By Elsie Dalton
Over the past six to eight years, I’ve seen and loved nearly every Marvel and DC Comics movie. I don’t expect much of the genre outside of a shiny costume, a few fistfights and a happy ending. But, whether we’re talking comics or movies, I’m still thrilled by the idealistic battle of good vs. evil — and the slick filming of this new crop of movies only makes them that much more entertaining.
That said, my hopes weren’t high for Wonder Woman. In my mind there were two paths for the movie: a hyper-sexualized “guy movie” about a freakishly strong and busty Amazon — or two hours of the feminist agenda telling me the only real woman is one who does everything a man can do.
Without giving too much away, Diana (Wonder Woman, portrayed by Gal Gadot) lives on Themyscira, a hidden island of warrior women, the Amazons. Diana, the only child on the island, is raised with the story of how Zeus created the Amazons to help end war and keep peace in the world. Ares, the god of war, is supposed to return one day, and it will be the Amazons’ responsibility to defeat him. Once he is defeated, the world will return to its natural state of peace and goodness. When Diana is given the opportunity to leave her island and fight for peace, she leaps at the chance to find Ares and rid the world of evil once and for all.
Slight spoiler alert: She wins. But when she does, she realizes that there isn’t just one bad guy and humanity is not basically good. Kudos to the filmmakers, this was a refreshingly honest and nuanced view of human nature. It’s all too rare for a Hollywood popcorn flick to admit that the average man has both good and evil inside him.
But outside of the lesson in depravity, Wonder Woman has an even better message about gender roles. While Diana is physically strong, has excellent martial arts skills and could certainly defeat any man in the movie, that’s not what makes her unique as a superhero. She cares about people. Her deep compassion is what drives her to leave her safe and peaceful home to try and save innocent lives. She uses her gifts to accomplish as much good in the world as possible. When faced with a wounded soldier or a hungry villager, she is compelled to help them — even at the expense of “the plan” or “the big picture.” Her focus on the needs of individuals drives her to save people and bring peace.
Aside from her fighting moves, the strength of Diana’s character is a refreshingly female. It seems remarkable in this age that her power and motivation come from compassion and her instinct is to nurture. She cares — about mankind, in general, but also about individuals damaged in the atrocities of World War I. In an emotional moment, she is even allowed to joy in seeing a baby for the first time. Caring is not an exclusively female trait, but it has often been erased from the idealized “strong” modern woman. Being warm, maternal and easily moved are rarely seen as characteristics to be admired, especially in a female action hero.
Her focus on the people she wants to save, rather than the enemy she needs to defeat, makes her unique among superheroes — while the Avengers and Wonder Woman’s Kryptonian and caped counterparts all conduct their heroics in the name of saving “the world,” it is rare that any of them interact on such a personal level with the individuals that need their help.
The interaction between the male and female leads is equally good. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor admirably balances his roles supporting Wonder Woman in her superhuman battles and providing the leadership that their team needs to achieve their final goal. The two rely on each other’s strengths, using their united knowledge and skills to move the team forward. Each one calls the other back to focus and provides the encouragement needed to finish the task. And, of course, there’s romance there too.
Along with the good, there is necessarily the bad (a moral you’ll learn from this movie if you missed it in Sunday school). While the messages are refreshing in the survey of modern movies, some discretion is necessary. There are still cutesy sexual references, male near-nudity and an implied, off-screen hotel hookup. The history buff in me also would quibble with the depiction of WWI-era Europe — not so much the retconned warfare and weapons development (it is standard comic-book practice, after all), but the portrayal of period London and some of the dialogue.
This movie has a depth rarely seen in its genre, making it both enjoyable and meaningful. Diana shows the world how “super” a woman can be without sacrificing true femininity, and her lesson about the heart of man is one we should all applaud.
The movie ends with the sad, incomplete Hollywood conclusion that humanistic “love” is what will ultimately help mankind. But Christians know a far better answer to human depravity.
Ellen Ritchie contributed to this essay. Photo is courtesy of Warner Bros.
Elsie Dalton writes from her home in Saginaw, Texas.