artifacts to a supervillain, all because Julia cared too much about Diana. The film moves at such a quick clip that none of its characters feel tangible, outside of Diana and Steve Trevor (Jeffrey Donovan), and they only really work because of what was established in previous films, and brilliant performances by the voice actors.
Despite the less-than-solid base that Bloodlines builds upon, the relationship between Diana and Vanessa does eventually make a compelling A-story. After working closely with classic Wonder Woman villains Doctor Poison (Courtenay Taylor) and Doctor Cyber (Moshan Marnò), Vanessa goes down her own, darker path, and Diana feels she must redeem her “sister.” The journey to save Vanessa leads Diana, Steve and Etta Candy (Adrienne Moore) on a back-to-basics Wonder Woman adventure as they journey across the planet, and meet a variety of established foes.
In the end, the story tries to combine Diana’s complex relationship with Vanessa, her guilt about abandoning her home of Themyscira, and an endless revolving door of antagonists that eventually includes basically every famous Wonder Woman foe. It’s clearly an ambitious attempt to show the many facets of the character to an unfamiliar audience, but the story is forced to maintain such a quick pace that there’s no depth to any aspect.
On top of the rushed, awkward screenplay, much of Wonder Woman: Bloodlines’ atmosphere is perplexing. In the midst of a fairly simple, kid-friendly story of redemption, there is harsh language and many close-ups of female characters’ butts. There’s certainly a place for more mature superhero content, even in animation, but in the middle of such a plain, flat story, it's tonal whiplash. Were they to make a more complex story that directly appealed to adults, this sort of hard-PG-13 would work, but instead the story seems ripped out of a lesser kids’ cartoon.
Thankfully, the bits that most audiences will come to a Wonder Woman movie to see — hard-hitting, fast-moving action — stick the landing with ease. Sporting a New 52-inspired look, Diana dances in and around her many villains, flying and leaping with grace. It makes for compelling combat, and directors Sam Liu and Justin Copeland clearly know how to establish a setpiece. In each of the larger sequences, there’s a clearly established geography to the battlefield, which easily sets apart most of these DC animated films from the competition.
When Wonder Woman: Bloodlines actually clicks into place, it’s a showcase of classic Wonder Woman villains and fun action setpieces. Unfortunately, the bonding tissue between these fights is limp, tonally unaware melodrama that loses itself to a needlessly abbreviated runtime. So quick it feels more like an extended episode of television rather than an epic drama the likes of the two-part The Dark Knight Returns or Death of Superman, hopefully Diana is given another chance to shine, with a bit more breathing room and a more focused direction. The many threads in the film are all intriguing, and her villains add plenty of variety, but it comes at the expense of any meaningful storytelling and character development.
Wonder Woman: Bloodlines stars Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Jeffrey Donovan as Steve Trevor, Adrienne Moore as Etta Candy, Nia Vardalos as Julia Kapatelis and Cree Summer as Hippolyta, as well as Marie Avgeropoulos as Silver Swan, Kimberly Brooks as Cheetah/Giganta, Michael Dorn as Ferdinand, Ray Chase as Lead Bandit, Mozhan Marno as Dr. Cyber, Courtenay Taylor as Dr. Poison and Constance Zimmer as Veronica Cale. Available now on Digital HD, the film will be released Oct. 22 on Blu-ray and 4k Ultra HD.