Review| Wonder Woman – It’s Not About ‘Deserve’
Like all my posts, I am going to dig into the film here, which means SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop right here, but please come back after you’ve seen it. (AKA: Get to your local cinema immediately).
I have been a Wonder Woman fan since I was a little girl. It began with the old TV show reruns with Lynda Carter, and later transformed into Wonder Woman animated films and the Justice League animated series.
Diana Prince is so much more than a superhero. She is a woman of grace, compassion, and gentleness– attributes she extends to all of mankind. She doesn’t question whether something right should be done, she just does it.
This is not to say that her way of life doesn’t come with its share of issues and setbacks. As we see in the film, Diana lived a very sheltered life before Steve Trevor (played to perfection by Chris Pine) fell into the bay of her home world, Themyscira. Diana was wholly unspoiled by the world of men, and with that comes a level of naivety. However, Diana is highly educated and trained, which helps to balance that out.
I am in awe of Gal Gadot in so many ways. She effortlessly convinces the audience that she is a woman who has never seen objects or scenarios common to our world. When she tastes her first ice cream, or exclaims joyfully at the sight of a baby, she totally captures the “wonder” of Wonder Woman. Diana’s ingenuousness isn’t a bad thing, it’s what sets her apart. It’s what makes her the hero our world needs. She doesn’t get caught in the mess, she cleans it up.
The action sequences are simply glorious. The Amazon fighting scenes are elegant and agile, like a dance. Wonder Woman’s fighting style is not only beautiful visually, but emotionally. There is an intense emotional drive to everything Diana does so that, even in fighting, her purity and grace radiate in every movement.
In the unforgettable “No Man’s Land” scene, as Diana climbs out of the trenches to face the enemy head-on, we get a perfect example of “showing not telling” in cinema. The movements and gestures in Gal Gadot’s performance bring the passion of her character right to us. I got teary-eyed during a few of these action moments because of who Diana is and what she is fighting for. Diana has an absolute and childlike faith in goodness and justice, and that faith is her foundation. Her way of being is so untainted and noble– qualities that are frankly quite rare in leading characters these days.
I found the visuals most stunning in the scene where Hippolyta (Diana’s mother played by Connie Nielson) tells her the story of Ares. It was like breathing life into Renaissance era art. The story of Zeus and Ares is the beginning of Diana’s journey, and it is also the core of where the story’s themes derive.
Though this film presents to us a world and origin of Greek mythology, it is arguably closer to a Biblical presentation of themes and morals than those of the myths. In the myths, Zeus is not a good god. He rapes women and torments his fellow gods and goddesses, among other things. The Zeus depicted in this film has a more fatherly, Biblical God essence. He makes mankind in his image, and you get the impression that he actually cares for them, rather than seeing them as playthings. His son, Ares, becomes jealous of Zeus’s love for mankind and sets out to encourage disorder and violence among them.
The Biblical imagery extends to the characters for the duration of the film. Though we never see him, Zeus has a presence that is certainly felt throughout, like God watching over Diana. She often will close her eyes and tilt her head upward, almost like praying. Like her Justice League companion, Superman, Wonder Woman is also a Christ like figure. A goddess who extends her love and compassion to mankind, whether or not they deserve it.
I love how this filmed played on both of Diana’s origin stories form the comics. In one version, she was formed by her mother out of clay and brought to life by Zeus. In another version, she is the actual daughter of Zeus. I am glad the latter was the version they chose for the film, it’s so much more powerful.
With Hippolyta, I definitely picked up on the Marian vibes, particularly when Diana left Themyscira. Hippolyta tells her she has been her greatest love, but today she is her greatest sorrow. Mary is referred to as “Our Lady of Sorrows” in Catholicism and her Son, Jesus, as “a man of sorrows.” I don’t know whether this imagery was intentional, but it fits seamlessly within the context of the story regardless.
In Ares, we are presented with the “fallen angel”, a somewhat Satan-like character. Satan, too, delights to stir turmoil and destruction– the father of all lies and deception. Ares really stood out to me as a villain, because he was so true to what the fallen angel is. Much like Superman’s rendition of humanity with Clark Kent, Ares uses a seemingly weak vessel to conceal his true identity. He appears feeble, and gentle as a lamb wearing the mask of Sir Patrick, a renowned pacifist seeking to promote the armistice and end the war. He creeps about in the shadows disguised as “an angel of light,” all the while watching the dominos fall to his pleasure.
“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” –2 Corinthians 11:14-15
The twist of Ares and the god-killer was one of my favorite things about the movie. It brings another layer to Diana’s journey. She must save the world, but she also must discover who she truly is. In the climax, she is bombarded by many ideas and images that inspire the hero she will become.
When Steve sacrifices himself after telling her that he loves her, Diana sees what humanity is truly capable of. Yes, there is darkness, but the light that comes from human love is far stronger. Steve dies a hero’s death, laying down his life for his friends and, ultimately, the world. (John 15:13). Like Diana, Steve doesn’t hem and haw over this decision, he knows the right thing to do and he does it.
Steve’s character reminds me of a quote from The Fellowship of the Ring, that I think provides a nice summary for the themes in this film…
“Yes, there is weakness. There is frailty. But there is courage also, and honor to be found in Men.” – Boromir
Steve and Diana are basically my favorite thing ever. They are so alike, and yet so complementary. They fight and love as equals, and they are both irrevocably stubborn about their mission. Their teamwork and dedication to both each other, and their cause, is the heart-center of the story.
In the end, Ares gives Diana an opportunity to destroy Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya). She is the reverse side of the coin from Diana, a woman who has brought only ruin and destruction in the Great War. Diana could kill her, and most would applaud her and say it was deserved. Diana does the unthinkable instead… she spares the woman who brought so much pain. I cannot think of a higher road to take than to impart love and grace on someone that deserves neither, but as we are told, “it isn’t about deserve.”
Diana’s sparing of Dr. Poison happens because she has learned to love mankind by loving Steve and his friends. One of my favorite moments occurs during Diana’s final battle with Ares. She turns her head for a moment, and catches a glimpse of her comrades– Sameer, Charlie, and The Chief– huddling together, comforting each other in what they believe will be their certain end. It reveals to her that the brotherhood and friendship of men is not so unlike the sisterhood and friendship of the Amazons on Themyscira. She was tempted and tried by Ares, who offered her the chance to destroy the world of men in exchange for paradise, but instead, she chooses love.
Wonder Woman is a film that stands firmly in its own right. It isn’t flawless of course, carrying a few plot quirks in tow. However, the most important takeaways are the themes of its provocative spiritual narrative and its commentary on humanity. I am so grateful to director Patty Jenkins for making these themes a priority in her film. Wonder Woman is a remarkable character journey, and an exhibition of the worst and greatest of our human qualities. Diana is what we all should aspire to be. She does the right thing, even if no one else is with her. She sees the world foremost for its possibilities and wonders. She chooses love over wrath. Wonder Woman isn’t merely an advert for feminism, it’s so much more than that– because SHE is so much more than that. We may not deserve her, but fortunately for us, she’s here to stay.