People have been crying out for a female-led superhero film for a very long time. In Wonder Woman, it’s not entirely clear that that’s what has been delivered.
The story, a simple and linear thing, follows Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot), as she is taken from her island home to the Great War by American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who she has just saved from drowning in the plane he’s stolen from the German squadron he has infiltrated. After a battle between Amazons and Germans on a Themysciran beach, Diana travels Steve to London, where they team up with Charlie (Ewan Bremner), a drunken Scottish marksman, Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), a master of both disguises and languages, and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), an American Indian tracker, to go behind enemy lines to try to assassinate General Ludendorf (Danny Huston), who is in charge of the German chemical-weapon effort and who Diana has decided is the present-day incarnation of Ares, the god of war whom the Amazons were created by Zeus to defeat.
The plot plays out quite unremarkably, one moderately interesting twist toward the end saving it from being utterly predictable. The film, then, hinges on its title character Diana, not that she’s actually referred to as Wonder Woman at any stage in the film. And Gal Gadot simply isn’t up to the task of carrying a significant film such as this. She’s utterly gorgeous, of course, but she’s also utterly unremarkable as an actor, her emotional range limited largely to limpid stares and furrowed brows as Pine’s Steve explains the plot to her – if she were any more confused-puppy she’d start tilting her head to one side.
And so it falls to Pine to drive the film, a task he’s entirely better equipped to manage than Gadot. Despite it being named Wonder Woman, it’s really Steve Trevor’s film; he leads the mission, he drives the action, he’s the one in control, while Diana, along with Charlie, Chief and Sameer, are the clichéd ragtag bunch of misfits who accompany him on his mission.
To be fair, Gadot does have a reasonable number of memorable moments, but they all involve her interactions with Pine. When the two first arrive in London, we’re teased with some genuinely comedic moments of fish-out-of-water humour as Diana tries to make sense of the world outside Themyscira. But these moments are, ultimately, lost in the big, bangy, smashy fight sequences that the film feels like it’s so often just building up to.
And it’s hard to take them seriously when they come. The first battle sequence, in which the Amazons appear to be utterly decimated but then apparently aren’t, is staged quite beautifully by director Patty Jenkins, but the whole thing feels just a tad derivative: the slow-motion spears echo, of course, The Matrix, while the fast-slow cuts of the Amazons bring to mind, perhaps, early Guy Ritchie, and the “spot the influences” game that continues through the film — there are plenty — helps to distract from the preposterousness of scenes such as Diana marching across the no-man’s-land between British and German trenches, defending herself and her companions from a German machine-gun installation using her shield and her magic bangles. Perhaps it’s as well, though — when you’re laughing at nonsense like this, you overlook the inconsistencies in the narrative, and don’t ask difficult questions about how she’s going to kill Ares if, as we’ve already been told by Diana’s mother that only an Amazon can kill Ares, and Diana’s not an Amazon. She is, however, clearly invincible, and once it’s obvious that she’s not going to experience any meaningful peril, the whole affair becomes oddly weightless.
It does seem reasonable to agitate for a female-led superhero film. Sadly, DC picked up the challenge before Marvel got round to it. Marvel seem, quite consistently, to turn out memorable and engaging superhero films while DC crank out clangers and duds. Compare, say, the warmth and humour of the two Guardians Of The Galaxy films with the honking awfulness of Suicide Squad and you’ll get a reminder of the difference in ability between the two studios. So maybe when Marvel finally get round to making, say, a film focussing on Black Widow or Mystique, we might see a genuinely good female-led superhero film. Wonder Woman is a female-led superhero film, but that in itself is not enough to make it a good film.