There was a little girl in the cinema wearing a Wonder Woman costume. I don’t know if she enjoyed the film, but what a time for her to grow up in. A time when female-led superhero films are no longer a vague possibility, no longer a pipedream, but a reality. Because they are a reality now. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman has seen to that. To say that Wonder Woman is the best of the DC Extended Universe films, while absolutely true, would be doing the film a terrible disservice. Wonder Woman may not be perfect, but it is damn good.
After Wonder Woman’s scene-stealing appearance in Superman v Batman, her solo film offers her origin, a variation on the standard story from the comics. Diana was born on the hidden island of Themyscira, daughter of the Queen of the Amazons. The Amazons, we’re told, are an ancient tribe of warrior women, created by Zeus to guide mankind to peace and understanding. Despite this remit, Diana spends her youth training in the ways of war, in case the Amazons’ greatest enemy, Ares, should return.
One day, Diana witnesses a biplane break through the barrier that hides Themyscira and crash into the waters around the island. On board the plane is Captain Steve Trevor, who brings word of a war waging in the outside world. That war turns out to be the First World War and threatens to end the lives of millions of innocents. Dismayed by the idea of all that death, and suspecting Ares’ involvement, Diana disobeys her mother and leaves Themyscira with Trevor to help end the war.
The plot that follows is your bog standard superhero origin story. Nothing to write home about, and nothing to suggest that Wonder Woman is the Big Deal that it certainly is. There is a sense, though, that this conventionality is by design. In all her 76 year history, there hasn’t been a Wonder Woman feature film until now. In fact, there hasn’t been a female-centric superhero film at all. Not even Marvel, who had no trouble with Norse gods and talking racoons, have attempted to give a girl her own film. It is forgivable, then, that Wonder Woman would play it safe, so as not to rock the boat too much, and ease us gently into this brave new world. More importantly, however, keeping with tradition allows Wonder Woman to show us that a superheroine can fight evil just as well as any superhero. And, let’s not forget, that a woman can direct that superheroine just as well as any man.
That woman is Patty Jenkins, and she can definitely direct just as well as any man. Unlike a lot of superhero films, which feel like a series of action set pieces loosely strung together by a plot, Jenkins has made a film which is largely character development only occasionally interrupted by set pieces. A brief visit to London has Diana trying on 1918’s latest fashions, and we see how she only cares for what is practical and useful. When the film moves to the Western Front, she is horrified at how little the soldiers care about the civilians among whose homes they fight. When the action does start, Jenkins films and edits it with a grace and fluidity not seen in the likes of Superman v Batman. There is a balletic elegance to the way Jenkins’ camera moves that reflects the way her heroine fights.
The heroine, of course, is played by Gal Gadot, and she is terrific. Her previous appearance as the character was all poise and jaded confidence, but in bringing us back to Wonder Woman’s beginning, she reveals the naivety and earnestness of a young woman just coming into her powers.
As is to be expected, given that this is a superhero origin story, there is a scene in which Diana is finally revealed in her full Wonder Woman getup. I would have thought that this wouldn’t have any impact, seeing as we had already seen it in Superman v Batman. But Patty Jenkins has done an interesting thing with Wonder Woman. She has ensured that, throughout every scene, we are constantly aware of who Diana is and what she is fighting for. So when Wonder Woman marches across the no man’s land between WWI trenches, deflecting bullets with her magic bracers, we are not only impressed; we are moved. We are moved because we know that Diana fights, not for the sake of fighting, but for those who cannot protect themselves.
This might sound strange, but part of me wishes that I was that little girl in the cinema wearing her Wonder Woman costume. That I could watch the most iconic female superhero in her first feature film and know that, from now on, I don’t have to make do with whatever role models the boys throw my way. That I could watch Diana fight evil for the sake of the innocent and know that, now, I have my own role model.