This adaptation of the DC comic strip starts off in the Louvre in Paris as Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) recalls her early life amongst the Amazons on the secret island of Themyscira. The Amazons are a group of female warriors charged with defeating the warlike Ares should he return to Earth again, and the young Diana is keen to continue the tradition. As she grows up she trains under her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), and proves herself to be in possession of incredible powers.
When she is fully grown WWI breaks out, and an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his biplane through the cloak of invisibility that shrouds the island. Diana saves him from drowning only to discover that he has been pursued by a German battle cruiser. The pursuing force lands on the island in search of the spy, where are met in combat by the Amazons. After the battle causes a number of the warrior women to die, Steve is taken for interrogation. Under duress, he reveals his identity and his mission to stop two high-ranking Germans - Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru aka Dr. Death (Elena Anaya) - from acquiring the ability to launch a chemical weapon attack that can dissolve gas masks, thus turning the tide in the nation’s favour, albeit after causing huge numbers of casualties in the process.
On hearing this, Diana is convinced that Ares has returned to Earth and is behind the war engulfing the planet. She takes a sword called the God Killer and heads off with Steve to put a stop to The War to End All Wars.
Wonder Woman starts out somewhat unpromisingly as a standard-issue origin story set amongst a video game-like CGI island landscape. It ends rather unpromisingly too, as we get a routinely firey battle between Wonder Woman and a glowing creature that looks like it has been plucked from a video game. How many shots of Gal Gadot green-screened against a blurry background do we need?
The odd thing however is that between the weak opening and closing chapters, and away from the somewhat cheesy special effects, Wonder Woman’s a surprisingly good superhero movie. Playing more like a period war drama cum anti-war commentary (albeit from the perspective of someone with superpowers), it richly recreates this particular time in history from the smoky vastness of London, through the muddy battlefields and half-destroyed villages of the Western Front, to a grand and intrigue-filled masquerade in a German-occupied palace. The wealth of worldly detail here rivals that of last year’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
More to the point the script is rich and witty, largely hinging in the relationship dynamic between Diana - all singleminded idealism and feminine power - and Steve - a noble spy with a more tempered and realistic view of the surrounding chaos. Diana constantly strives for something better in a world of young men losing lives and limbs, while the cocky Steve is more numbed to what he has become accustomed to. However, Wonder Woman doesn’t get so bogged down in dour misery that it forgets to entertain; Gadot and Pine have great chemistry together, and a number of their scenes together are surprisingly comedic - in particular their moments together in London when Steve is trying to get Diana (wearing a golden bodice frankly unbecoming for Britain of this period) to garment herself more elegantly. However, this proves difficult when the latter insists that her dress mustn’t curtail her penchant for fisticuffs. There are a few inconsistencies in her “fish out of water” behaviour; if she knows so little about humanity outside Themyscira, how come she is fluent in so many of its languages? Even so, the film has a lot of fun with its scenarios.
During their mission they are also accompanied by a selection of quirky international character actors, including Saïd Taghmaoui as a French translator who clearly has his lustings for Diana, The Office’s Lucy Davis as Steve’s dutiful English secretary, Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner as a booze-loving Scottish sniper, and Eugene Brave Rock as the Native American member of the team. Their characters are somewhat cliched, but are brought to life well enough for us to care about their fates.
Despite the length of the film director Patty Jenkins keeps the pacing more or less spot-on, maintaining an excited sense of camera mobility throughout that heightens the viewer’s involvement in the story. Expect plentiful tracking shots, overhead views and slo-mo.
While there are a few too many superhero movie cliches and a surplus of obvious CGI (particularly during those problematic opening and closing sections), Wonder Woman does stand out by working some new angles into the currently-oversubscribed superhero movie cycle. In term’s of this year’s superhero offerings, it’s not quite up to the leanly violent elegy of Logan, but it’s better than the overstuffed and under-plotted Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It’s also (thankfully) a vast improvement over last year’s DC entries Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Wonder Woman’s nearly a wonder.
Runtime: 141 mins
Dir: Patty Jenkins
Script: Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs, based on DC characters created by William Moulton Marston
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Lilly Aspell, Emily Carey