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*** (out of five)
Petty Jenkins used Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) as her model for Wonder Woman, her first feature film since Monster (2003), and the influence is clear and astute. Like Donner’s film, Jenkins’ take on the Amazonian warrior is fuelled by goodness, romance, gentle humour and, well, wonder – specifically the wonder a 5,000 year old Amazonian finds when experiencing the “world of men” (and the greater human race) for the first time. Like those first, best adventures of a strong and well-minded alien from the planet Krypton growing up in the wheat belt of the United States, this is a fish-out-of-water story.
Or a princess in deep water. Diana, Princess of the Amazons, having completed her warrior training, finds herself propelled from her female-only island paradise into Europe during World War One. She’s at the side of American spy-soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and on a mission to end the war – and all wars – by killing the god of war, who may or may not be a German commander. Fighting ensues, but so does a more intriguing set of life lessons, such as learning how to flirt.
It’s all more superhero nonsense but Jenkins keeps the story-telling clean, light and buoyant. Most importantly, she has an incredible lead actor. As Diana, Gal Gadot makes the movie. Her staggering beauty is enough to compel you to keep watching the film, but her characterisation is also constantly engaging, full of warmth, delight, sly humour and grace. Her physical approach to expressing naivety and wonder is priceless – it’s to do with a cocking of her head and some big wide eyes, and it melted my heart every time – as is her physicality in her fighting scenes, which is refreshing in its femininity. Gadot has a tall, slender body – she is not buff like male superheroes have become – and her battles are fought with elegance, not anger.
The Amazonian scenes in the first act are naff and the Big Battle at the end is bog-standard, but the bulk of the picture has heart and soul. Gadot makes such an impression that I still felt the warmth of the movie hours later – much as I did after seeing Donner’s Superman for the first time, when I was a child. I’m amazed a “superhero” movie could have that effect on me now.