Wonder Woman continues to awe. Now in its third week of release, the movie has earned more than $500 million worldwide, surpassing superhero rivals The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America: The Sunshine Soldier.
Despite its title, the movie’s central character is never actually called “Wonder Woman.” She is Princess Diana – or, when traveling incognito in the World of Man, Diana Prince. Whatever her name, who is this mystery woman? [SPOILER ALERT]
To Israelis, Wonder Woman is the vindication of their nation. Gal Gadot, the former Miss Israel and IDF combat trainer who portrays Diana Prince, is proud of her country and its military. She has publicly defended its 2014 incursion into Gaza, writing:
I am sending my love and prayers to […] all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children…We shall overcome!
The nation celebrated her screen success by illuminating the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv with Hebrew messages: “We are proud of you, Gal Gadot” and “Our Wonder Woman.”
To many in the Arab world, Wonder Woman represents the Zionist occupier. The movie has been banned or suspended in Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, and Jordan. At least one Palestinian theater has refused to show it. Some say the ban has more to do with Gadot’s portrayal of a strong sexual female character, than with her politics.
Feminists are divided. Some see Wonder Woman as a paragon. “We all felt united in joy and giddy glee at female power,” one reviewer wrote of the experience of watching the movie with her daughters. Feminists have applauded Gadot’s multi-faceted character: a woman who can defeat the German army in one scene, and coo delightedly at the sight of a baby on a London street in another.
Other feminists see Wonder Woman as an embarrassment. The baby scene left them cold. Last year, after Gadot got the role, they persuaded the United Nations to terminate Wonder Woman’s Honorary Ambassadorship for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, complaining that Wonder Woman was nothing more than a “large-breasted white woman of impossible proportions.” (Notwithstanding the reference to “impossible proportions,” there were no protests about the UN’s appointment of Angry Red Bird, Winnie the Pooh, or the scantily clad Tinker Bell to ambassadorial posts.)
Each of these perceptions has at least some grounding of validity. But each is superficial, based on how Princess Diana looks, or dresses, or fights. None delve into her character to consider how she thinks, or what she believes. None explore the mind of Wonder Woman.
To undertake such an exploration is to discover that Princess Diana is a mixture of Rousseau and Christianity. She believes that man is inherently good. The evil that men do – warfare, hatred, treachery – are the result of external influence. In Christianity, that influence is Lucifer, the wicked angel cast out of heaven by God. In the World of Man, that influence is Ares.
Princess Diana is taught by her mother, Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira, how Zeus once ruled the heavens, while mankind lived peacefully below. But the god Ares corrupted mankind, making them hateful and belligerent. Zeus and the other gods fought against Ares, but Ares destroyed them. With his dying breath, Zeus cast Ares – like Lucifer – out of Olympus, down to earth to live among men, and to tempt them into evil ways.
The movie begins on the Amazon island of Themyscira, where we meet Diana as a frolicsome little girl. We watch her grow into a mature woman warrior. One day, a plane falls from the sky into the sea. Diana rescues the pilot, who turns out to be Steve Trevor, an American spy who has stolen plans for a hideous chemical weapon that the German General Ludendorff (presumably based on the historical figure of the same name) is developing to win the Great War.
Through Trevor, Diana learns of the World of Man. She believes that its carnage and misery must be the work of Ares. She decides to accompany Trevor back to his world, to find and destroy Ares, and thus bring peace to mankind.
Most of the movie consists of Diana’s adventures fighting and winning World War I, along with Trevor and a band of misfits. She meets and defeats the evil General Ludendorff – whom she mistakenly assumes is Ares — in single combat. But after his death, Germans continue to fight, mystifying her.
Ultimately, she discovers the real Ares, and a titanic CGI duel ensues. Diana triumphs and Ares is destroyed. In the aftermath of the battle, we see German and Allied soldiers embracing. Thanks to Diana, Ares/Lucifer is no more, and mankind has been restored to its former benevolent innocence.
The selection of Gal Gadot to play Diana was inspired. Gadot exudes an exotic mix of beauty and violence. But most of all, Gadot radiates that innocence which is central to Diana’s character. For all the hype about her fighting trim, Diana’s face is soft, with rounded feminine features more reminiscent of a Madonna than a militant. The gentle aura came naturally; Gadot was five months pregnant during the shooting of several key scenes.
Wonder Woman is a delightful fraud of a film, a melodious bell that rings false. The audience knows that the defeat of Ares did not return mankind to its state of innocence. The German and Allied soldiers seen embracing after the destruction of Ares would not usher in an age of peace on earth and goodwill to men. “The war to end all wars” led to a vindictive peace imposed by the victors on a seething nation of resentful losers. The real General Ludendorff did not die in the war. He lived on, becoming an early supporter of Hitler, and a proponent of the theory that Germany lost the war because it had been “stabbed in the back” by Marxists, trade unionists, and Jews. Two decades later, Germany would plunge the world into a far darker abyss
But, oh, what a lovely lie! If only ridding mankind of its misery were as simple as killing a god. As a child and a young woman, Diana Prince thought so. But the movie begins in the present day, with Diana studying a fading photograph of her, Steve Trevor, and their compatriots, just after they saved a Belgian town, a century earlier. Diana has not aged because she is not mortal. She carries divine blood. By now, having lived through World War II and a hundred lesser wars, she knows that the destruction of Ares did not redeem mankind. Still, her Mona Lisa-like smile as she gazes at the photograph evinces an indestructible faith in the essential goodness of humanity.
Lie or no lie, we are blessed to have Diana Prince among us in the World of Man.