It is she, Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta. It is she, Princess of the Amazons. It is she of the best scenes (and the best theme music) in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s motherflippin’ Wonder Woman, in a standalone movie.
Wonder Woman comes carrying the weight of loaded expectations. Not only is this the first Wonder Woman to successfully make it to the screen since Lynda Carter donned the star-spangled shorts on television from 1975 to 1979, but it's the first female-led superhero movie from either the DC or Marvel cinematic universes. And that business ostensibly kicked off with the first Iron Man film in 2008, almost a decade ago.
Directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster), Wonder Woman shows us the Amazon princess before she became a legend. Diana (Gal Gadot) lives in peaceful paradise, the hidden island of Themyscira, occupied only by female warriors. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), tells her that she was shaped from clay and given life by Zeus, the king of the Gods. Hippolyta will do anything to protect Diana, while the fierce General Antiope (Robin Wright, who steals every scene with the merest squint of her steely gaze) wants Diana to be able to protect herself, and trains her in the art of war.
All is well, until a British spy, Steve Trevor (a very likeable Chris Pine) somehow crash-lands his plane in the waters of Themyscira. Diana and the Amazons discover that World War I is ravaging the outside world. Wonder Woman vows to use her superpowers to restore peace, convinced that Ares, the God of War, has wrought warmongering in the hearts of humans.
Wonder Woman is an exceptionally earnest superhero film, and that may be because Wonder Woman is exceptionally earnest herself. She truly believes in peace, love and justice, and that good will triumph over evil. There are more than a few similarities with Captain America: The First Avenger here.
In fact, some of the same things that made Captain America such an appealing story – the period piece feel of the production, and a sense of old-fashioned charm – also work to Wonder Woman’s advantage. DC has faced some criticism for the po-faced, dystopian grimness of their Justice League set-up films so far. Wonder Woman has much more heart and humour, which makes it an actual pleasure to watch.
The earnestness may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but never fear, because the sincerity on display is also counterbalanced by thrilling action sequences. There’s fighting spirit combined with sucker punch style, which is a good combo. From the sparring scenes on Themyscira, as the Amazon warriors practice their moves; to the vision of Diana singlehandedly taking down a battalion of German soldiers, the action is incredible.
The choreography is all flips, twists, kicks and slides (it’s just an added bonus that the moves are performed by ferocious, powerful babes with fighting spirit), with slo-mo interspersed appropriately so that you can appreciate the beauty of the dance.
In our superhero-saturated climate, it’s hard for studios to make an origin story that feels original. Wonder Woman doesn’t necessarily surprise the audience, and there is a still a requisite CGI-heavy climatic battle, that is far less interesting in terms of both cinematography and choreography than the fight scenes that precede it. But what really carries Wonder Woman through the film’s final strectch is Wonder Woman herself – Gal Gadot.
When it was first announced that Gadot – previously best known for her role in the Fast and the Furious franchise – would be Wonder Woman in the DC cinematic universe, I was sceptical. But I was oh so wrong. Gadot is strong, athletic and believable as a butt-kicking bad ass. She also has the right level of warmth and goodness for a character just discovering what horrors mankind is capable of. She has superhuman levels of charisma. You want to watch her.
Of course, it’s not a perfect film. The voice-over narration as an intro and outro could have done with a bit of de-naff-ing. I would have liked more of the Wonder Woman theme music to be included. And none of the three ‘villains’ were particularly interesting, let alone strong enough as characters to seem like a genuine threat to our Amazon goddess. These are, obviously, quibbles.
It goes almost without saying that this is the best DC cinematic universe film to date. Wonder Woman is a very necessary addition to the superhero stable, and if anyone can turn around DC’s fortunes – it’s her. She’s a wonder.
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