As the credits roll at the end of Wonder Woman, you will be left with one burning question: just WHY has it taken so long for this particular superhero to get her own film? She has been around almost as long as both Batman and Superman, yet those beefy blokes have had a number of big-screen outings dedicated to their derring-do (there have been nine Superman films and 12 for the Batman – plus quite a few TV series and the odd cartoon outing here and there). Yet apart from the much-loved 1970s show that starred Lynda Carter, and animated appearances as a member of the Justice League or the Super Friends, Wonder Woman has been pretty much left on the (comic shop) shelf.
So yes, it's been a long time coming, but the wait has been worth it – Wonder Woman is a sensational success.
It's an origin story, and in many ways Wonder Woman will remind you of Richard Donner's marvelous 1978 Superman, with Christopher Reeve in the starring roles. The film opens not long after the events of Batman vs Superman, and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is working at the Louvre as a curator. A briefcase arrives addressed to her from Wayne Enterprises. and inside is a certain photograph that viewers of that aforementioned film will recognise. We then flash back to more than 100 years earlier where we meet a very young Diana, a child living on the island of Themyscira with the rest of the Amazons. She is a princess, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), but she longs to be a warrior like her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). Her mother reluctantly lets her start training, and as she grows older she becomes stronger, more adept, more agile and more skillful. One day the now-adult Diana sees a plane crash off shore, and she dives in to rescue the pilot, American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who has stolen some information form the Germans that he believes will put and end to World War I. When she learns of this global conflict, Diana is convinced that it is the work of Ares, the God of War, and so armed with her shield, bullet-deflecting bracelets, the golden Lasso of Truth and the God-Killer sword, she heads to London with Steve to do what she can to put a stop to this War To End All Wars.
First, let's get the bad out of the way, shall we? As with most origin stories, Wonder Woman is a tad overlong and is, on occasion, weighed down with exposition. The action, when it comes, is exhilarating and beautifully shot and edited – but you are left wanting more of it. And as with all the other DC and Marvel superhero films, there is an over-reliance on CGI effects. Small quibbles, yes, but most superhero films (especially those from DC) seem to commit these faux pas.
Now on to the positives, and it's a thrill to report that these far outweigh the few negatives. And the two biggest positives in Wonder Woman are star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins. Israeli actress and former model Gadot first came onto the international scene with her role as Gisele in four of the Fast and Furious films, and she's appeared in a few other Hollywood productions as well, but it's Diana Prince that is going to make her a global star. She seems so comfortable in Diana's skin that it is almost as though she has been playing this character for decades rather than just a couple of years. It goes without saying that Gadot is a stunningly beautiful woman, but she also has that undefinable charisma and brings a magnetic personality to her performance; when she is on the screen, you simply cannot take your eyes off her. And her Diana, when she is in full flight, is a true hero – she is fighting for truth, justice and what she knows deep down in her heart to be right. And this film has plenty of heart, along with loads of humour and warmth.
Much of that humour and warmth comes from Diana's initial interactions with the outside world. She has grown up on a hidden island with only women for company, so the ways of early 20th Century mankind – and men in general – are quite alien to her. She's a headstrong, take-no-nonsense character who won't be told that she can't do this, and can't go there – a perfect example being when she stuns the assembled military types and politicians, all male of course, by entering the war room in Westminster. It's sweet and charming to see her discovering things for the first time, such as ice cream, and reveling in the pleasure they bring. And it's heartbreaking to see her realise that she has come out into a world that is full of pain and misery and horror on a massive scale, and that she is the one person on Earth who can possibly stop it. Gadot's performance is brimming with confidence throughout the film, and a lot of that clearly comes down to smart, assured direction from Patty Jenkins – who, until now, had only one feature film to her name, that being 2003's Monster, which just haopened to win Charlize Theron an Oscar. Based on those two films alone, why has this woman only been directing television in between? (And while we're at it, why is Jenkins the first woman to helm a superhero flick?) With Wonder Woman, Jenkins knows exactly what she is doing, and knows just what her star is capable of doing, and makes the most of it.
The supporting cast is also first rate. It's lovely to see an A-lister such as Chris Pine happy to play second fiddle for a change, and do a bang-up job with the role. And everyone else, from Wright and Nielsen as Diana's family on Themyscira to Lucy Davis as Trevor's secretary, to Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock as her frontline allies and Elena Anaya and Danny Huston as the boo-his German villains, all are on top form and having great fun with the splendid material. And splendid it is; such a change to see a movie set in the current DC universe being a little more light-hearted for a change. It seems that the team behind Wonder Woman may have been watching the terrific DC televisions series such as The Flash and Supergirl for inspiration.
And Supergirl is a great example of just how far we've come. The last female-led superhero film was the blindingly awful Supergirl in 1984 (I don't count 2005's Elektra because she does not have super powers). But since then we've seen the rise of great superhero shows on TV, the best of them being Supergirl, with the marvellous Melissa Benoist in the title role proving to be a strong, complex and interesting character as well as being a wonderful feminist icon and an inspiration to girls and women the world over. Wonder Woman too is an inspirational, feminist film – but more than that, it's a film that should appeal to both men and women equally; in fact, to anyone who loves a great superhero saga (along with a surprisingly decent war drama). It's bold, powerful, hugely entertaining and about bloody time.