This is more than the obligatory “I saw Wonder Woman and loved it” post everybody’s doing in 2017. I mean, I did see it (at long last), and I did love it, but what sets this post apart is that it is not about feminism. GASP. Heresy.
Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the woman-affirming elements in Wonder Woman. I was especially pleased with the fact that those elements weren’t in-your-face. This is an age when the sole purpose of most films and TV shows in period settings is to emphasize how sexist all men were prior to the year 1997 or thereabouts. The sexism of the World War I era is acknowledged in the movie, but the whole plot doesn’t revolve around Diana achieving victory over short-sighted men. The filmmakers could have settled for the automatic brownie points critics grant to such a story. However, they chose to create something that goes much deeper.
(SPOILER WARNING from here on out.)
One element of the movie I’ve heard criticized repeatedly is its apparent similarity to “Captain America: The First Avenger.” On the surface, I can understand the comparison. Both are set during world wars, both are superhero origin stories, and both involve a character tragically flying a plane to his (apparent) death in an act of self-sacrifice.
Oh, I’m sorry, are you not over the Last Flights of the Steves yet? It’s okay. Neither am I.
I love the first Cap film for a number of reasons. First and foremost, PEGGY CARTER. Need I say more? Second, it’s boldly patriotic despite the cynicism and disrespect for America that is rampant in modern times. But The First Avenger doesn’t go a lot further than that. It uses all the classic, cheesy superhero tropes—which I enjoy, so I’m not complaining—and tells a mostly satisfying story, but I wouldn’t describe it as groundbreaking.
Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is unlike any other superhero film ever made. And not just because it features a female lead. I would describe it as the most “Christian” superhero film I’ve ever seen. Yes, despite the backdrop of Greek mythology and the lack of overt Christian references.
As the film gets started, Diana thinks she’s going into a conventional battle against a conventional foe. Well, conventional for Greek gods and/or superheroes. She mistakes Ludendorff for Ares, assuming that the Big Bad she’s facing is the general in charge of the German forces. Over time, however, she starts to see hints that things are not so morally black and white as she’d first assumed.
Then comes the big twist—Ares is not Ludendorff, but Sir Patrick. His goal is not simply to stir up conflict, but to maneuver humanity toward self-obliteration.
This is when the whole story of Wonder Woman changes.
Let’s side-step to the Bible for a minute. When the Jewish people first became aware that Jesus Christ was among them, they assumed he had come to take on the Roman Empire. No doubt they had visions of their Messiah besting the emperor’s forces with divine strength and freeing their land from oppression.
Then Jesus allows himself to be arrested, mocked, beaten, and murdered.
This is when the whole story of the Messiah changes.
The true villain of Wonder Woman is not General Ludendorff, or his lackey, Isabel Maru. It’s pure destruction and hatred personified in Ares. It’s the power behind the darkness.
The true villain of the Bible is not Herod, or Pontius Pilate, or Nero, or Pharaoh, or any other human being. It’s the person who brought the corrupting force of sin into this universe in the first place. Once again, the power behind the darkness.
I’m not making Wonder Woman out to be a Christ figure, as the analogy doesn’t really work. Unlike Jesus, Diana is fallible. Ares tries to manipulate her into taking out her anger over Steve’s death on Maru, and nearly succeeds. He tempts her to answer hatred with more hatred, and to darken herself in the process. In the same way, Satan tries to make us direct our anger at fellow human beings, thereby distracting us from his own puppeteering behind the scenes.
But in that climactic scene, you can see a change in Diana’s eyes as she looks at Maru and remembers the goodness of Steve Trevor. The scars on the woman’s face (self-inflicted, per behind-the-scenes comments from Patty Jenkins) are a visible reflection of the brokenness in her soul. Diana sees that and, inspired by Steve, chooses to look beyond it. And her anger turns to compassion.
(Note: This is my own interpretation of the scene. Others may see it differently, but I think the evidence is there.)
That’s when Diana chooses to point her righteous fury at Ares, and to destroy him by deflecting his own powers back at him. In so doing, she ends the war and prevents the apocalypse.
Diana’s voice-over at the end of the film sums up the change in her outlook, and the core message of the story. “Now I know…only love can save the world.”
This could easily be dismissed as a trite sentiment, akin to what we’ve seen expressed in cutesy Disney films a thousand times over. But it means something more here, in context. Fighting may end a battle, or even a war…but it won’t bring an end to evil itself. Diana killing Maru would have stopped her atrocities, but it would have had little effect beyond that—just as Jesus overthrowing the Romans would have been a mere footnote in history.
Diana showed love and compassion to Maru and all the rest of her German comrades, despite their role in the deaths of the man she loved and countless other innocent people. She chose instead to attack the dark presence behind their evil acts, and won, ending the war.
Jesus showed love and compassion to the Romans even when they nailed him to a cross. In sacrificing his own life for the sins of humanity, he defeated the creature behind all evil and offered a means for each and every person to have eternal life.
I’m not saying Wonder Woman was ever intended to be a Christian parable or a witnessing tool. But in my opinion, it works surprisingly well in this regard.
“So I stay,” Diana says. “I fight, and I give…for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever.”
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes,” says Revelation 21:4. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
This is the world we fight for and give for. The world we know will be. This is our mission, now and until Christ returns.