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Wonder Woman: Bloodlines
Diana (Rosario Dawson) can relate. Like young Vanessa (Marie Avgeropoulos), she knows what it's like to live under a mother who years ago had mapped out a rigid plan for her future. She can sympathize with having her own ideas dismissed and her achievements going unnoticed. But where Diana's defiance led her to become a champion – to be become Wonder Woman – Vanessa's sent her down a darker path.
And after her mother (Nia Vardalos) is fatally caught in the crossfire – trying in vain to disentangle Vanessa from a heist certain to destroy her future – she allows herself to be transformed into Silver Swan. Now she counts herself among the members of Villiany, Inc., alongside Doctor Poison, Giganta, the Cheetah, Doctor Cyber, and...well, there's more, but that'd be telling. Vanessa doesn't know it and wouldn't accept it besides, but she's in desperate need of Diana's help. The only way to save what's left of her friend's humanity requires Diana to return to the home she'd left behind years earlier, and that might be precisely what Villainy, Inc. wants her to do.
Conceptually, I love what Bloodlines sets out to accomplish. I appreciate the dark symmetry between Diana and Vanessa. The construction of the story sends it full circle; just as it must open in Themiscyra, so too must it end there. Aside from Steve Trevor (Jeffrey Donovan) – and a minotaur, if you're picking nits – every character of consequence in the film is female. There's something to be said that the storytelling is propelled more by character arcs – by compassion, even – rather than a huge, apocalyptic threat with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. And hey! It's New 52 Etta Candy (Adrienne Moore) playing tech support, and one recurring bit is that Diana's gonna set her pal up with some Amazonian lovin'. That's pretty cool. And it probably goes without saying that with an entire team of supervillains in the other corner and Sam Liu sharing the director's chair, there's no shortage of spectacular action sequences. Better still, victory doesn't necessarily come in the form of who punches the hardest; Diana's clever mind proves to be as much of a deciding factor in battle as her physical strength. Plus it's a love letter to several different eras of Wonder Woman comics; whether you grew up with George Perez or Greg Rucka, you'll see plenty of your favorite characters and story elements reflected here.
I just can't shake the feeling that Bloodlines was envisioned on a grander scale than an 83 minute direct-to-video animated feature can accommodate. As tremendous as the early scenes with Vanessa and Diana are, most of her years-long downward spiral is compressed to a montage. I see Vanessa change in her teenaged years, but it's far too rushed to be truly felt, and so much of what follows with her character afterwards winds up transpiring off-screen. Vanessa's inner turmoil is the very core of Bloodlines, and I have to admit to not being nearly as invested in it as the movie wants me to be. There are splashes of color with the supporting cast, and the voice actors infuse what personality they can, but can I really say that I felt like I know Etta or Steve? Not really. The introductions of Ferdinand (Michael Dorn) and, to a lesser extent, Veronica Cale (Constance Zimmer) come across more as placesetting for future installments rather than anything all that integral to Bloodlines itself. Villainy, Inc. is generally polite enough to attack Wonder Woman one at a time, so you don't really get the scale of Team Diana versus Team Bad Guys. It's also a drag that Bloodlines effectively wipes the villain slate clean in the climax in favor of a completely different antagonist. I'll steer clear of spoilers as to who it is, exactly, but as appropriate as her presence is in some respects, there's just this sense of "uh, okay, I guess we're doing this now instead..."
Bloodlines as a story can't really function without being bookended with jaunts to Themiscyra, but...ugh. Just as I can cheerfully go the rest of my life without seeing Krypton explode yet again or pearls spill all over a bloodstained alleyway, I really could live without another retelling of Wonder Woman's origin. It's too familiar to be compelling yet too rushed to meaningfully engage. The pacing throughout the movie as a whole is uneven, really. The dialogue feels like it would've benefitted from another draft or two of polish, and I'm not onboard with reserving one critical plot point until a mid-credits scene either.
It's frustrating because there's no doubt that Bloodlines is aiming high and setting out to achieve something extraordinary, and yet it just doesn't work. I don't know if it's simply an imbalance of too much ambition for the resources and runtime available. I don't know if, given the rate at which DC is releasing these movies anymore, that the manic production schedule is to blame – that there just may not have been the time for further polish. Whatever the case may be, I have to confess that Wonder Woman: Bloodlines is among my least favorite of DC's animated titles to date. Rent It / Stream It.
Chances are that this isn't your first DC animated outing in Ultra HD, so you probably have a pretty clear picture of how this review is gonna shake out. Yes, Wonder Woman: Bloodlines is more of a refinement than a revelation here, given that this is a modestly budgeted production upscaled to 2160p. Make no mistake, though; this is still a very worthy upgrade. Warner heaped entirely too much high-def video onto the traditional Blu-ray release – just north of three and a half hours on a single layer disc – and the strain can't help but show. Whereas the 1080p image is more noticeably aliased and riddled with digital noise, Bloodlines looks so much crisper and cleaner in Ultra HD.
There are plenty of standout shots that show off what HDR has to offer: the way the moonlight catches the water as Diana dives down to rescue a submerged Steve Trevor, the mystical shimmer as the two of them leave Themiscyra behind, the searing desert sun as Vanessa claims her first victim, and the purple neon of Silver Swan's sonic cry. But even comparatively low key moments benefit. Take the early scene of Diana and Trevor speaking outside Justice League headquarters. The slightly more vibrant colors, the way the sunlight bounces off the pavement, the more pronounced metallic glint to Wonder Woman's tiara: the time of day is more deeply felt, whereas the SDR Blu-ray just looks a bit drab and dull by comparison.
The story usually goes that DC's animated titles don't suffer from nearly as much banding in UHD as their 1080p counterparts. Surprisingly, the reverse is true here. While I didn't watch the traditional Blu-ray disc in its entirety, I skimmed through quite a bit of it, and nothing along those lines really leapt out at me in the film proper. (The Death short, however...) On the other hand, there were several times when I noticed banding on the 4K disc. Look at the early scene as Diana's escape from Themiscyra has been thwarted, and she's speaking to her mother with her back to the camera. There's severe banding on her brown cloak, and the posterization in her hair is so severe that she's left with a couple of unstable gray stripes. That "hair band" persists in other shots in this sequence as well. Screenshot scientist nitpicking this isn't; it's readily apparent in motion and from a reasonable viewing distance, and the corresponding shots on Blu-ray don't exhibit any of those issues.
Despite those sorts of imperfections, the Ultra HD presentation is otherwise still so superior to the traditional Blu-ray release that it's well worth the few extra bucks. This 2160p presentation of Wonder Woman: Bloodlines arrives on a BD-66 disc at its native aspect ratio of 1.78:1. HDR is limited to HDR10.
As much as I keep hoping for DC's animated titles to embrace Dolby Atmos, as several press releases have mistakenly indicated, Wonder Woman: Bloodlines isn't seizing full advantage of even 5.1 audio at the moment. To be fair, this 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is marvelous (no pun intended) in so many ways. Every element in the mix is spectacularly clean, clear, and distinct, with the star-studded cast never struggling for placement. There's a remarkably strong sense of directionality across the front channels. The subwoofer frequently unleashes hellish waves of bass, from the thunderous stomps of the MinotaurFerdinand to Giganta's...errr, gigantic fist smashing Diana into a concrete floor.
The surrounds, meanwhile, strike me as more lackluster. They're active, to be sure, as Frederik Wiedmann's score roars from behind as it does from every other channel. Atmospherics shine, such as the distant howl of a police siren as Bloodlines' setting first shifts to Washington. And, sure, the rears also feature everything from gunfire to a reverberating scream to Giganta's head smashing through a roof. It just too often sounds more like mild reinforcement rather than leaving me feeling truly immersed in the action. Shortly after Bloodlines opens, a parademon soars across the sky and scrapes his claws against the length of Steve Trevor's fighter jet. The effect is extremely prominent up front, but it almost instantly peters out while panning to the surrounds, and what little is there winds up being largely drowned out by the score. An even further transmogrified Cheetah dashes across ancient ruins at blinding speeds, clawing at a disoriented Diana from every direction. That ought to be a surefire showcase for split-surround effects, and while I can hear a little something from behind, it just feels like an afterthought. The rears are more engaging once the climax draws near – with sonic screams, an unnecessary missile launch scattering debris everywhere, Themiscyra generally reduced to rubble, and a mystery villain I would never think to spoil for you – but I still have to admit to being a bit let down by the audio overall.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray disc also features French and Spanish soundtracks, along with subtitles in English (SDH), French, Latin American Spanish, and Japanese. The audio options are more extensive on the traditional Blu-ray disc, showcasing lossy 5.1 soundtracks in Spanish, French, and German, as well as a more sprawling list of subtitles: English (SDH), French, Spanish, German, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Japanese.
All of Wonder Woman: Bloodlines' extras are on the accompanying Blu-ray disc. Sorry! No Death in 4K.
- DC Showcase: Death (19 min.; HD): I'm thrilled to see DC Showcase revived after eight years of dormancy: first with the Sgt. Rock short on Batman: Hush and now with Death. And though I was somewhat underwhelmed by Bloodlines itself, "Death" is extraordinary. It's not shackled by the conventions of superhero storytelling. There is no battle between good and evil. The conflict is instead far more internal in this artful, resonant story of Vincent. Tormented by figurative demons that seem real enough to him, he's a failure as an artist and a failure as a man, but things seem to turn around for Vincent as he's entranced by an impossibly lovely young woman. And while you may think you know what'll happen from there...well, you do and you don't, and this short is more about the journey than the destination besides. Easily the best thing about this special edition.
- The Cheetah: Ferocious Archenemy (11 min.; HD): Amy Dallen, Ames Kirshen, and Mairghread Scott delve into several different incarnations of Wonder Woman's most iconic nemesis. And while it may seem a bit odd at first glance that a featurette is dedicated to a character who only appears in a single – though very memorable – sequence in Bloodlines, The Cheetah is used as a springboard to larger discussions. Diana sympathizes with this sort of psychological torment; these deeply damaged people are compelled to inflict pain so that others will feel as they do, and yet Diana's driven not to vanquish or defeat them but to help. Many of the points made here apply to the legion of villains – women, all – throughout Bloodlines.
- Superman: Red Son Sneak Peek (11 min.; HD): Also included is a preview of one of DC's best known Elseworlds tales that at long last is being adapted: an exploration of what might've happened had Kal-El's craft crashlanded in Stalinist Russia rather than the heartland of America. We're offered a look at animatics, the voice actors at work, and polished animation, along with interviews with Ames Kirshen, Wes Gleason, Bruce Timm, and Jim Krieg (in full Soviet regalia!), as well as actors Diedrich Bader, Amy Acker, Jason Isaacs, Paul Williams, and Sasha Roiz. They explore the decades-long scope of the storytelling and the many iconic characters reimagined here, along with sociopolitical/geopolitical intrigue and the role of nature vs. nurture in the forging of the Man of Steel.
- The Brave and the Bold (45 min.; HD): Thrill to two episodes from the final season of The Brave and the Bold! "Triumverate of Terror!" also revolves around superbadniks teaming up, including – yup! – Cheetah. Toss in a jaunt to Themiscyra, and it's little wonder why this episode made it onto the disc. The bulk of "Scorn of the Star Sapphire!" obviously revolves around a different superhero altogether, but the teaser does feature Diana, Steve Trevor, and Baroness Von Gunther: Wonder Woman's first recurring foe!
- Trailers (8 min.; HD): Last up are trailers for Joker, The Kitchen, Justice League vs. the Fatal Five, and the reissued Wonder Woman.
This two-disc combo pack also includes a digital copy code and a soon-to-expire survey link. Several of the questions on the survey seem to suggest that Warner Bros. is considering dropping digital copy codes and Blu-ray discs in 4K releases, so if those are important to you, take a moment to fill it out. Also very much of note: between Diana's armor and the sheen of Silver Swan's mutated body, the metallic highlights on the slipcover look sensational.
The Final Word
It's been a full decade since Wonder Woman was last graced with a feature-length animated outing all her own, and I'm disappointed to say that Bloodlines doesn't prove worth the wait. I suspect that there's just a conflict between its character ambitions – young women struggling as they attempt to forge their own paths, with mothers blinded by their own expectations and pursuits – and high-octane superpowered battles royale. The character arcs aren't able to be developed as fully as perhaps they should've, and I can't say I ever felt terribly invested in the story as a result. Even the thrilling and masterfully staged action sequences wind up feeling a bit hollow.
Bloodlines is alright, but I was really hoping to be writing far more of a rave review than that. DC fanatics will still find this well worth seeking out, especially seeing as how the Death short alone is just about worth the price of entry. Still, unless you're a completist (as I am!), you're probably better off streaming Bloodlines once it's added to DC Universe in January instead. Rent It / Stream It..