Are humans inherently good, or evil? Or is there a bit of both in each of us? And are there any truly redeemable qualities in us that merit any sort of compassion? If these questions sound more in place in a philosophical and moral discussion than a superhero movie, it’s because they are. Yet the genius of director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman lies precisely in its melding of great action sequences and thrills associated with the superhero genre, with a moving and richly allegorical story. Ultimately it’s the humanity of the film, and the moral questions it poses that makes it appear timeless.
Combined with solid acting from the leads and excellently crafted special effects and action scenes, it’s easy to see why this film is truly a wonder. The first superhero film to have a female lead (as well as to be directed by a woman), “Wonder Woman” was a project that took years to develop. Chronicling the tale of Diana (Gal Gadot), the Amazon princess of the island Themyscira, the narrative takes place at the end of the First World War in 1918. When American pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands on the island, he informs the Amazons of the ongoing war and Diana boldly ventures away from her home to fight and bring the conflict to an end. In the process, a hero is born: Wonder Woman.
“Wonder Woman” is a very entertaining movie that succeeds thanks in part to several elements; the action sequences and battle scenes are impressive and created well, while the cinematography by Matthew Jensen captures both the vivid colors of island life as well as the ashen color of London and a dreary No Man’s Land. Together the scenery and special effects gel well in creating a beautiful and haunting landscape. From the shores of Thermyscira, where we see Ancient Greek like combat, to a small village in Belgium, the site of modern slaughter, the vistas and action pieces produce a backdrop both inspiring and heartbreaking for our protagonists.
The lead performances cannot be ignored either, as Gal Gadot and Chris Pine not only succeed in their individual roles but perhaps even more so when working together. Their chemistry is natural and they both bring a strong assuredness to their characters. Gadot, in particular, embodies Diana Prince not just with great beauty and strength, but with an indomitable spirit. It seems hard to imagine a better choice to play this iconic heroine.
But the movie truly succeeds however because of its heart. With a screenplay by Allan Heinberg, this is a story built on genuine feelings of pathos, centered on themes of morality, righteousness, and the nature of good and evil. Indeed as previously mentioned it may seem that this story fits more in line with that of a philosophical treatise, but it is the tackling of these age-old themes that set Wonder Woman apart from any generic “action flick”.
Diana sees her existence as one meant to help those who cannot help themselves; to free the oppressed and fight the forces of evil manifested in the world. But on her journey of discovery in the lands beyond Thermyscira, she soon learns the truth about humanity. Evil is not a force that can be contained, nor are humans immune to it.
And so what is the nature of man? A good creature or a bad one? Ultimately Diana sees that a duality exists in all of us, but whatever evil may lurk, the goodness alone (however small it may be) is worthy enough to believe in the human spirit. Whether or not the director or screenwriter intended it or not, Diana’s moral battles seem to present themselves as allegories to the Christian narrative.
Humans are corrupt and vile and they do not deserve your mercy and help, says Ares/Satan, yet like Christ responded so does Wonder Woman: the free will of mankind cannot be impeded. While evil exists so does the capacity for goodness to grow, as long as there is love then we are indeed deserving of salvation. The strength of Diana Prince is thus revealed to be not only physical but spiritual and emotional.
These moral themes are displayed in an emotional and intellectual fashion, yet not too heavy as to alienate the audience. It is very refreshing to go into a movie and see that the action/superhero blockbuster can indeed mesh with deeper thematic and philosophical elements and still, please.
Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” is indeed a wonder of a film. It is fun, inspirational (for both females and males), lighthearted, thrilling and surprisingly philosophical. Is it a feminist outing?
It certainly provides an example of the greatness of womankind, but beyond Diana’s gender is the message that we are all capable of taking on the mantle of heroism even in the face of great malevolence.
And if one wishes not to look too deeply into such moral matters, there is still many great and thrilling action scenes, beautiful vistas, and charming performances to make this movie a great time at the movies, no matter where one’s philosophy lies.