Finally Getting Around to Her...
Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (DCAMU 14)
It's a curious thing that speaks to how DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. views the popularity of their characters. When the DC Animated Movie UniverseWhile DC Comics was amping up production on this big "MCU-killer", the DC Extended Universe they were also quietly putting together another shared movie continuity, the DC Animated Movie Universe. This series was more closely related to the comics, directly adapting a number of famous storylines to, arguably, better effect than the live-action movies could. started, it was kicked off by a Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold). film and then, pretty extensively, focused on BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen.. The first six films (out of fourteen so far) either were Batman-centric films or features him in a prominent role in the team-ups. Even afterwards, the other major players in the team were largely ignored, left to wait until the tenth movie for a SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s.-focused film and the fourteenth for a movie dedicated to Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever.. Think about that -- we had a Constantine film before the decided to focus on Wondie, who is, remember, one of the three longest-running superheroes of all time (up there with Supes and Bats).
Of course, it's no surprise that we're getting a Wonder Woman film now: she does have a live action movie coming out early next year, Wonder Woman '84, and clearly DC wants to prime the pump for that adventure, get fans all jazzed for it. But that doesn't explain the focus on Batman or the eventually follow-up with Superman (neither of whom have had a major release since the horrible Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). I'll leave you to make your own minds up about why Wondie had to wait so long, but it does seem curious to me that it took them so long to give us at least one adventure focused on the most famous female superhero in DC's stable.
But then there's a lot to be curious about with this Wonder Woman film. Remember, Diana has been showing up in the DCAMU since the first film, Justice League: War (and an alternate version of her was prominent in the prior film that was eventually tied into continuity, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox). Even without having a solo adventure we do know a lot about her. She had just arrived on the scene in War, still a fish out of water guided around D.C. by Steve Trevor. She eventually had a relationship with Superman which, even later, ended on amicable terms. Even if we never saw her full story, we've seen her as a hero, as a caring friend, and both Diana and Wonder Woman.
At this point, in much the same way The Death of Superman didn't bother giving us an origin story of Superman because, honestly, we already know it, a DCAMU Wonder Woman film didn't need to give us an origin story; we know her, have a good idea of all the basic details of her life, and whatever shading they might have been able to give us doesn't change the fact that this is a story we've basically seen already (and recently, considering the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. Wonder Woman.
And yet, for whatever reason, the producers of Wonder Woman: Bloodlines decided that what viewers really needed was a film that dedicated half its run time to an origin story for a character we already know. So once again we get to see Diana (Rosario Dawson) save Steve (Jeffery Donovan) from his plane as it crashes into the water, get to watch as she stands up for him before all of Amazon society, and then we get to see her steal the bits of her costume and barge off into the "world of men" to save Steve and protect all of humanity. It's the same story beats we had from DCEU Wonder Woman just warmed over.
The movie does try to give us a few new things different from that previous movie. Given it's contemporary setting (and the fact that the DCAMU is still based on the "New 52" continuity, and thus the "Modern Age of Heroes" only started five [relative] years back), Diana shows up in modern times (and not during World War I). To become acclimated to modern society, she stays with Dr. Julia Kapatelis (Nia Vardalos), an expert in Hellenistic society, and her daughter Vanessa (Maria Avgeropoulos). Diana becomes fast friends with Julia, but Vanessa feels shut out, unloved by her mother and replaced by Diana. Over the months, Vanessa grows distant, eventually falling into a life of crime that leads her to work with Dr. Poison (Courtenay Taylor) and Dr. Cyber (Mozhan Marno). This leads to a confrontation between Vanessa, Diana, and Julia that leave Julia dead and Vanessa blaming Diana.
So Vanessa does the only thing she can: she lets herself become a guinea pig for Dr. Poison's experiments, getting remade into the bio-mechanical villain Silver Swan (which, note, is a terrible name). Then, aligned with Poison and Cyber, the three hatch a plan to attack Themyscira using a reanimated Medusa, all so Cyber can take over the island and steal the tech. Wonder Woman has to rush back home, an island she hasn't been to in years, to stop the villains and save all of Amazon society before it's turned to stone and lost forever.
I kind of get what the producers were trying for, to give Diana a personal connection to the villains of the story and tie it altogether into a story that would somehow resonate. The problem here is much like the issue I've had with other DCAMU stories: it rushes the details. Because we have to cram in Diana's new origin, her personal connection to the Kapatelis family, and watch it all fall apart before heading into the villain reveal and master plan, everything has to happen quickly. Nothing really feels substantial, like it has a true personal connection, because everything has to happen in short order. We're introduced to Vanessa, watch her bond with Diana and then become distant, only to then become a villain, all in the span of five minutes. That's a story that could have played out in the background of a larger story, all in the span of an hour and a half, and here it's barely a footnote.
I understand that the producers really wanted to get Wonder Woman into the DCAMU properly, to give her a personal mission to rival the stories that Batman and Superman have already had. But in those movies the relationships that worked best -- Bruce and Damien, Clark and Lois -- are not only the focus of the movies but are also built up across multiple films (four for Batman, plus two Teen Titans movies, and two for Superman). Here, Wonder Woman gets a potential strong relationship with Vanessa, a sisterly bond that then crumbles apart in the wake of tragedy, but it has to all get crammed into a single film and it just doesn't work. I understand what was desired, but the film can't execute it with grace and subtlety because it simply doesn't have the time. Silver Swan is rushed, start to finish, and it betrays her.
Not helping matters is the fact that the other villains in the story -- Dr. Poison, Dr. Cyber, Cheetah, and Medusa -- are all one-note and limited in their performances. Most of the time the villains hide behind the scenes, pulling strings and orchestrating an overly elaborate plan that's never really explained just to gain technology that's barely understood. It's all put together on the flimsiest or pretexts and then, for no real reason, it's all thrown aside so that Medusa can betray everyone and go on a kaiju-style killing spree (yes, this really happens). Whatever the creative team was trying for with the villains, they failed. There's simply too many villains and too much going on for any of it to stick.
The one relationship that does work, that of Diana and Steve, is wonderful. As I've noted in the past, Wonder Woman is the female equivalent of Superman. I don't mean that to sound demeaning, simply to point out that on a power level, the two characters can stand toe to toe. While each have their different abilities (heat vision and cold breath versus a truth lasso and magic bracers) they are, effectively, at the same power level. That then makes Steve Diana's equivalent of Lois Lane, and this movie plays that up. It not only builds up the seeds of a romantic relationship between the two (giving the character solid chemistry), but it goes so far as to make callbacks to The Death and Return of Superman, specifically with Steven riding in Diana's arms while they fly, a giant smile across his gleeful face. I enjoyed these moments and I'm glad DC recognized how powerful and dynamic Wonder Woman could be, how she needs a relationship like this in her life, something grounded and mortal to balance out the superhuman aspects of her character.
Sadly, the Steven and Diana side of things takes a backseat, more often than not, to the stupid plot contrivances and horrible villain plotting of the rest of the movie. If this film could have been split out into a couple of movies, one dedicated to Diana's origins and the other then focusing on Dr. Cyber and whatever stupid plan was in motion, that would have worked better. It could have given the Kapatelis plot line more weight and would have let Vanessa's betrayal, turning into Silver Swan in the process, act as the culmination of that movie, a dark note to end on that leads to a stirring sequel. Instead, everything is crammed into Wonder Woman: Bloodlines and the film collapses under the weight of it. I wish DC would give the films in the DCAMU time to breathe; when the films are allowed to develop their plot lines slowly, over multiple movies, the adventures really come together. Rushed films like this are more common and the series is weaker for it.