The Ten Percent: Wonder Woman (2009)

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“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Ever since Lynda Carter started spinning around on TV, “where is the Wonder Woman movie?” has become something of a perennial question. Back in 2005 fans squeed when Joss Whedon was hired to write the script for a feature film, but two years later he left the project (and despite his claims to the contrary during that period, it appears that Whedon never actually wrote a draft script). Seven years later things are looking up with a film finally in the offing, and this week it was announced that Michelle MacLaren (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones) will direct, becoming the first female to direct a superhero film – assuming she stays with the project.

Only it turns out that the Wonder Woman movie we’ve all been howling for actually came out in 2009, check it out after the jump.

Directed by Lauren Montgomery and featuring the voice talents of Keri Russell (Felicity, The Americans), Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle), Alfred Molina (Chocolat, Spider-Man 2 [the good one]), Oliver Platt (X-Men: First Class, Fargo), and Virginia Madsen (Sideways, Hell on Wheels) Warner Brothers and DC’s Wonder Woman was an animated, straight-to-DVD release that pretty much sailed right under the radar. Yet it is the finest Wonder Woman film that has yet been made. Don’t let the animation fool you either, Wonder Woman ain’t for kids. In fact, I suspect that one of the reasons that the film was never in theaters was the fact that it would have received at least a PG-13 rating for violence, sexually suggestive dialogue, and adult themes like rape. (I also suspect that the biggest reason is that Warner Brothers has really never known what to do with either animated films or its DC properties, even when DC’s animation studios were turning out the best superhero stuff on the market).

Wonder Woman doesn’t shy away from the material. Diana’s origin story of being sculpted out of clay and given life by the gods is front and center, as is the character’s inherent feminist message. The film also offers no apology for its original inspirations. The Greek gods are present, and when we meet Zeus, Hera, Ares, and Hades no attempt is made to strip them of their divinity. One of my biggest gripes about Marvel Studio’s Thor franchise is how quickly and repeatedly they emphasize that Thor and the Asgardians are not gods, no sir, but merely super-powerful aliens who our ancestors mistook for gods, and their magic is really just advanced science! Clarke’s Law aside, somebody get me a barf-bag – that’s just cowardice. In fact, the latest Avengers animated series is calling Thor “the Prince of Thunder,” lest someone get offended by polytheism – or something. Not Wonder Woman, though.  The Greek gods are large and in charge and just as manipulative, scheming, and duplicitous as they ever were, and the Amazons – including Wonder Woman – are not afraid of using cold steel to solve a problem or two.

Wonder Woman (Russell) kicks ass and takes names in this film, but she’s not the only one. Her developing relationship with fighter-jock Steve Trevor (Fillion) is perfectly portrayed as two strong, independent characters learn to work together, as a team, as partners in an actual relationship. Steve gets called out on his skirt chasing, our culture as a whole gets a well-deserved reaming for how we train girls and women to think they are less than men, but Diana also gets schooled about the stupidity of the Amazons shutting themselves off from the world, and finds that, while men have their flaws, they also have their own strengths and nobilities. The film is also notable for providing extremely positive and realistic portrayals of mother-daughter relationships and sisterhood, two things which remain disturbingly rare in American popular culture.

Wonder Woman succeeds for the same reason that the best of the current generation of superhero flicks do: it is simply a really good movie. The characters are well developed and three dimensional, the story (by Gail Simone – oh yeah) is well paced, brings the heavy and the funny in proper proportions, and has an amazing beat throughout; the framing of the shots is incredible, and the combination of all of this, plus the phenomenal script and acting, brings more than a few “holy crap that was awesome” moments, like the one below:

That’s what I’m talking about! This Wonder Woman is compassionate and strong, fierce and feminine, smart and sexy – just like Wonder Woman should be, and just like she always has been when she’s been allowed to be. Wonder Woman has earned a place in the Ten Percent not just for bringing one of my favorite heroes to proper life, but for doing it by taking what has always been special about the character, and using that to create a fantastic feature-length film that pays attention to the details: story, writing, acting, animation, framing, and composition. This is one of the rare films that gets better, and reveals something new to me, every time I watch it. It’s also one I have shown to students to demonstrate the potentials of popular culture to challenge assumptions and deliver profound messages. Most of all, it leaves me wishing I lived in a world that actually had its Wonder Woman in it.

So go forth, but instead of unleashing hell, go rent, stream, or buy Wonder Woman – and make everyone you know watch it. Go thou, as beautiful as Aphrodite, as wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules, faster than Mercury, and spread the Ten Percent!

Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz are co-authors of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and of the forthcoming Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe (fall 2016). You can find Dale online at her blog unfetteredbrilliance.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @KDaleKoontz. Ensley hangs out at solomonmaos.com and on Twitter as @EnsleyFGuffey.

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