Patty Jenkins isn’t the first woman to direct a superhero movie, but having parted ways with Marvel on Thor: The Dark World, she’s the first to get a shot at a mega-budget summer blockbuster with a top-tier, globally recognisable character. That it should be Wonder Woman gives it an added sweetness. Accordingly, she’s made a movie that does justice to the Amazon demi-goddess, eschewing the glibness of some of the Marvel movies and the grimness of some of the more recent outings for Wonder Woman’s DC colleagues to deliver an origins story that’s earnest yet fun and exciting without being grandiose.
Wonder Woman (PG) ****
Having been introduced in a modern context in last year’s much-maligned Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman’s links to the DC Extended Universe are quickly re-established with a low-key opener involving her alter-ego Diana Prince (once again played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot). Happily, though, the film soon ditches its connection to Bruce Wayne et al, winding the clock back to the First World War as American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, embracing his eye-candy status) crash-lands on Diana’s island home of Themyscira, a matriarchal utopia full of powerful Amazon women whose history is tied up, so to speak, with Greek mythology.
Wonder Woman’s own origins as a character are more complex: as outlined in Jill Lepore’s fascinating book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, her creator William Moulton Marston drew inspiration for the character from the Suffragettes and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. He was also a bondage enthusiast, the inventor of the lie detector and a believer in polyamory. Jenkins takes some of this onboard, particularly the first wave feminism, weaving it into the film in fun ways as Diana arrives in war-torn Europe with her truth lasso, unfazed by the concept of “No Man’s Land”. Here Gadot really is a wonder too, commanding the frame during the quiet character-building scenes and making the action sequences count as her male cohorts (including Ewen Bremner as a Scottish marksman with an undiagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder) sometimes cower and sometimes marvel in awe as she leads the way.
Like virtually all superhero films, Wonder Woman does eventually succumb to some overcooked CGI silliness during its finale. But crucially it doesn’t spend the previous two hours exhausting us with endless spectacle. It feels old fashioned in that way: like a movie with a story to tell, not a franchise to build.