Wonder Woman is the latest super-hero blockbuster and is one of the best “comic book” movies ever. It is certainly the best DC movie — and, yes, I am including the Christian Bale Dark Knight trilogy and the early nineties Tim Burton-Michael Keaton movies in that comparison.
The movie succeeds doing what what last year’s Batman v Superman failed to do: tell a compelling, coherent story that fuses some interesting philosophical and political issues without allowing the philosophy and politics to get in the way of the action.
Wonder Woman is an origin story, telling the tale of Diana, an Amazonian princess who leaves her island paradise when Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) lands on the Island, pursued by German soldiers.
Steve is a U.S. spy assigned to work with the British in World War I. Diana sees Steve’s tales of the “war to end all wars” as the work of Ares, the God of war. According to the movies’s mythology, the God Zeus created man. Man was peaceful until corrupted by Ares. Ares killed all other Gods, including Zeus, who sacrificed himself to destroy Ares, but not before giving the Amazons a secret weapon to destroy Ares if he ever arose again.
Diana is convinced the great war resulted from Ares corruption of the German people, and that she can end the war by killing Ares. So, defying her mother (who is also the Amazon Queen), she helps Trevor escape. Trevor is seeking to return to the Allies HQ to deliver secret information about a deadly new gas being developed by the Germans.
The rest of the movie combines humor, action, and drama. The humor comes form Diana’s exposure to the morals and fashion of early twentieth century London (when trying on dresses, she wonders how someone fits in them). The drama comes when Diana and Steve, aided by a groups of misfit fighters, go off in search of the secret German laboratory manufacturing the gas. Diana goes because she believes Ares, having assumed the identity of an evil Russian general, is behind the gas.
During their journey, Diana sees the horrors of war, and how it impacts innocents. In one gripping scene, she demands the team help rescue villagers held as slaves by the Germans. Steve says they do not have time to take the no-man’s land separating them from the villagers and that “in war you can’t save everyone.”
Diana decides she can save everyone and leads a rescue in one of the most exciting scenes in a modern super-hero movie. rescues the trapped civilians. Of course, those of us who know history understand the causes of World War I are a bit more complex than the simple-minded “Germans did it” view presented here.
While the movie does not examine the true causes of the war, Diana does come to see that evil is not concentrated in one specific nation or race, but is endemic to all of humanity.
In the movie’s twist, Ares turns out to be not the evil German general, but the British parliamentarian who secretly financed their mission. It turns out Ares is not causing men to make wars, he simply provides the tools.
Ares also says the reason he is so anxious to pass an armistice is that it will lead to perpetual war. The movie thus may seem to offer a pessimistic view of humanity, but it does recognize that there is also good and heroism in humanity and provides hope that someday we may defeat the “gods of war.”
My friend, Dan Sanchez, has a different view of the movie in his column for Antiwar.com “Is Wonder Woman pro-war propaganda?”
Dan sees parallels between Diana and “humanitarian inventionists” who use the suffering caused by war to justify more wars. I think Dan may have a point (which I will address below), but there are a number of significant differences between Diana and the humanitarian interventionists.
Unlike the humanitarian interventionists, who use the suffering caused by war to justify more war (and run an extensive propaganda machine to presented a one-sided view of foreign countries to the American people) to justify war, Diana seeks a world without perpetual war.
In fact the main theme of the movie, as explained above, is about rejecting the notion that there is one side that is pure and thus can be trusted with the tools of war because they will use it for good — whereas the belief in the virtue of the American state are such that they are justified in waging “perpetual war for perpetual peace” that underpins both humanitarian interventionism and neoconservatism.
Dan also criticizes Ares for suggesting that armistice can lead to war. But the historical fact is that the harsh terms imposed on Germany by the World War I armistice was a major factor in creating the conditions that led to the rise of Hitler. Of course, World War I was also responsible for the communist revolution seizing power in Russia.
Dan makes a good point in criticizing the idea that human beings are incapable of proceeding peace themselves but instead must look to super beings who stand both as part of, and above humanity. This is a problem with all superhero tales, and one that has been directly dealt with in recent moves — like Civil War and Batman v Superman, as well as the TV show Marvel’s Agents of Shield. It is a theme I hope more superheroe movies examine in the future. In conclusion, Wonder Woman is a must see movie, with great action, great performances, and raises some interesting philosophical and political questions.
While Wonder Woman is no longer showing at most live theaters, you can (and should) download it or buy it on DVD or Blu-ray. And if you click here to download or buy a DVD or Blu-ray, you will help out Campaign for Liberty.