Written for Acculturated
June 7th, 2017
Good heroes reflect the ideals of their time. Great heroes raise those ideals to another level. It’s unusual to find a film with a protagonist who fits into the latter category today, but D.C. Comic’s latest outing, Wonder Woman, manages to give us one, while also giving us the best film in the D.C. extended universe to date. Wonder Woman—played wonderfully by Gal Gadot—possesses all the virtues we celebrate as a society, without any of the flaws that frequently accompany them. She is kind to all, not just the people who agree with her. She helps all, not just those whom it is easy to help. She serves as a reminder of our responsibilities to our fellow man, and shows that real service requires real action.
Wonder Woman takes us to an alternate world, where the Greek gods of yore actually exist and Amazonian warriors reside on an island called Themyscira hidden away from the rest of the world. It’s on this isle that Wonder Woman is raised as Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. The entire race of women who reside there are trained as warriors so that they might one day defeat Ares, the god of war, who wishes to see mankind destroy itself through unending fighting. It is, as explained by Diana, the sacred duty of the Amazons to defend the world, and to inspire men to greatness. The Amazons are more than capable of carrying out this mission, and display incredible prowess both intellectually—they’re trained in philosophy and speak every language ever known to man—and on the battlefield. Even with their old-fashioned weaponry and armor the Amazons still demolish the technologically advanced German forces they come up against.
So, when Captain Steve Trevor of the Allied forces washes up on the shores of Themyscira and asks for the Amazons’ help it seems natural that they should help defeat the forces of evil that stood opposed to their mission of peace. Innocent people are dying, and the Amazons find themselves in a position to help. This spurs a debate among the Amazonian leaders. What do they owe the outside world, one they rightly suspect is corrupt and has certainly never done anything for them? Diana provides a simple answer: Help.
Unlike her fellow Amazons, Diana has no internal conflict about the idea of lending assistance to those in need. Throughout the film, we’re treated to examples of her dedication to using her abilities to help others. Through her impressive strength—at one point she throws a tank to save some villagers—and kind heart—in another scene she restores a soldier’s self-confidence by assuring him he’s vital to their mission—Diana shows that knowing you can help is the same as knowing you should help.
Diana finds a likeminded ally in Steve Trevor, who shares her high-minded view of duty. When asked why he got involved in the war, Trevor replies with something his father told him: “if you see something wrong in the world you can either do nothing or you can do something.” “And,” says Trevor, “I already tried nothing.”
The ideology embraced by Diana and Trevor is one where morality meets action. Words and thoughts, however well intentioned, cannot achieve the same results as deeds. Diana is frustrated by the inaction of those around her, even when they may be “good” people. Her fellow Amazons were sympathetic to Trevor’s desire to end the war, but that sympathy did not extend to actual assistance. So Diana leaves the other Amazons behind to go help him. Later, Diana comes across a British general who orders Trevor not to take her to the front to destroy a chemical weapons plant, and yells at him, accusing him of being disconnected from the real world and being unwilling to actually fight himself. The general was on the right side, and sought peace, but was not willing to take real action to achieve it. One can only imagine what she’d have to say to today’s internet crusaders and hashtag activists who would rather virtue signal on Twitter than contribute their time and efforts to actually try to change the world.
Wonder Woman serves as an inspiring and rousing morality tale about our duties to each other, and, like Diana, calls mankind to listen to our better angels. We have a responsibility to protect those weaker than us, to fight for those who can’t, and to help whenever we can. And doing so requires real—not virtual—action.