Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the first time we were introduced to Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, another key character in the wider DC Universe that's being extended to the Justice League later this year, and now the Amazon princess Diana has her own standalone film, giving her a bit of backstory leading into the events of Batman v Superman.
The outline of the plot (without spoilers) is as follows - Diana lives in a matriarchal society of Amazonian women on an island created by Zeus, hidden from the outside world after Ares, God of War, started to corrupt mankind and kill the gods. This is all well and good until World War One spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes through the barrier on the run from Germans, bringing a whole load of Germans with him. Finding out about the war, Diana then goes with Trevor to stop it, as it is the duty of all Amazons to protect mankind.
At the start of this journey into the 'real' world, Wonder Woman plays out like a comedy in a sense, as Diana struggles to understand and conform to societal norms around her (especially in regards to her gender), but this soon changes when she gets nearer to the frontline to help Trevor foil an evil plot by General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston). This is when the film really gets going, and where Diana refuses to be silent as she sees the suffering around her.
The action when Diana starts bashing heads and kicking ass is fantastic, and it shifts the character dramatically, elevating her above the men fighting on both sides. No longer is she the confused alien trying to understand the rules of men in a war where lives are wasted on a huge scale, but now she is actively pushing where they cannot, leading them onwards to new ground. She still struggles with the horrors of war and the waste of human life throughout the film, believing Ares to be the cause of this, but is by no means a passive observer to it.
When we saw the fight scenes, we were surprised that it wasn't Zack Snyder directing (although he still helped with the film), as there's plenty of slow motion used throughout. All the fights are hard-hitting and bombastic though, so we didn't mind too mind, especially when Diana is embarrassing those who voice their concerns that she can't help anyone because she's 'merely' a woman. Whether she's catching bad guys with her Lasso of Truth, bashing heads in with her shield, or slicing through enemy lines, the combat consistently delivers.
Throughout we were reminded quite a lot of the first Captain America film with Chris Evans, what with the supernatural soldier fighting in a historical conflict with a larger-than-life villain, but Wonder Woman is by no means the same film. It's elusive and surprising at times, and focuses far more on the horrors of the conflict than Marvel did with Captain America. Questions about mankind are raised as a result, some of which remain unanswered by the time the credits roll.
We were concerned at the start that Trevor would become the male hero leading Diana through the war despite her clearly superior powers, but this wasn't the case, and we were grateful for that. In fact, gender as a whole is handled very well in this film, where both Diana and Trevor are given time to breathe as well as their own moments of weakness and heroism. Both use the assets they have to great effect, and the growing understanding of the world each imparts on the other is greatly reflected in the bond between them.
One thing that has to be praised about Wonder Woman is Gal Gadot as Diana. She's by far the highlight of the film and pulls off the role of innocent newcomer and powerful warrior impressively, even showing an aptness for comedy throughout. She shines brightest in times of heightened emotion, however, displaying the internal struggles of someone faced with the Great War for the first time very well.
If we were nitpicking, the climax has a number of extremely cheesy and cliched lines that detract ever so slightly from the points Diana is trying to make. At two hours and twenty minutes, though, we actually felt none of that time was wasted, and the whole thing was much more focused and directed than Batman v Superman, producing the highs and lows you'd expect from a superhero film. It might be a little conventional in style, but that's not a bad thing, and overall we were extremely impressed.