The new Wonder Woman: a force to be reckoned with

(Originally published on Ethos Blog)

After repeated attempts to bring Batman and Superman to the big screen, DC Comics queen and 1940s feminist icon, Wonder Woman, has finally taken the lead in a live action feature film. Directed by Patty Jenkins (of Charlize Theron’s award-winning Monster) and starring breakthrough Israeli actress Gal Gadot, the new Wonder Woman movie is a force to be reckoned with, breaking box office records as the highest grossing film by a female director and outperforming rival superhero franchises.

The film recounts Wonder Woman’s origin story, which takes place between an island paradise (the women-only Themyscira) and the chaos of First World War Europe. Wonder Woman is raised as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, sculpted from the clay and brought to life by Zeus. Her destiny is to bring an end to the tyranny of Ares, god of war.

Trained in combat by General Antiope (Robyn Wright, the formidable Claire Underwood from House of Cards), Diana grows in strength and conviction until, one day, a chance encounter with an American spy (Chris Pine from the recent Star Trek film series) catalyses her transformation from princess into superhero.

My husband just loves DC and Marvel movies, and, although they are not always my cup of tea, I have sat through the vast majority of recent films in the superhero genre (I draw the line at Guardians of the Galaxy, much to his dismay; the talking raccoon is just too much for me). Of the many instalments of the tried and true cheesy, nationalistic, white-world-saviour trope, Wonder Woman is by far the most enjoyable, in my opinion, and not just because of the female lead. The film was far more philosophical than I expected, and provided a number of interesting insights into our modern world.

War as a symptom of a greater evil

As a demigod sheltered from the realities of human existence, Diana’s view of war is refreshingly simple. Though naïve about the complex factors at play in the endless, bloody slaughters of the Western Front, her conviction that a malevolent spiritual force is behind it all is certainly food for thought. There will only be peace, in her mind, if she destroys the source of this evil, the god Ares.

Although an unarmed woman boldly breaching the front lines of battle in a leather swimsuit and magical bracelets is not exactly historical, the scenes throughout the film of miserable trenches, desperate dashes across No Man’s Land and the development of deadly chemical weapons confront us with the needless devastation of war, as well as humankind’s attempts to bring meaning to such massive loss.

As a Christian, the film also spoke to me of the relentless, insurmountable human evil behind war, and the need for supernatural intervention to fix our brokenness.

Investing in the development of strong women

Diana’s militaristic, female-only homeland, Themyscira, with origins in Greek mythology and 20th Century feminist utopian literature, has often created controversy. The film does not shy away from these feminist overtones, provoking misogynistic trolls with a cheeky yet accurate quip that men are necessary for procreation but not for pleasure.

But before you write it off as pagan-inspired feminist propaganda, consider the empowering message this film has for today’s girls and young women: you can be a force for good in this world, the power is within you.

There’s no man-hating in this film, in fact it’s Diana’s love of collective ‘man’, and later an individual man, that in the end empower her to fulfil her destiny and make a difference. She is compelled by her own moral conviction, not the people-pleasing, co-dependency and social expectations that so often constrain women from reaching their potential.

While I would hesitate to bring a little girl to see this film (it’s pretty violent in places), this is certainly a message I would be more than happy to share with my daughter, if I had one. I also think it carries an important reminder for those of us raising, educating and mentoring the girls and young women in our lives.

Despite spending most of my home life with males, I had an amazing role model of a mother who taught me nearly everything I know, and was lucky enough to attend prestigious girls schools that were intent on helping young women realise their full potential. Looking back, I realise just how important the intentional investment of strong women in my life was in helping me become the woman I am today.

Women need a safe place where other women can impart their wisdom and strength, building confidence for life. This is what Themyscira represents. It doesn’t mean we don’t need men in our lives, just that strong female role models are very important.

Lessons for the church

The church often recognises the importance of sowing into women, creating women’s groups, events and ministries designed to train, support and equip. Let us ensure that these settings not only impart godliness, but also the confidence and skill to boldly release God’s goodness into the world. Let us better model and encourage strong female leadership and convey to girls and women their immeasurable value.

Some would say that a female saviour figure is a corruption of the message of Christ, but I think this film has the power to leave viewers with a sense of hope that evil can be conquered through sacrificial love, and that all of us, women included, can play a part. As Diana herself asserts, ‘Only love will truly save the world’.

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