Unfortunately for Gal Gadot, her casting as the titular superhero has brought her scrutiny for pretty much everything other than her performance. The overwhelming majority of (male) critics have spent an inordinate amount of time and page space commenting on her looks and whether her level of ‘sexiness’ is in keeping with their expectations. As such, any assessment of her performance, or her suitability for the role for that matter, seems to be based more on her ability to arouse that in it is on her talents as an actress. Furthermore, Gadot’s Israeli heritage has also been the subject of much media reportage, particularly in light of the film being banned in Lebanon and other territories as a result, and whilst this kind of publicity is probably more likely to help than hurt the bottom line, it only serves as a further distraction from the fact that the 32-year-old actress is very effective in the role. Of course, there has also been plenty of commentary on the fact that Wonder Woman is directed by a woman, including suggestions that Patty Jenkins only secured the gig because she was female, her proven track record as the director of the Academy Award-winning Monster playing second fiddle to her gender in the minds of those who have subsequently been proven wrong in their misogynistic misgivings.
In collaboration with screenwriter Allan Heinberg, Jenkins has, in fact, created the best thing to come out of the DC stable for quite some time, inserting just enough wit amidst the drama to ensure nobody takes it too seriously, but never losing sight of the need to please those for whom Wonder Woman is a revered comic book character. If Jenkins was an inspired choice as director, the casting of Gadot is a masterstroke because the former model balances the contradictions of the character extremely well. Such is her presence, both as Wonder Woman and her alter ego Diana Prince, Gadot commands your attention and leaves Chris Pine struggling to make as much impression as Steve Trevor, the WW1 spy who crash lands off the coast of Themyscira, the island paradise created by Zeus as a homeland for the Amazons, the all-female warrior clan to which Diana belongs. Yes, it is all very silly, but such absurdity is to be expected in superhero narratives. I mean, we have a lasso of truth here for goodness sake, so anybody expecting anything remotely real should look elsewhere. Having been retrieved from his sinking plane by Diana, Steve is subjected to an interrogation under the spell of said lasso and reveals that the world beyond Themyscira is under threat. Diana dons her battle suit, grabs her sword and shield and heads off into the unknown with Steve to save the world.
Several fish-out-of-water scenarios ensue as Diana tries to come to terms with life in the much bleaker, sun-starved London, and Gadot handles the lighter moments just as well as she masters the action sequences where her martial arts experience and military training no doubt proved very useful. There is nothing particularly lacking in Pine’s performance, but his character is very much in service of Diana as they set forth to prevent German General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) from unleashing a chemical weapon. Accompanied by a trio of motley mercenaries (Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock and Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremmer) whose collective purpose seems comic relief more than any particular skills they possess, Steve and Diana reach the trenches where British troops are bogged down in what seems an exercise in futility until Wonder Woman changes the course of the battle by beating down a swathe of enemy soldiers. From here, they proceed to an airfield for a showdown with Ludendorff and it is following this that Jenkins falls into the trap of the studio playbook by throwing in one more action sequence that simply isn’t needed. In fact, until this point, the film had been comparatively light on elaborate digital effects sequences and it is only in these final moments where things go unnecessarily over the top.
With the exception of the culminating confrontation, Wonder Woman is an exercise in restraint where the physical strengths and dexterity of the central character are privileged over the more blatant digital trickery that too often overwhelms films of this type. Lucy Davis is great fun as Steve’s assistant Etta and David Thewlis also features, with Connie Nielsen and Robyn Wright appearing in the opening scenes on Themyscira as Diana’s mother and mentor respectively. Gadot is great, Pine is charming and Jenkins has crafted a film that, whilst not perfect – the bloated finale, underutilising a quality supporting cast, the sheer corniness of the lasso – it still emerges as the best DC film since Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga.