If any actress could replace the image of Lynda Carter as the ultimate Wonder Woman (as seen in the 1970s TV series), it would be Gal Gadot. DC Comics first introduced the character to readers in 1941. But it has taken decades for one of the few memorable female superheroes to land a lead role in a movie. Following a debut in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we now meet Wonder Woman when she was Diana, a little girl living in an idyllic island. The island of Themyscira is shielded from the rest of the world, home only to the Amazon tribe of women warriors. Protected by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and tutored by her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana learns the art of war and acquires the skills to use weaponry. What she does not learn is her real purpose on the planet.

Things change suddenly and dramatically when Diana rescues US soldier and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) as his plane crashes through their shield. Through him she learns about the war-ravaged outside world of 1918 and decides she needs to put an end to the conflict. Her motivation is naïve but her journey is complex. She faces an unknown world, with strange customs, cumbersome clothes and men driven to kill innocent people. This is not a world where women are permitted to speak in boardrooms and certainly do not show up on the battlefront. The cheesy My Fair Lady scene aside, when she’s trussed up in flouncy frocks, the best bits are when she’s the wild-haired brunette in a corset armour using her shield, lasso and sword, charging through a spray of bullets and leaping up on to rooftops. There’s also the delightful moment when she first tastes ice cream.

But Diana’s most potent learning is that Ares, the Greek god of war, is not the force solely responsible for the breakdown of armistice. There are other baddies like a diabolical German General (Danny Huston) and his biologist partner (Elena Anaya).

Director Patty Jenkins steers this origin story through various landscapes, sometimes flagging in the pace, but managing to bring it safely to harbour. She keeps the strong women front and centre, balancing strength and agility with empathy and letting the men—including the dispensable Chris Pine—play the ancillary parts. The climax is a bit of rough and tumble though with David Thewlis’s questionable casting in a critical role.

This is a Gal Gadot show all the way. She’s athletic and has undeniable screen presence. May this be the start of an empowered female superhero franchise.

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