It’s no surprise that the DC Animated universe would find its way back to a Wonder Woman solo film after the success of Patty Jenkins’ 2017 Wonder Woman. Jenkins’ film showed the cinematic potential of Diana Prince and smartly focused on her origins and first experiences in the world outside Themyscira. Wonder Woman: Bloodlines follows a similar track at first, but expands the timeline of the story much further than your standard origin retread and gives the film a unique identity. Bloodlines has a strong sense of theme throughout, but its uneven story structure and pacing stagnate the film between its strong action sequences and prevents Bloodline from fully reaching its potential.
Bloodlines’ opening origin retread feels more like an obligation than a truly essential set-piece, but it does set up the film’s strong theme of broken relationships between mothers and their daughters. When Diana tries to leave Themyscira, her mother, Queen Hippolyta, confronts her, which leads to an impressive fight scene between the two. It’s a great action scene not just because of its fluid animation, but because of the charged emotions between the two combatants. However, Diana’s decision to leave Themyscira doesn’t feel properly developed as the Parademon threat to “man’s world” is never fully realized. Some of the weaknesses in the film’s animation style also rear their head right from the start with a scene where Diana flies down with Steve from his prison cell being so stiff that it comes off as a joke. In general, all of Bloodlines’ fight scenes are well animated while dialogue-driven scenes feature stiff character figures with not much effort into animating anything beyond their mouths – par for the course of DC’s Animated features.
What further makes the opening scenes on Themyscira feel rushed is that the film has essentially two separate prologues. After Diana leaves Themyscira, she lives with Dr. Julia Kapatelis and her daughter Vanessa. Diana’s presence in the household drives a wedge between Julia and Vanessa despite Diana’s attempts to befriend Vanessa. This second prologue is the more essential of the two as Vanessa plays a huge part in the film’s plot and serves as the main emotional anchor. It’s a quieter prologue than the Themyscira scenes, but more intriguing as there is a slowly building tension within Vanessa despite everyone’s attempts to make her feel loved. It’s a more complex issue for Diana to solve that can’t be rectified by brute force like most of her challenges. In fact, her love for others (even her adversaries) is what makes her best storylines unique and it’s essential to touch upon that aspect of her character.
Once the film jumps forward five years after our two prologues, we get a better idea of how our cast of characters work together. Rosario Dawson’s Wonder Woman is solid as ever, but she definitely shines more in the high energy action scenes. Dawson attempts sincerity in the quieter moments but is betrayed by the lack of emotion in Diana’s facial animations, leaving her performance falling flat in certain scenes. The true standout performance is Mari Avgeropoulos’ Vanessa who eventually becomes the villainous Silver Swan. Her transformation from moody teen to outright villain comes off extremely well and Avgeropoulos displays great range and turns in great work throughout. Even in her rebellious moody teen scenes, Avgeropoulos manages to imbue her performance with a degree of unspoken heartbreak that makes her villainous turn feel earned.
Less successful is Jeffrey Donovan’s Steve Trevor who doesn’t leave much of an impression. There’s two versions of Steve Trevor that DC currently uses. One is the lovable rogue that Chris Pine popularized in the 2017 film and the other is the somewhat rigid, disciplined soldier that appears in the current Rebirth era of comics. Donovan’s performance falls somewhere in between, cracking jokes here and there but never imbuing the role with much personality beyond the mild quips.
After Diana is established as a crime fighter alongside Steve Trevor, the plot gains more traction once Villainy Inc., made up of Doctor Poison, Doctor Cyber, Cheetah, Giganta, and later Silver Swan, becomes involved. The DC animated films that aren’t directly adapting a known storyline have the luxury of being free to develop a story free of a predetermined plot. Bloodlines doesn’t take advantage of that freedom and delivers a plot that can easily be summed up as find Themyscira and fight whoever shows up along the way, although Silver Swan’s slightly reworked origin is Bloodlines most intriguing addition.
The middle of the film is mostly made up of a few action scenes that pit Diana against various members of Villainy Inc., all of which result in exciting fight scenes. Impressive above all, Bloodlines’ fight choreography has Diana fight over-sized villains like Giganta, which other films have had difficulty with, but is pulled off well here. Each fight implements all of Diana’s abilities and skills such as blocking bullets with her gauntlets and super strength, but also her level of understanding and empathy. A key victory is achieved when Diana understands that one villain is under mind control and wins the day by saving him, rather than beating him down. The animation during all of these scenes also does a great job of keeping the action intense and is aided by Frederik Wiedmann’s musical score, which features many different styles throughout.
Despite the effective action, directors Justin Copeland and Sam Liu struggle to keep the pace of the film feeling fluid in between these set pieces. On paper, many of the conversations that writer Mairghread Scott writes are fine, but the editing is too slow in certain conversations and brings the film to a standstill. Worse is whenever a character cracks a joke and pauses for a moment, as if there’s a laugh track to wait for. Since the facial animation is very stiff, watching a plain-faced Steve Trevor wait for a joke to get a laugh sucks the air out of many scenes. Additionally, most of the shot compositions throughout are very flat and sometimes awkward. Copeland and Liu generally settle for a simple shot reverse shot in most dialogue sequences and sometimes even place a character in dead center frame when delivering lines, which accidentally creates an uneasy atmosphere. Many scenes take place in Veronica Cale’s laboratory, which also makes for a dull setting for our characters to talk through plans. There needs to be more work done in the backgrounds to keep these settings fresh and dynamic to allow our characters to trudge through the necessary exposition without boring viewers.
Bloodlines has a good grasp on what makes Diana unique in the DC Universe, but the bare-bones plot does nothing to make the film truly gripping beyond the flashes of spectacle. Scott’s screenplay does a good job of keeping Wonder Woman true to her character and thrives when having her characters deal with their fractured relationships with their parents. These strong themes established in the first act, unfortunately, get lost in the chaos and once the third act arrives, much of the interior of the characters gets forgotten. Despite this, the third act is a thrilling conclusion and does its best to bring its themes full circle. Silver Swan is the most effective villain due to her connection to Diana, but Villainy Inc. never really establishes itself as an interesting threat and the addition of an additional mystery villain near the end further makes them feel like footnotes in their own plan. Diana does get a good character arc by the end of Bloodlines, but the supporting cast including Steve and Etta Candy don’t get much to do beyond assisting Diana and delivering exposition when necessary. However, it is refreshing for Steve and Diana’s eventual love story to not take center stage. Scott knows the relationship parallel between Silver Swan and her mother along with Diana and Hippolyta’s is the true heart of the film and thankfully spends more time developing that theme.
For some quick thoughts on some of the film’s later developments, hit the spoiler tag below.
While Wonder Woman: Bloodlines struggles with pacing issues, the film’s multiple action sequences are exciting and fresh and always give Diana new, different ways to defeat her foes beyond just brute strength. I wish Mairghread Scott’s script used the freedom of not being based off a previous comic story a little more, instead of delivering a fairly basic structure around finding Themyscira. However, Scott’s character work with Diana and Silver Swan is very strong and the central theme investigating what can heal a fractured relationship between a mother and daughter is well developed. Like most of the other DC animated films, Bloodlines suffers from some less than stellar animation and voice acting, but fans of Wonder Woman should find more than enough here to be satisfied taking the journey.
Disclaimer: Batman News was provided a copy of the film by the studio for the purpose of this review
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