Original sin and grace. Two things I wasn’t expecting to be thinking about while watching Wonder Woman, the latest film based on a DC Comics character. For a movie that retains a light and entertaining spirit, it touches on some deeper subjects.
Diana grew up as a princess on Themyscira, a hidden and safe island where Zeus placed the Amazon female warriors to train for the time that would come when they would have to fight and defeat Ares, the god of war. After rescuing downed pilot Steve Trevor from the pursuing German military, Diana learns more about the outside world. Steve explains that he is a spy in the Great War, that things are bad everywhere, and that many innocents are dying.
Diana has no personal experience of the outside world. She does, however, have a moral code of conscience, and she understands her purpose. Perhaps the moment has finally come to defeat Ares. Unlike the rest of the women on her island, she doesn’t want to stay out of it, to wait in safety. She joins Trevor as he returns to the war against the wishes of her mother, knowing she couldn’t live with herself if she knew that such things were happening to people and she had done nothing.
Gal Gadot is a standout as Wonder Woman. She is strong, she is beautiful, and she somehow sells the hokey backstory, helped by a formidable Robin Wright as her trainer.
Patty Jenkins, the first female director to head up a superhero movie, has elevated the film as well. While Diana wears a costume that is little more than a strapless, metal-enhanced bathing suit, there isn’t really any cleavage. She is lovely, but not completely sexualized—there are women all over television playing cops, lawyers, and other career women who wear more clothing but seem more objectified. It might help if those women could shoot arrows while jumping off of a horse, but I digress.
When Diana reaches London, she finds that generals and other officials are holding off on saving a particular region in the hopes of reaching an armistice. She runs on ahead in disgust, unwilling to allow people to continue to be collateral damage. She’s convinced that where the most intense fighting is, there she will find Ares. Her righteous anger inspires a few others to help her on her mission.
As the movie continues, Diana has to learn some hard truths. She initially believes that all people are good, because Zeus created them in his own image. Eventually she comes to a sort of total-depravity theory, believing that all humans have both good and bad inside of them.
However, toward the end, she doesn’t think that people’s darker tendencies mean that they are not worthy of her help. She says, “It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe.” Like all of us, the human villains of Wonder Woman might deserve punishment, but their fate does not rest on the merit of what they’ve done. Instead, it has to do with what she believes.
So someone with power has the opportunity to stand aside, to stay on a safe island rather than engaging a world where people are suffering. Instead she and other characters do everything in their power to rescue those in need, showing grace and mercy where possible and choosing self-sacrifice over self-protection.
The film includes a couple of scenes of suggestive content and a lot of war-oriented violence, so it is not for the youngest viewers. But for all its popcorn movie wisecracks, big explosions, and war scenes, Wonder Woman has some big things to say. (Warner Bros.)