All the world is waiting for you Gal Gadot, and you do not disappoint. Patty Jenkins has delivered DC’s finest film in almost a decade
It’s only taken 76 years for the Amazonian Princess Diana of the hidden paradise island Themyscira to finally make it onto the big screen in a solo live-action outing but by Zeus was it worth the wait. Just don’t expect to hear the term Wonder Woman quite yet.
Roundly credited as the best thing about the admittedly scrappy though I think over-mauled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, fear not, none of the other DC Universe big hitters show up in Monster director Patty Jenkins’ effervescent action epic. Working from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg, gone is the Snyder school of grimly grey seriousness. Yes, there’s a brief nod to the aftermath of that much-maligned blockbuster and a finger pointing to Justice League in the framing mechanism that sees an unseen Bruce Wayne gift the present day Wondy (Gal Gadot) photographic proof of her First World War exploits, but the plot here concerns itself almost entirely with that storied past.
Establishing a cataclysmic heavenly battle that saw the God of War Ares turn against Mount Olympus and kill all other Greek deities, in the process banishing himself to some far-flung corner to lick his wounds across the millennia, creating Themyscira was Zeus’ final act. Establishing the mystically protected, all-woman Amazon haven was intended as Earth’s last defence against Ares’ possible return
Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) rules with stern love over the immortal inhabitants who have all readied themselves for that feared eventuality, but she will not allow her beloved daughter Diana (played by Lilly Aspell and then Emily Care before Gadot takes over) to participate in their war games. Defying her queen, Antiope, played by House of Cards’ Robin Wright, trains the princess in secret.
Allegedly moulded from clay and given life by Zeus, it’s hinted from the outset that Diana’s origin is in question. This also makes for rather cute sorta first date aside from American spy Steve Trevor (a lovably dashing Chris Pine) after he crashes through the mystical barrier protecting the island while pursued by the Kaiser’s navy and is saved by the princess, but unwittingly draws the Germans and their never-before-seen guns to the Amazons’ gates.
“That’s neat,” he says, over convivial procreation chatter following a genuinely hilarious running gag about what makes him physically different. This exchange takes place after Diana has elected to leave Themyscira behind and set sail for man’s world and a disappointingly foggy London with Trevor. Having been made aware of the Great War raging beyond the Amazon’s hallowed shores, she’s convinced it is a sign of Ares’ return and believes it’s her destiny to stop him once and for all.
Her seriously impressive Lasso of Truth extracts from a professionally reticent Trevor, acting as a double agent, that the Germans are devising a terrible chemical weapon with the aid of the facially scarred and Phantom-like masked Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), as overseen by her menacing commander General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), determined to prevent the oncoming armistice.
Gadot is legendarily god in the role, bringing kick-arse physicality in DCs best-choreographed fight sequences to date, but also perfect comic timing as Diana’s out-of-time hero navigates the British capital, its politics and its restrictive fashion sense in 1918. She brings genuine pained horror to the knowledge that humanity is it’s own worst enemy, war god’s meddling or no, but abundant hope that we can be better too. There’s not a cynical bone in her finely honed warrior’s body.
Lucy Davis is also brilliant though a little too sparingly used as Trevor’s snappy secretary Etta Candy. “That sounds a lot like slavery,” tuts Diana. Short shrift is also given to the band of merry men Trevor assembles to join he and Diana on the Western Front – Said Taghmaoui’s Sameer, Ewen Bremner’s Charlie and Eugene Brave Rock’s Chief, but their limited time behind enemy lines is affecting, allowing just enough space for the megawatt chemistry arcing between Gadot and Pine to do its work.
Their fantastic union allows for a genuinely well-deserved fireworks finale that for once doesn’t lose site of the characters fighting for each other in the maelstrom of divine-driven CGI carnage. Jenkins ensures that for once you can tell exactly what’s going on amidst all for the frenetically staged smack downs, complete with bullets blitzing off Wondy’s crossed iconic bracelets, though those hanging out for the Lynda Carter twirl will go home feeling deflated.
One the basis of this magnificently empowering installment, with its just the right side of schmaltzy make love not war message, I sincerely hope that Jenkins sticks around and is given an increased role to play in the ever-expanding DC cinematic universe. Oh, and word to the wise Marvel, get a bloody move on with Black Widow already.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords