More than 75 years after her first comic-book appearance, Wonder Woman is finally the star of her own movie and it doesn’t disappoint.
Following a trio of critical if not commercial disappointments, DC can breathe a sigh of relief: this fourth entry in its Extended Universe is as witty and heartfelt as it is thrilling – a film that fangirls, fanboys and even those suffering from superhero fatigue can enjoy.
After an underwhelming introduction in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot reprises the role and, happily, it’s a film tailor-made for her skill-set.
If Gadot is a good physical fit for the statuesque action heroine then the foregrounding of character and championing of compassion suits this earnest, unshowy actress who’s been somewhat swallowed up by more bombastic fare.
Patty Jenkins (Monster) is at the helm of an origin story that shows how Gadot’s Amazonian warrior princess Diana – raised on the hidden island of Themyscira – is drawn into the First World War after rescuing American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who crashes off Themyscira’s shore.
With London their first port of call, Diana, Steve and their ragtag band of brothers set out to thwart Danny Huston’s General Ludendorff, a man seeking to unleash chemical weapons on his enemies, jeopardising the imminent armistice. Diana, meanwhile, pursues her own agenda, attempting to root out Ares, the god of war.
As Diana enters the world of men and gets to grips with her powers the narrative beats are hardly original. Yet Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg (who worked on the Wonder Woman comic a decade ago) never let the action overwhelm the story, nor lose sight of the female-centric focus that sets their film apart; Diana’s heightened sensitivity to human suffering is a badge of honour not weakness, and scenes where she’s bamboozled by the restrictions placed on British women are charmingly handled.
The island opener is a less than surefooted start that’s more than made up for in the casting of the formidable Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as Diana’s commanding mother and kick-ass aunt.
Pine, too, makes an affable and consequential second fiddle and there’s a surprisingly tender romance between his sensible, sometimes tongue-tied mortal and Gadot’s rash, guileless goddess.
Lucy Davis’s appearance as Steve’s adorable secretary is welcome if all too brief, while Huston is a suitably hissable, albeit not too overblown bad-guy, and Elena Anaya brings a note of pathos to supporting foe Doctor Poison.
The film’s wartime setting grounds its story in a grimy, recognisable milieu, giving the shimmering superbeing the opportunity to both figuratively and literally shine.
As Diana leads the charge on a battlefield, resplendent in her powerful femininity, she cuts through the male brutality in magnificent, surging style; her rousing, rocky theme (composed by Hans Zimmer with Junkie XL for Batman v Superman) giving the fight scenes extra punch and personality.
Moreover, she is shown as a woman of ferocious principle – an interpretation that feels true to creator William Moulton Marston’s noble, feminist vision.
With the electrifying action complemented by a stirring story, the emphasis on the value of every human life is refreshing in a genre known for its mass, faceless, casualties.
Although Jenkins doesn’t avoid the traditional effects-swamped finale, she manages to work emotional impact into the climax.
Most importantly, she delivers a heroine who lives up to the majesty of her moniker and stands apart from her superhero brethren, not just in her gender but in her well-communicated ideals.
Wonder Woman reminds us that, at their finest and most enduring, such films inspire us to be all that we can be.
Wonder Woman is released in cinemas on Thursday 1 June