Gal Gadot stars as Wonder Woman in Patty Jenkins' female- fronted superhero epic.
With the two previous films in Warner Bros.' DC Extended Universe superhero franchise drawing derision, the pressure was on director Patty Jenkins to reverse the studio’s fortunes with her new instalment, Wonder Woman.
As a rare superhero blockbuster fronted by a woman, a generation of female comic book fans will also be willing Wonder Woman to be a critical and box office success.
Jenkins’ Wonder Woman will disappoint neither - delivering an origin story for the character that is thrilling, fun and touches on deeper themes of war and mankind’s flaws.
After a brief set-up showing Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) working as a museum researcher, we are quickly transported via flashback to her childhood home, the island of Themyscira.
Hidden from the outside world, Themyscira is populated by the Amazons, fierce female warriors who have nonetheless lived in peace since Ancient Greek times.
Diana, a young Amazon princess, is forbidden to begin training as a warrior by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).
Despite the orders, she secretly trains in combat with Antiope (Robin Wright), and as she grows her superhuman prowess as a warrior hints that there may be more to Hippolyta’s wish to protect her daughter than motherly mollycoddling.
When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) a dashing American spy aiding the British in World War I, crash lands a stolen German biplane in the sea near Themyscira, Diana saves him from drowning; and with German soldiers, led by the evil General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), hot on Steve’s tail, the Amazons are forced to protect their island in an epic beach-based battle.
This spectacular set-piece - which pits imposing female warriors armed only with bows and arrows against an enemy equipped with modern weaponry, sets the tone for the film’s action, with Matrix-style slow-motion shots showing how Diana is able to overcome all that modern warfare can throw at her.
Steve is interrogated about the events that brought him to the island and Diana is convinced the global conflict is the work of the Amazons’ mythical enemy Ares, the Greek god of war.
As a result, she returns with him to London to deliver the secrets of a new German poison gas superweapon Ludendorff and his assistant Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya) plan to deploy to turn the course of the war, to British politician Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis).
Steve and Diana team up with the spy’s associates, his secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), conman Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), drunken Scottish sharpshooter Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Native American smuggler Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) to thwart Ludendorff’s plans - with all but Etta travelling on an unofficial mission to war-torn Belgium.
In an era when Hollywood’s biggest stars are not averse to donning spandex, the choice of the relatively unknown Gadot to play Wonder Woman was a surprising one.
She is, however, perfectly cast - her unambiguously heroic but naive Diana is reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s clean-cut portrayal of Superman in the 1970s and 80s.
Meanwhile, Pine is charismatic but understated as Steve, meaning that he doesn’t steal the limelight from his co-star and enjoys strong chemistry with Gadot in scenes reminiscent of a fish-out-of-water romantic comedy.
The supporting cast of talented character actors also delivers - with Bremner’s traumatised sniper Charlie particularly affecting.
Particularly moving is Diana and her companions’ attempt to save a Belgian village from the horrors of war - as the group briefly restore normality and share a drink and a dance before the dark reality of conflict once again intrudes.
This is not to say the film is flawless - at two-and-a-half hours it is too long, an overblown climax repeats the flaws of previous DC films by prioritising CGI spectacle over subtlety, and its twists are a little too well-trailed.
But Jenkins’ first movie since 2003’s Oscar-nominated thriller Monster is a worthy addition to the cluttered superhero genre, as both its feminist credentials and the decision to tackle deeper subjects without the grimness that has polluted many recent comic book movies mean that it feels fresh despite following a familiar formula.
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