This is both a review and a reflection on Wonder Woman. Warning: mild spoilers ahead!
Breaking through German lines and through several other barriers to become a highly successful superhero movie, Wonder Woman has been a hit for several reasons–an interesting main character, humor, heart, and thoughtfulness.
Beginning on the idyllic island of Themiscyra, we learn about the youth and training of Princess Diana (played by Gal Gadot). Against her mother’s wishes, Diana trains to be a warrior, which comes in handy when British spy Steve (played by Chris Pine) crashes on the island and brings boatloads of Germans in hot pursuit.
This film succeeds largely due to the likeability of Diana–as many prior films have shown, having a beautiful or “cool” leading character isn’t enough–the main character needs to also be interesting and likeable. Diana is all that, equal parts exotic, sincere, and comedic (her encounters with the “world of men” are played for comedic effect quite well, reminding me of Thor).
Her childlike belief throughout most of the film that killing the god of war, Ares, will bring a stop to World War I provides one of the primary themes of the film–the nature of mankind. Are they basically good, corrupted by outside forces, or is that corruption part of their natures?
This is a million-dollar question and one that Wonder Woman is out to answer. Initially insisting that Ares is to blame for corrupting men’s hearts, Diana believes that once she destroys Ares, the war will cease.
When this doesn’t seem to happen near the film’s climax, Diana becomes disillusioned. Steve comes alongside, insisting that they still have a chance to put an end to the war. Diana responds, “My mother was right. She said that men do not deserve you.”
Steve’s responds, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe.” This line, though not using biblical terminology, is speaking of grace–grace is something that’s not necessarily deserved but is instead given based on the character of the giver–it’s about what the giver believes, what sort of person they are.
It’s a beautiful moment.
Of course, the writers do their best to ruin it by later having Diana declare, “I believe in love,” but the moment is still powerful and interesting. I don’t know the beliefs of Patty Jenkins or any of the film’s creators, but I think it’s interesting that a discussion of human nature made it into the film and that it came out looking almost…Christian.
The only real sore point for me was the implied sex between Diana and Steve, destroying the purity and principle of two otherwise good characters in an anachronistic infusion of modern values. While as a whole I prefer Wonder Woman to Captain America: The First Avenger, I can’t help but wish for Cap’s old-fashioned virtue in his romance with Peggy Carter and feel that the film would have benefited from such an approach.
Planning their infiltration mission by night, Steve and his compatriots have a drink, clinking their bottles together and saying. “May we get what we want, may we get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve.” Watching the film a second time, this scene took on greater significance, foreshadowing the thematic revelations later in the film. It is a humorous line of course, but it reflects the fact that all the characters (Diana excepted) are wrestling with the fact that they have done bad things and feel some sort of guilt for it.
If DC films continue this vein of thoughtfulness, I think I may be headed back to the theater in the future, for Justice League, and more.