Having lived peacefully with her Amazon tribe on the hidden island of Themyscira for thousands of years, Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) is drawn into the murky conflict of World War I after an American spy (Chris Pine) enters her life.
There’s a meme that’s been doing the rounds lately. In it, a battered and bruised Superman and Batman are being propped up by a pristine Wonder Woman, who says, “I got this.” The caption reads: “The DCEU right now.”
After Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, it’s hard not to feel that meme is right on the money. Four movies in to the DC Extended Universe, this is more like it. Man Of Steel, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad may all have been hits, but they’ve been rather joyless, largely critically savaged affairs that delivered the pow, but little of the wow. Wonder Woman changes all that. And it does so by looking to the past, taking inspiration from the likes of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. But the film’s biggest debt is to Superman The Movie. Both structurally — the opening half-hour in Themyscira is akin to the Krypton segment of Richard Donner’s movie — and tonally. Like Christopher Reeve’s Superman, Gal Gadot’s Diana is a bright beacon of hope in a world of greys.
Where it echoes Donner’s masterpiece most is in the central relationship between Diana and Steve Trevor (Pine), a canny recasting of the Clark Kent/Lois Lane affair. The twist is that Pine is Lois: impulsive, brilliant, hopelessly in love with a living god. But he’s more than just the dude in distress — as an above average (his words) spy in his own right, he carries a lot of the film’s narrative thrust whilst deploying that Kirkian deadpan humour to undercut the ridiculousness of things such as the Lasso Of Truth.
A big, goofy grin-on-your-kisser blast.
The romance between Diana and Steve is so winning that it becomes the film’s glue. Whenever we cut away to Danny Huston hamming it up as generic German guttersnipe (Not) Red Skull (Honest), momentum is lost. Never mind him — this is all about the Amazon prime and the man who can do little else but stare at her in wonder.
As Diana, Gadot is excellent, a rocking electric cello riff in human form. Dawn Of Justice proved she could handle the kicking and the punching. Here, she gets actual honest-to-goodness dialogue, and invests Diana with excitable exuberance, bristling defiance and a disarming belief in doing the right thing. She’s also funny, particularly when she goes full bumbling Clark Kent.
The choice to set the action during World War I may make some uncomfortable. However, it gives Patty Jenkins a chance to play with themes of female empowerment, feminism and standing up against oppression. It’s a film about the evil that men do, from small, snippy stuff to the big, bad, bigoted bullshit that could destroy the planet, and viewing this world through the eyes of Diana, a woman who’s never seen a bloke before, much less been told by one what she can and cannot do, is hugely refreshing.
It’s not all wonderful, sadly. The last 20 minutes can’t avoid the clichéd, overly CG mistakes comic book movies seem cursed to repeat. It’s a shame, because what’s gone before is a big, goofy grin-on-your-kisser blast that could teach caped crusaders and men of steel a thing or two. She’s got this, alright.
After a few false starts, the DC Extended Universe has its first truly terrific entry under its belt. About damn time.