In our fractured cultural moment, the new movie Wonder Woman has accomplished something remarkable: It’s given us a story that resonates with viewers across the ideological, philosophical and spiritual spectrum. Perhaps not since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has a superhero movie generated so many think-piece articles about critical issues such as the nature of good and evil, of virtue and wisdom, of character and heroism.
It’s been a long time coming. Since the critical and commercial success of Nolan’s films, Warner Bros. (the studio which owns the rights to DC superheroes like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) has striven mightily to recapture that lightning in a bottle. But while the studio has (perhaps slavishly) mimicked the gritty, grimy aesthetic of those films, their antihero depictions of icons such Superman and Batman haven’t earned rave reviews from many fans and critics.
Wonder Woman, in contrast, marks a return to unapologetic, unambiguous heroism. And people love it.
That wasn’t an accident. In an interview with the New York Times, director Patty Jenkins talked about how she intentionally rejected Hollywood’s love affair with brooding cynicism, choosing instead to depict Wonder Woman much more earnestly:
I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis. I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it.
Those convictions have connected deeply with commentators sifting through the film’s cultural and spiritual themes.
The Atlantic’s Megan Garber spends almost an entire article, “Wonder Woman, Heroine of the Post-Truth Age,” exploring the symbolic significance of Diana Prince’s fabled Lasso of Truth in our era of so-called “fake news.” She says of it,
The device was forged of the chain mail worn by Diana’s mother, the warrior queen; if someone finds themselves ensnared within the lasso’s golden grip—as [spy] Steve [Trevor] learns in the new Wonder Woman—that person will be compelled to tell the truth. The lasso features prominently in the director Patty Jenkins’s film, as both a weapon and a tactic: In it, Diana uses the glimmering device repeatedly to whip, to entrap, to win. Most of all, though, she uses it for precisely the purpose its name suggests: to force people, usually against their will, to admit to reality.
MTV’s Julie Zeilinger, meanwhile, says that Wonder Woman’s greatest power isn’t really magical or mystical at all. Instead, it’s reminding us mere mortals in the audience of our humanity:
Wonder Woman, like most other superhero movies, is ultimately an escapist experience. But while predominantly male audiences normally look to Batman and Superman to escape the ways in which they fall short of their stereotypical gender roles—to vicariously live them to their fullest—female audiences can ironically look to Wonder Woman as a way to escape theirs altogether. Wonder Woman’s physical strength and her ability to save the day are inspiring, but her ability to remind audiences both male and female of women’s humanity is revolutionary.
Still other writers are exploring the movie’s spiritual themes and potential subtexts. In her article, “The New Wonder Woman Is Really a Story About Jesus,” The Federalist’s M. Hudson says, “The Wonder Woman movie is the story of Christ, and it is obvious from Director Patty Jenkins’ decisions that this was planned. The movie is wrapped up in faux Greek mythology, true, but there’s no mistaking the Christology here.”
She goes on to compare Wonder Woman’s interaction with the devilish villain Ares to the temptation Christ felt when tempted by Satan before His public ministry began:
The final conversation between Diana and Ares before she finally defeats him is a profound essay on the mission of our savior. Diana has been profoundly traumatized by witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, including a poison gas attack on innocent civilians. Sensing this, Ares asserts that because of their depravity, mankind does not deserve her efforts on their behalf. … But Diana knows a greater truth. Man may not deserve redemption, but they are redeemable. That belief—that man is redeemable, and at least some will not refuse that divine gift—is the greater truth that motivates Diana’s efforts.
Finally, in his Relevant article “Eden, Evil and the Surprising Message of Wonder Woman,” Tyler Huckabee makes parallel observations about Diana’s journey toward a deeper understanding of humanity’s flaws. Though she’s momentarily disillusioned by what she sees, Diana ultimately remains unwavering in her heroic commitment to save as many of these flawed people as possible anyway:
When challenged, Diana’s deeply held beliefs in the goodness of mankind are found to be a little wanting. Ares is not wholly to blame for war and violence, it turns out, but when faced with the fact the humanity may not be as cherubic as she assumed, Diana doesn’t abandon her principles; she just expands them. She doesn’t become discouraged, but she doesn’t bury her head in the sand either. She maintains what’s true about what she believes and adds a bit of real-world wisdom and experience to it.
Provocative movies sometimes polarize audiences of different political and spiritual perspectives. Wonder Woman, in contrast, seems to be an outlier: a rare story that prompts practically everyone who sees it to identify with some aspect of its iconic heroine, regardless of how different their spiritual, political or cultural background might be.
And for Christians looking for bridges into the broader cultural conversation, it seems like Wonder Woman could easily provide a ready made opportunity to enter into significant discussions many are having about this film and it’s heroic themes.