(out of 5)
On the enchanted island of Themyscira, a race of godlike Amazons train for battle in their female-only paradise, led by an awe-inspiring Connie Nielsen, placed there by Zeus as protectors of the world from the forthcoming return of the malevolent god of war, Ares. The only child of the island is precocious young Diana, who defies her worried mother’s command that she not develop her powers, secretly training with her aunt (an impressively robust Robin Wright) until growing up to be an exceptional young woman (played by Gal Gadot) worthy of her kind. Just in time, too, because World War I is raging outside the island’s protective bubble and the crash landing of an American spy working for the British government (Chris Pine) piques Diana’s interest, drawing her into human civilization despite being warned that the world of men does not deserve her (though really what mother worth her salt hasn’t said that to her daughter). Now this physically intimidating fighter arrayed in colourful body armor has to blend into wartorn Europe to achieve her goal of locating Ares and putting an end to this endless war; Pine thinks she’s crazy but needs her help to stop a crazed German commanding officer (Danny Huston) and a mad scientist (Elena Anaya) who specializes in poison gas from ruining plans for armistice between countries. Funny, exciting and often smart, this film is a lovely break after years of self-important and far too heavy superhero movies that treat moral conundrums with the weight that Ingmar Bergman would have given them. Like many of her predecessors, Diana too must consider whether or not humans are worth her efforts, but she makes up her mind on the matter with equal amounts of head and heart and doesn’t waste too much time doing it. Director Patty Jenkins keeps all aspects of the film under control and on an even keel, from the wonders of the opening sequence to the humour of the fish-out-of-water scenes (basically a delightful remake of Splash) through to the last, and frankly weakest, third act that focuses on fighting. Determined to avoid overplaying its moral contemplation, the concluding segment tries to have some fun by pulling a bait-and-switch on the ultimate villain and, in doing so, mixes things up a bit too much, in the process wasting the talents of Anaya, whose untold depths of terrifying menace through pained eyes and face mask make for the best performance of the film, and shunting her off far too easily. It’s also a shame that the visual effects aren’t up to par with the best films in this genre, too much of the human activity looks like animation and doesn’t give one a sense of the grueling effort that the actors must have put into their training, but all these quibbles are easily redeemed by the film’s lead actor and the star quality she brings to the experience. Gadot handles being both emotionally responsive and physically virile with ease, at the same time admirable and relatable; she sees people in pain and cares a great deal about helping, but when encountering sexism reacts like she’s dealing with petulant children, and it is thanks to Gadot’s naturally commanding air that all these aspects of the character go down so smoothly.
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Cinematography by Matthew Jensen
Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams
Production Design by Aline Bonetto
Costume Design by Lindy Hemming
Film Editing by Martin Walsh