[Spoiler Alert: This article discusses major plot points from the films Wonder Woman and Man of Steel].
Following on the heels of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy, DC’s extended universe films haven’t exactly had fans or critics raving. The films have been troubled by production difficulties and overly dramatic character changes. (You may remember the fan outrage that occurred when Superman kills Zod at the end of Man of Steel). Breaking from Marvel’s superhero doctrine, DC’s universe has gone for an almost exclusively dark and grungy feel. That is, with one exception: Wonder Woman.
Raking in over $400,000,000, Wonder Woman became the third highest grossing film domestically in 2017, beating out all three of Marvel’s entries for that year and falling behind only The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast. Unlike DC’s other films so far, Wonder Woman has a good bit of soul.
The film opens with the following lines from Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), as she describes the world she is so desperately trying to save, “It is a land of magic and wonder, worth cherishing in every way; but the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness simmering within.” And mankind, she says, is another story entirely. It’s a pretty good description of earth. According to the Christian worldview, the world was created good, but it has been marred by sin.¹
Born on an Island away from men, Diana is raised to believe that the source of evil in the world is the god Ares, who inspires men to be evil. When the American spy Steve Trevor accidentally crashlands on Diana’s world, bringing the horrors of World War I with him, Diana is forced to confront her destiny. She believes that if only she can kill Ares, people will again be at peace and the pointless violence will stop.
Diana believes that people are basically good at their core. They are only evil because Ares has deceived them. She carries this belief throughout most of the film, until the critical scene where she kills the German commander, whom she mistakenly thinks is Ares.
Steve delivers the line that crushes Diana’s hopes, “Maybe people aren’t always good.” Steve has hit on a truth that points us right back to the Christian view of humanity. At our core, we are all broken and sinful people. It is not that we are basically good and just corrupted by outside forces. Rather, humans are fundamentally broken because of sin.
Since the fall in Genesis 3, sin is part of our lives. Like Adam and Eve, we keep reaching out trying to define right and wrong for ourselves, rebelling against God’s good rule. Initially, we might be tempted to blame Satan for the problem of sin in the world, like Diana, who wants to blame Ares. After all, wasn’t Satan an outside influence who got this whole mess started? In a way, yes; however, we need to point out that Satan didn’t make anyone sin. He can’t do that. He does not have that kind of power. Scripture teaches that Satan’s reach and power is clearly limited and under God’s control (see Job 1-2).
When Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they were doing more that just eating forbidden fruit. They were bidding for their right to define good and evil, their ability to make the world as they wanted without the help of God. And because of their sin, we all sin too (see Romans 5). And sin, like a parasite, sucks our life away. It makes us less than who we were made to be. We lust, kill, hate, and destroy; we’re prideful, petty, and selfish. It’s no wonder that Steve cries out in exasperation, “You don’t think I wish I could tell you it was one bad guy to blame? It’s not; we’re all to blame.” Indeed, he is right. Evil is not just out there, it’s in each of us.
Diana recognizes that humans are not worthy of someone like Wonder Woman. Steve acknowledges that humans are not deserving; but it’s not about deserving, it’s about what one believes. For Steve, that means believing that we can do something about the evil in the world, even if it doesn’t seem like much. As he remarks earlier in the film, “My father told me once . . . when you see something happening in the world you can either do nothing or you can do something.” Steve decides not to sit idly by while evil runs its course. He is a true hero.
When Wonder Woman finally confronts the real Ares, she is initially tempted to side with him. Ares notes that humans are the ones who have corrupted the world, not him. Humans will always be weak, they will always be bad, they will always start wars. They do not deserve the protection of the gods. Refusing the temptation, Diana recognizes that it is not a matter of deserving, it is a matter of belief. “And I believe in love,” she says. Diana’s love propels her to save the broken and undeserving humans rather than destroying them, even the most evil and heinous of them, like Dr. Poison.
As the film comes to a close, Diana remarks that “Only love can save the world.” Indeed she is right, and it was the love of God that made a way for us to be saved. This love was no gushy sentimentality. It was a completely selfless love for the worst sort of people. Did humans deserve such love? Clearly not. But Christ’s love compelled him to suffer and die so that we might have life. His words on the cross remind us of the overwhelming love of God–– “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).
In the end, we must recognize that we are all to blame for the evil in the world. Our response to the problem of sin in the world should be like G. K. Chesterton’s. In response to an article titled “What is Wrong with the World?” Chesterton simply remarked, “Dear sir, I am.” This should lead us to a place of great humility and repentance. However, lest we turn to despair, we need to remember that God did something about our sin. His love reminds us that our brokenness is not what defines us. We must remember that we are God’s image bearers, who are incredibly loved by him. God’s love conquered death and now he sends us out into the world to do something about evil too. Truly, only love can save the world.
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