Diana, Princess of Themyscira, is (in)famously the only leading woman of a comic book film since 2005’s Elektra. The invisibility of women in superhero films is endemic and so entrenched it has become the norm (try and imagine a 12 year absence of male led superhero films being entertained). In the hands of director Patty Jenkins (Monster, 2003) Wonder Woman delivers a suspenseful story dynamically told.
Diana Prince is given the context and history of an origin story, as an only child of the Amazon Queen nipping at the heels of her impressive and ferocious fighting sisters, her idols. Relationships are explored between mother and daughter, friends and siblings on this woman only paradise.
A harmonious life, it is abruptly disrupted by the interruption of Chris Pine’s WW1 pilot. Diana is compelled to leave the confines of Themyscira with him, aggrieved at his stories of war and suffering.
There are light touches of humour deftly played by Lucy Davies as Pine’s secretary (cue the response to her job description, “We call them slaves”) which pitch against the horrors of war and Diana’s earnest outrage. This is where Wonder Woman departs from superheroes before her, in her significant capacity for compassion and empathy. Gadot imbues this fierce warrior with a warmth that enriches both character and story.
In a plot which sees mortals developing chemical weapons, and enact mass killing at the German front, it is the goddess who ends up bringing a humanity to proceedings.
The palette of the film evokes vintage footage and steeliness, so that in full Wonder Woman action, Diana does not look so incongruous on the battlefield as one might think.
There are pointed moments of deliberate attempts at ‘girl powered’ dialogue and attitudes, which mostly succeed. However, a throwaway line describing Diana as being distracting sits poorly – there doesn’t need to be any reinforcement of the idea that men can’t help themselves when a woman is around, even if she is this wonderful. The token slightly sleazy companion who seems included to reflect more regressive male attitudes also detracted, even though this same character delivers a bold statement on racism that was a welcome one. This unevenness in the treatment of the character may reflect the writing and story team (male only). For a film which will undoubtedly reach a young female audience, there is no need to tell them that men find women fighting each other a turn on. It would have been better to see Diana have more female characters to interact with, Peggy Carter and Diana taking on WW2 together is a tantalising idea for example. For now, this writer remains pleased that attempts to tether Diana to a male love interest were brief and her story remains one of a journey to discovering her own powers and purpose.