About twenty minutes into Wonder Woman I realised with great satisfaction that this wasn’t going to be another mindless action movie with endless explosions and sickening sidekicks. This is a movie that thinks, feels, and acts the way it should, by allowing its characters to stand up, take notice, and be noticed. While all the Supermans and Iron Mans save the world through some misguided altruistic machismo, Wonder Woman has two of the most vital qualities any hero should have: love and an unwavering sense of justice. She is also tough, compassionate and impossibly charming. Three adjectives not used enough to describe women of the screen.
The movie begins in The Louvre. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) receives from her friend Bruce Wayne a photograph of her from World War I and a card that reads “I hope one day you will tell me your story”. Of course, Wayne is not in the screenplay, so Diana tells the story to us instead. We jump back many years and many leagues, to a paradise island said to have been made by Zeus. On this island live only women, called Amazons, who dress like American Gladiators and fear that one day, Ares, god of war, will return to destroy the world.
Whether or not he does, I will not say. Thankfully, Wonder Woman spends little time dwelling on the possibilities and shifts swiftly to an on-going war story involving an American spy for the British, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who is rescued by Diana after his plane crashes off her island. Yes, it is written in the stars, or in this case the plane crash, that Steve and Diana will forge a romance. But what is not written is how mature they will be at expressing themselves. A scene where Steve steps out of a bath right in front of Diana might have been cheapened by childish overreactions in a lesser film, but director Patty Jenkins, whose fantastic Monster (2003) deftly illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of women, understands that movie romances don’t require innuendos or gratuity, only heartfelt emotion and possibly tragedy. Steve and Diana’s inevitable sex scene is so chaste it could appear in the 1940s. They kiss, do the goody-goody behind closed doors and never mention it again, not because the plot forgets it happened, but because both Steve and Diana are adults, and it’s satisfying to see them behave as such.
This is a movie that doesn’t feel like an extended trailer. It’s got pumping action, cute little throwaway lines (“I have no father. My mother sculpted me out of clay and I was brought to life by Zeus”), thrilling chases and quiet moments of reflection. By the end, our heroes become heroes; the wide-eyed, optimistic Diana grows out of the idyllic cocoon of her youth by learning a nasty truth about the people she’s trying to protect; and the romance reaches fever pitch. Everything unfolds as it should, and Jenkins ensures that nothing gets truly out of hand.
Oh, did I mention the villain? He’s Danny Huston playing a psychotic war-mongering German general with dreams of taking over the world. If his head had been red I might’ve mistaken him for another villain. No matter. Wonder Woman tries to be all things to all people, and just about succeeds. It is an epic superhero fantasy that’s also a rousing war film and an electric love story. It is complete, perfectly content to live within the confines of itself and not be a setup for what’s to come or a cheap rip-off of what’s come before. After all the Marvel movies, this is a refreshing change.