Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is an Amazonian warrior princess on the remote Greek island of Kalokairi, where she’s trained to her Amazon prime in a society of women who all have to do Gadot’s (non-Greek) accent, and waits patiently for a man to come along and kick-start the plot.
This happens when soldier Steve (Chris Pine) washes up on the beach and tells the secluded Amazons about World War One raging beyond their shores. Convinced that French-accented German leader Ludendorff (Danny Huston – son of John) is really the reincarnation of evil god Ares, she sets out to defeat him armed with her Godkiller sword, Amazon Fire Stick and Lasso of Plot Exposition.
In the UK Princess Diana needs a disguise, so puts on a coat and glasses so everyone thinks she’s Clark Kent. She’s then somehow allowed into the War Room with Steve, assumed to be in her capacity as a representative of a potentially powerful ally in the war, until it turns out they have no idea who she is. “Who is that woman?” they ask, as Diana uses her detailed chemistry knowledge (?) to reveal that the Germans are seeking to create a super-dangerous weaponised gas, then heads over to the battlefields to stop the creation of the tech, picking up a Conan the Destroyer-calibre band of rag-tag supporting characters along the way.
The tone is less uneven than other DCEU films but it still suffers from occasional out-of-place comedy scenes inserted into a mostly serious film. The action is well handled but the production design is iffy, with party store costumes and the synthetic sheen of Gods of Egypt. Meanwhile the score sounds like that of Lord of the Rings, but recomposed just enough to avoid paying any fees.
But its biggest crime is one of imagination. Specifically, failing to think about how a society run by women, or a female superhero, might differ from their male counterparts. This is particularly jarring given how it was promoted as a feminist superhero film, even convincing the UN to appoint her as Ambassador for Girls and Women.
The all-female society feels no different culturally from the likes of Asgard or Atlantis, and in spite of it being presumed to be sexless (lesbianism is never implied, other than it being on a Greek island), the women all have impractical long hair, makeup and tight corsets. When you see how Black Panther imagined a futuristic African country which had avoided the ravages of colonialism it’s clear what a missed opportunity this was.
The mistake was to try and recast Wonder Woman as a feminist icon in the first place. She wasn’t created by women or for women, she’s a semi-naked sex fantasy, with this film even making her a sex expert, having read all 12 volumes of the Amazon karma sutra (that’s the one you read on your Kindle). She’s basically Lisa from Weird Science.
It also fails to make her into a more thoughtful or reflective character. Gadot is no great thespian, yet has a Schwarzenegger-esque charisma which makes her a compelling presence on screen. But like Arnold this also makes her character look gormless, not helped by the fact she assumes her superhero mantle, the natural end of an arc in an origins film, when she first leaves the island, so there’s no room for development after that. But she and Steve are both a more plausible couple and better acted than Arthur and Mariana of Aquaman, and there’s also a great supporting performance from The Office‘s Lucy Davies.
Thanks to this and its improved ability to integrate story with action it pips Aquaman to the title of best film in the DCEU, both far above its other films due to having basic coherence. As the first film in the kamikaze franchise which didn’t feel like it had been hacked to pieces and re-assembled at random it was met with acclaim, in spite of being a cliché-ridden, uninspiring tale of someone destined to be a superhero becoming a superhero, and making Captain Marvel look like a masterpiece.