Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
Our BvS analysis: http://comicandscreen.blogspot.com/p/scene-by-scene-analyis-of-batman-v.html
Naive or dumb:
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast focuses on the Warner Brothers films that are part of the Justice League Universe. We love the depth and complexity of these movies and so we take the time to go through them with analysis of each scene. This episode focuses on the overarching themes and character arcs of Wonder Woman and the analysis was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco who is @raveryn on twitter, Rebecca Johnson who is @derbykid, and Sydney who is @wondersyd. Wonder Woman, of course, was directed by Patty Jenkins, based on a screenplay by Allan Heinberg and a story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs. Two others who were uncredited but who contributed to the story were Geoff Johns and Patty Jenkins herself.
So normally we do a scene-by-scene analysis, but before diving into the details of this film, we want to take this episode to process some of the overarching elements. We will share a few of the themes that we noticed throughout the movie and will also talk about some of the characteristics and arcs of the major characters. This is still early in our analysis, so we reserve the right to modify our positions, and what we cover here is definitely not comprehensive, but we will do our best to start to tackle some of the great, well-woven messages that this film had to offer. And then, at the end of the episode, each of us is going to talk about a particular moment of the film that really stood out to us or had an impact on us.
But let’s start with some themes. And recall that by theme we mean a meaningful statement of values or truth, not just a vague topic. Here’s a rundown of the themes as we are interpreting them right now:
- Mankind does not deserve saving, but we should save it anyway.
- Men are more than their baser qualities.
- We all have hatred and love, anger and compassion… but love and compassion are the more powerful forces.
- The ugliness in the world comes from mankind following its baser urges.
- Everyone is fighting his or her own battles, but they still have the potential to do great things.
- During challenging times, friendship can be a saving force.
- Men and women are equals.
- War is bad.
- When you see an injustice, you should do something.
- Legacy is part of what defines us.
- How do you love and be heroic in a complex world?
So let’s take those one at a time and give a bit more detail and evidence of the themes.
Mankind does not deserve saving, but we should save it anyway.
This theme started with one of the most important words in the film, “deserve.” Hippolyta tells Diana that mankind doesn’t deserve her. Later Diana remembers those words when she is at her low point, and Diana actually wonders if maybe mankind is undeserving of help. Ares also builds on this and explicitly tries to convince Diana that mankind does not deserve to be saved. His whole goal has been to convince the gods and then to convince Diana that Zeus’s creation, mankind, was undeserving. The word “deserve” also showed up when the men in Steve’s group make the joke about getting what they want, getting what they need, but never getting what they deserve. And when Steve and Diana have their impassioned conversation after Ludendorff’s death, Steve makes a key turn in the idea, saying that it’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe. And Diana later finishes this thought by saying responding to Ares and saying that she believes in love. We’ll get to love later, but here’s where our thinking is on the idea of deserve.
Mankind does not deserve saving, but we should save it anyway. The first part of this is very clear in the movie. We see the violence and destruction that men bring to Themyscira, we see the smog and inequity of London, we see the ravages of war, inflicted even on the civilians, the innocent. We see all of this carnage anew through Diana’s eyes, and it becomes very believable when Ares said, “Mankind did this.” And ultimately, Diana agrees with him, establishing without debate the first part of our theme -- mankind does not deserve saving.
But that leads us to the second part of the theme, which is the uplifting message that Diana embodies -- we should save mankind anyway. For her, in some sense it’s her destiny to save mankind anyway, that’s literally the reason that Zeus created her. But through the movie, it still very much felt like a purposeful choice that she was making. And part of that choice was just her unwavering compassion and sympathy, which we’ll talk about later when we get to Diana as a character, and it was also because of her optimistic nature and supported by the relationships she had formed. Even amidst the horrors of war, she had seen the glimpses of beauty like the celebration in Veld, and her connections with Charlie, Sammy, the Chief, and especially Steve. There was still the potential for love, and thus mankind is still worth saving.
Another clear reason to save mankind, stated explicitly by Diana, is that mankind does have a bad side but they have a good side, too. We’ll get into that more in some of our next themes. But still on this first theme about deservedness, there are clear religious overtones related to the notion of god’s grace -- that is, unearned salvation and unearned gifts. It is often preached in christianity, for example, that no one can actually be a good enough person to earn a heavenly reward -- in other words, they don’t deserve heaven -- but god will grant it to them anyway, so long as you choose love, in this case, to love god and his son jesus as the savior. In the case of Wonder Woman, it is more about choosing love in the sense of a compassionate love for humanity. But there are certainly the parallels, and people who choose to look at this movie through that religious lens probably have a lot that they can draw out.
In the context of the film, we can also say that mankind is not alone in their imperfection. Yes, men have severe flaws and so may be considered to not deserve saving, but the Amazons also have some flaws. They have some prejudices against men or against non-Amazons. Or if anyone or any group of people think that they are superior to another, this can be the spark that ignites the flames of war. In this movie, we saw that even the gods are not perfect -- they can suffer from selfishness and vengeance and violence. So in one sense, no one is perfect, but it does not necessarily follow that no one deserves saving. Diana, by dint of her heritage as part mortal, part god, and because of her experiences, comes to see that mankind does deserve to be saved even though they are flawed and imperfect. In essence, Diana separates the notions of deservedness and perfection, which Ares and others were trying to confound.
So that leads us to our next theme…
Men are more than their baser qualities.
Many of the baser qualities are on display in this movie -- weakness, cruelty, selfishness, greed, insensitivity, and the capability to commit horrors and inflict suffering. They really stand out because of the contrasts that the filmmakers drew between Themyscira and Man’s World, and by the way, the men we are referring to here include both the men and women outside of Themyscira, because “Man” was created by Zeus which includes all genders. So we see throughout the movie these baser qualities, even amongst the heroes like the initial greed of the team members and the fact that Steve often tries to hold back or mansplain things to Diana. Hippolyta even shows some selfishness in wanting to protect and limit her daughter. It is really only Diana who avoids these baser urges and doesn’t seem to be prone to them much at all.
So anyway, we see the baser urges on display, which is part of why World War 1 was a great setting for this movie, and it makes so that it hits us really hard when Ares articulates those negative qualities. He claims to be the god of Truth and he seems to be basically right when he says, “I am the only one who truly knows you, and who truly knows them as you now do. They have always been and always will be weak, cruel, selfish, capable of the greatest horrors.” In the final battle he also has this great line delivery about mankind being filled with hatred.
But Diana responds to him, filling out our theme: “You’re wrong about them. They’re everything you say, but so much more.” And the reason this is a theme for the movie and not just a line of dialogue from the movie is that they also showed us many ways in which Man is more than their baser qualities, we can see that Diana is even more correct than Ares. Right before her line, we saw Steve’s courageous act of sacrifice. We also saw the love and respect that he came to have for Diana, as did the other men on the team. Through Dr. Maru’s facial scars and advanced language and chemistry knowledge we see the ability to survive and persist as well as the potential for greatness. We see creativity and talent with Charlie’s singing and piano playing. We see Chief’s resilience and adaptability in his ability to carry on and make the most of his situation, and we saw how the men in the trenches and the people in the village responded so positively to him. Sameer’s charisma and optimism shine through in his affections toward and faith in Diana. And we saw the people of Veld, who just want to share in joy and peace together, if the war would give them a chance to do so.
So these first two themes are very clear throughout the movie, and they work well together: Mankind can be flawed and cruel and in this sense do not deserve saving, but they are more than their baser qualities, so we should save mankind anyway.
There’s another spin that we can put on the duality of Mankind, which leads us to another theme:
We all have hatred and love, anger and compassion… but love and compassion are the more powerful forces.
This theme is framed around the good and evil that is inside each of us. We each have the capacity for hatred but also the capacity for love. We can rise to anger but we can also show great compassion. So these dualities can always be in tension, but the film makes the point that love and compassion are more powerful -- they can win the day and save the world.
The tensions are brought up right in Diana’s opening narration -- The world is “a land of magic and wonder,” but it also has a “great darkness simmering within.” And the narration also indicates to us that, through the perspective of Diana, we are going to explore these tensions. She says, “What one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you think.” Truth of course is a common idea associated with the character of Wonder Woman, and in this film, she has to face the truth that Mankind has both beauty and darkness. What does she do when faced with this? Well, we see by the end that she chooses love and beauty. She makes it explicitly about the power of love, and Zack Snyder called her a “warrior for love.” And to be clear, in our interpretation this is about her universal and deep compassionate love, not just romantic love with Steve. (I could imagine some people thinking at the end that she just means that she loved Steve, which would be okay I guess but kind of a simplistic reading, in my view.)
Realizing and then addressing these dualities was not just done through Diana, either. Steve also brought them up. In their conversation after Ludendorff’s death, Steve also recognizes that a lot of the problems are not just from Ares but are inherently part of mankind. But Steve also says that what you believe is more important, so again, the capacity for hatred or anger do not need to be the end of the story. To Ares, that is the end of the story -- that’s what he sees in mankind, Zeus’s creation, and so Ares uses that to pass judgment on them. And General Ludendorff and Doctor Poison seem to embody those darker sides, but they do not represent all of mankind. And Diana even chooses to spare Doctor Poison at the end.
This theme also reminds us of Bruce’s conversation with Diana in Batman v Superman, when he says: “Men are still good. We fight, we kill, we betray one another, but we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to.”
As we said before, all of these themes are still preliminary, and we may revise them as we go through our analysis, but right now we have concluded this theme by saying that love is more powerful than hatred. The reason we wanted to phrase it this way is that Patty Jenkins described Diana in the final battle as gaining her new level of power specifically from love. In an interview with Collider, Jenkins said, (quote) “the thing that is actually shielding her in the end is her own love. She’s exuding a change of attitude, which makes her impervious to his power.”
Not just at the end, but throughout the movie, Diana shows that the power of love comes from putting it into action. It’s not just enough to say you love someone. You have to enact that love, as Diana does when she hears the woman’s story about Veld and then rises out of the trench, or as Diana does when she channels her love for Steve and uses it to defeat Ares . Steve also enacts his love when he sacrifices himself at the end. And Antiope enacts her love when she throws herself in front of a bullet for Diana. Even Hippolyta you could say enacted her love when she finally allowed Diana to leave. Love is powerful, but you have to let it act through you.
And then, of course, in the final narration, Diana sums things up by saying that “only love can truly save the world.” This was her response to what she explicitly called “the darkness that lives within [mankind’s] light. A choice each must make for themself.”
And we should say again that it’s not just mankind that has this inner dilemma. Diana herself, who was a pure and good-hearted hero throughout the movie, even she had a moment of real anger. After Steve died, she showed that she was also capable of rage and hatred when she mowed through the German soldiers with Ares looking on. So we saw the tension, the inner demons that are inside all of us, and then we saw her set the example of how to rise above it and to choose love. Yes, she killed Ares, but in doing so she was choosing to protect mankind and rejecting his offer to rid the world of mankind’s damaging influence.
Speaking of mankind’s damaging influence, our next theme is...
The ugliness in the world comes from mankind following its baser urges.
This was a clear visual theme of the movie. We might still rephrase it in the future, but the main idea here is that the world itself is inherently beautiful --- nature is truly a wonder, but it becomes hideous if it is mistreated by mankind. Ares shows a beautiful world untouched by any man or woman, the beauty of creation without anyone there to wreck it. Themyscira shows a culture that cares for and respects its island paradise. And then all of this contrasts with what mankind had done in the era of World War 1. The cities were dirty, fossil fuels were being burned and polluting the air without regard for long-term effects, and then of course the war effort and all the weapons were causing great suffering to the Earth, the animals, and the people. All of this ugliness and inequity and destruction was caused by men, it was not a natural occurrence.
Now, of course we have to consider Ares’s motives when he’s presenting visions to Diana. He is trying to win her over, and he wants the destruction of mankind basically as revenge and jealousy against his father. So he was over-emphasizing the flaws in mankind and also probably over-emphasizing the beauty that would result from the absence of man. But even without Ares, we the audience know that what we were seeing was some form of truth about the era of World War 1, and even in today’s society, we can think about the ugliness and the inequity that we are still causing. From this perspective, Wonder Woman is offering a critique of modern civilization and challenging us to do better. Perhaps we’ve become too accustomed to our mistreatment of the planet and we need an outsider like Diana to help us see it with fresh eyes so that we can make changes.
Alright, we’re going to mention a few more themes that we’re thinking about right now, but we’ll be a bit more concise so that we can get into some thoughts on the characters.
Related to the earlier theme about the good and the bad inside everyone, the movie also invites us to think of the theme this way...
Everyone is fighting their own battles, but they still have the potential to do great things.
The earlier theme was about good and bad inside us, but the good being more powerful. This one is related but slightly different. In this theme, we’re building on what Sameer said to Diana -- each of us is fighting our own personal battles. In some cases those battles might be between our good and bad sides, but they can also be lots of other things. They could also be unfulfilled dreams and desires, or external prejudices and discrimination, or loneliness. The personal battles could be lots of things, and I think this invites the audience to connect with whatever might be the personal battles we’re going through ourselves. And then the movie lets us know that, even if we have personal battles or challenges that we struggle to deal with, we still have a lot of potential. This shows up most clearly with the gang, who are a bunch of misfits with quite a few struggles, but we see them rise to the occasion and accomplish a lot. Even Charlie, whose PTSD prevents him from functioning as a marksman, still finds ways to help the group by being their spotter with the scope and also by bringing good cheer and song.
Speaking of the gang, our next theme is...
During challenging times, friendship can be a saving force.
Friendship or comradeship showed up in many ways throughout the movie. With the Amazons, we got a sense that they really respected and cared for one another, and that showed up on the battlefield. And then this was something that the Amazons actually had in common with the men, because Steve’s gang was consistently there for one another. Steve felt he could depend on his comrades even when they show signs of faltering. He did not hold Charlie’s shell shock against him. He relied on the group to cover his entry to the plane. And Diana was able to integrate into this friendship. She saves Charlie in the bar. She also lifts him up when he’s down. When he feels unneeded Diana reassures him telling him they needed him to sing to suggest he has a place among them. She bonds with Sameer and calls him a hero after they save Veld. She shakes Chief’s hand and listens to his story. And then of course Diana and Steve have their friendship that develops along with their romantic feelings. All of this together exemplifies the power of friendship in a time of war.
And we also see the relationship between Ludendorff and Maru. Ludendorff contrasts sharply with Steve’s gang in terms of how Ludendorff treats his underlings and even his fellow generals. But he does “work well together” with Doctor Maru. They have a clear connection, but it doesn’t seem to be the same because they never actually get a chance to stick up for or save one another. It actually ends up being Diana who spares Maru, even though she is not friends with her. So Diana shows that her compassion even extends beyond friendship or those with whom she has a personal relationship.
Alright, a few quick ones...
Men and Women are equals.
They both have their strengths and flaws. Diana was wise, strong, and beautiful. But she was wrong about Ludendorff, and naive about other things, having an oversimplified view of the world. Men can be stubborn and cruel and wage war, but they can be loving, rise to greater heights and sacrifice for the greater good. The men often looked down on Diana for being a woman, but she proved to be superior in languages and honor. The Amazons looked down on Steve Trevor, but he proved to be noble, selfless, and brave.
The film also seemed to support a more sophisticated form of feminism, not by bashing men to prop up women but by sending the message that they had much in common, and that their differences were differences, not one better than the other. Yes, Man’s World is hideous compared to Themyscira, but this was more a message about our society in the real world, men and women together, not just men. And yes, Diana could do certain things much better than the men, but she still needed the team for their contributions, and besides, it’s not like mortal women could do the things Diana was doing either. Also, the film wrote in Diana clearly sharing the credit and making it more about the idea of equality and shared achievements. Steve says to her after the battle for Veld, “You did this.” But she defers and says, “We did.” The way Jenkins framed shots with Diana and Steve in battle also touches on ideas like this, and we’ll talk about some of them when we go scene-by-scene.
The Battle on the Beach also suggested a sort of equality between men and women as they were each able to inflict damage and death upon the other side. This contrasted with Man’s World, where women were forbidden from combat positions.
The movie also showed women in positions of power, such as Hippolyta and Antiope, obviously, but also Etta being asked to run the operation, and Doctor Maru in charge of her lab, and then Diana shifting from tagalong to basically the leader of the gang. In some cases the women are still subservient to a man, but there is at least the suggestion of competence and potential contributions on par with men, and the movie also raises the question of how the halls of leadership might have been different if women had actually been allowed inside.
War is bad.
Can’t put it much more plainly than that, and this is a theme of many war movies. It causes all sorts of suffering. We witness Charlie’s experience with PTDS as he struggles with nightmares and shell shock. An entire village died unsuspecting and in a cruel manner from poisonous gas. Innocent people, women and children, were being harmed amidst the fighting. And as a result of the war, people were missing out on the luxuries of life like marriage, children, growing old, ice cream, and dancing. Man was too busy dying to enjoy living. We also see a London and the landscapes amidst war, dirty and damaged. And then we see how the world could look without the conflicts of Man, on Themyscira and in Ares’ vision of a fruitful environment.
When you see an injustice, you should do something.
We are going to say more about this theme when we get to Steve’s character analysis in a moment. But even beyond Steve, we saw that Diana was inspired by Steve and decided to do something by climbing the tower to retrieve the godkiller sword and the rest of our outfit. Diana also had to do something when she left the trenches and went into No Man’s Land. And Diana felt she had to do something at the Gala and after the Gala. Sameer, Charlie, and The Chief also stayed to help Steve and Diana even beyond what they were initially signed on for.
Legacy is part of what defines us.
The idea of legacy shows up in several ways throughout the film.
- Hippolyta giving Diana Antiope’s tiara
- Diana as the God Killer (legacy of the gods)
- The Amazons as protectors and Diana taking on that mission, even though she’s different among the Amazons
- Steve's family legacy (his dad’s watch)
- His legacy ends with his death...or does it?
- Diana seems to carry the impact of Steve's death with her even to the present day
- And also the picture of Diana's team that Bruce sends her as a gift
Alright, and the last theme we’ll mention here is in the form of a question...
How do you love and be heroic in a complex world?
This theme comes from Patty Jenkins herself in the DC All Access interview that appeared on the back page of some of the DC comic books. She said, (quote) “The most important theme is the one that comes from Diana, which is love. How do you love? How do you become a hero? And how do those things work in a very complex world? So someone who has a very immature and naive idea of what it will be to love versus what it truly turns out to be to love and be a hero.”
This idea of finding a way to love and to embody love as a hero, and doing it in a complex world, basically wraps together a lot of the previous themes. We see through the movie Diana learning lessons about the world and seeing that it isn’t as simple as she had assumed at first. But she still stays true to her convictions and her desire to love and to be a force for good. As Zack Snyder put it when talking about the character of Wonder Woman, he said that at the end, in her most challenging moments, “what comes from inside of her is this inherent truth which she must, and everyone actually must see and embrace.” She does not waver from her convictions, even when she sees the ugliness of the world and is enticed by the beauty that Ares used to tempt her.
This idea of being a hero in the complex world also works well with other DCEU films, and especially with the character of Superman. Clark knows the world is complex, just as Jonathan Kent knew. And Clark has doubts about whether he will be accepted or if his heroics will actually be helpful. To be clear, Clark is never ambivalent or apathetic -- he truly desires to help and he does whatever he can, but he worries about how his intended good deeds will actually play out in the complex world. Diana, on the other hand, initially believes that love and heroism will win the day easily, and so it’s a punch to the gut to realize that things are more complex than she anticipated. She learns that neither love nor heroism can be reduced to platitudes -- they must show in her actions even when challenged by life’s horrors.
Moreover, to love and to be a hero requires selflessness. To be heroic requires you to love in some form. Love thy neighbor. Love, even in its most shallow form, is what will compel you to help others: Love of humanity, love of life, love of Man’s creations, love of another. In a multifaceted and dynamic world of complexity where wrong and right are not always discernable, the only way to be a hero is to act selflessly. Steve Trevor acted selflessly in stopping the plane carrying the poisonous gas. His team acted selflessly to protect the village and stop the German army at its base. And Diana acted selflessly to help Man by leaving behind her world and seek out Ares when the Amazons would have her stay safe on Themyscira. And looking back at Superman, his selfless sacrifice was also how he resolved the dilemmas he was facing with the world’s reaction to him.
Alright, let’s move into some brief character analysis. This movie had some great character arcs, and we’ll cover them in more detail in our subsequent scene-by-scene analysis. But right now, we want to just share a few initial thoughts.
And of course let’s start with the character that carried the whole movie...
She has some very clear character traits that we think are a big reason this movie is resonating with so many people, and her traits are kind of a unique blend that hasn’t been seen before in a superhero movie. She has a pure heart, and she also has naive optimism which later turns into realistic optimism. She is very naturally compassionate and her compassion and empathy are strong. These are also some of the most salient characteristics of the original character as created by William Moulton Marston, who believed that women’s capacity for compassion was simply greater than men’s. And the film did a great job of showing that this compassion and empathy was not a weakness that clouds her judgment but a strength that gives her clarity of purpose and makes her a true hero to those who are suffering. Importantly, she shows compassion not only for the victims she witnesses first hand but even for people she hasn’t met. For example, during Steve’s lasso interrogation when he describes the war, just based on those words Diana already showed compassion. And she also extended her compassion to her enemies. At the end, she even shows compassion to Doctor Maru (although not to Ares, maybe because she reserves compassion for mortals -- just a thought).
Anyway, as Patty Jenkins described to ComicBook.com: “The greatest thing about Wonder Woman is how good and kind and loving she is, yet none of that negates any of her power.”
One thing that we really appreciated was that Diana’s character traits were not just there as her personality, they actually served the story and the plot. It was her compassion that became crucial in the resolution of the final battle. And in the end, Diana extends her compassion and optimism to all of humanity.
And her naivete allowed for some good humor and emotional connections to the character in Act 1, but then it also became the basis for her arc throughout the movie and she had to face more and more realizations about mankind and human nature. She had to face the fact that killing Ares would not automatically stop the war, and yet she still had to muster the will to defeat him, even if that wasn’t going to be the end of the challenges in the world.
With regard to the naivete, Gal Gadot worried that it was toeing the line of her being dumb, but she trusted Jenkins to pull it off, making sure it came across as naive and kind of overly optimistic rather than dumb. And we think that they really did pull it off.
And by the way, this idea of a naive character who comes into a troubled society and whose inherent, simplistic goodness kind of shines a light on the ways that people are mistreating one another reminds me a lot of The Idiot by Dostoevsky, one of my favorite authors. In that book, which takes place in Russia, there is a purely good soul who has no malice in his heart and who, because of this, is viewed by the townspeople as basically being a simpleton, almost like a mentally disabled person. But really he was just honest and sincere, with no malice or deceit. People basically didn’t know what to make of him because they were so accustomed to people being selfish and two-faced.
Anyway, back to Diana, another important characteristic is her determination. This was visible at an early age, and then it shows up several times when she’s an adult (e.g., chewing out the generals, and finally refusing to look past the suffering and deciding to go up out of the trench… one of the best scenes of the movie, which we’ll talk more about later).
She also, of course, has her substantial fighting ability. Zack Snyder and Patty Jenkins have both talked about how she doesn’t seek out fights with aggression, but she will fight for her beliefs and for what she thinks is right, and she will kick your butt when she does. Some people have raised the question about whether it’s okay that Diana kills in the movie. Patty Jenkins said in her Collider interview that the filmmakers talked about the killing issue quite a bit. Patty said it was necessary to have her kill, because sometimes, especially in war, it just has to happen and Diana is willing to do what’s necessary. But the key is that Diana does not relish or enjoy it at all. And besides, Diana as a character has never had a strict no-killing rule. There’s an Amazon mantra from the comics that goes something like: “Don’t kill if you can maim. Don’t maim if you can subdue. And don’t raise a fist that has not first been extended in friendship.” Killing isn’t her favorite thing to do if there’s another way, but in the context of the film is totally appropriate.
And speaking of the fighting, one thing my wife and I talked about right away was that it was cool that the fight scenes with the Amazons and then later with Diana were choreographed in basically a gender-neutral way. They were just great fighters and were filmed in the same way you would film men.
Throughout the movie, Diana has a clear arc of starting naive and then gaining a real perspective on what the world and what humanity are like, but through it all she stays true to her convictions and her goals to help. She also has the growth of a relationship with Steve. And she also comes into her own and finds out the full truth of who she is. She is not a normal Amazon, but a demi-god born from Amazon & Zeus. SHE is the god killer. We are able to see that she reconciles the inconsistencies she’s faced throughout her life and she is ready to step up to the responsibilities and significance not yet realized or acknowledged about who she is. She is the bridge between Man, Amazons, and Gods. And by the end of the movie, she is presumably the only remaining God… although the New Gods from Apokolips might have something to say about that in Justice League.
But moving on to
Steve Trevor (and the love story)
Steve is shown to be a very capable soldier and he seems to have a good heart. He also has a charming personality. Throughout the movie, we see him drawn to Diana’s purity and courage. Also, her desire to do something resonates with him, even though they don’t always agree on what to do. To Steve, he explicitly talks about the lesson his father taught him and that he has embodied, that you have to do something when you see an injustice. He explicitly said he had to do something when he first saw Maru’s poisons. Then he had to defy his general’s orders when the general ordered him to do nothing -- Steve still had to go and try to stop the war. And then in the trenches, Steve was trying to say that they are doing something by going around to the safe passage that would get them to Ludendorff’s operation. And at the end, Steve had to do something with the gas that was loaded and timed to go off on the plane.
So with this as a central part of Steve’s character, it must have been very appealing to see Diana who also asserts herself and feels the true desire to do something to make the world a better place. We also see that Diana rubs off on Steve and inspires him to gradually raise his ambitions throughout the movie -- from just wanting to prevent the new poison gas strike and trying to minimize bloodshed before the armistice is reached, to being willing to go out on an unsanctioned mission with Diana, to his final sacrifice at the end. He follows her lead and is inspired by her, so that makes their relationship more than just affection or romance -- they each inspire the other to be better than they were before.
Adding on to this, we liked overall how they developed the romance between Steve and Diana. They had lots of meaningful moments to connect with one another and push the relationship forward. It obviously started with the rescue, but in the original comics, this was it -- Diana was basically instantly in love (in some cases before Steve even regained consciousness). But in the movie, the rescue is just the beginning, but it builds in the cave on Themyscira, then when they fight together on the beach, when they bond a bit through conversation on the boat ride, and then more danger that they go through together in the war, and then the dancing and the snowfall. It all builds toward their night together before the end, and that scene was handled with a lot of class, by the way. And after their relationship was fairly deep, they did have a confrontation after the Gala, but both of their hearts were in the right place, and they both did what they had to do in the final battle.
Their relationship was also multi-layered in the sense that it was infused not only with emotional connections but also with shared purpose and humor. The humor came from each of them learning about the other’s way of life and worldview, and also from Diana initially being kind of unimpressed with Steve. But her feelings for him grew as she witnessed his actions and got to know him better. And Steve initially kind of held Diana back from unleashing her full potential, but eventually he got out of her way, showing full respect for her, such as when he told her to go to the smoke and find Ludendorff.
Overall, they fell for each other’s pure heartedness and innocence -- Diana’s optimistic naivete & Steve’s goodness. And with regard to Steve himself, although he didn’t change much throughout the film, he did finally come to have a deep personal connection when he otherwise seemed to be kind of lonely or missing that part of his life. And he didn’t really need to progress much more than that because what he gained throughout the movie were experiences. He was honorable and selfless from the start, and he fulfilled that role to the end. But he aided the progression of other characters while gaining life experiences for himself including and especially Romantic love. To him this romantic love further validated his actions, both personally and ideologically.
Alright, on to the bad guy convention...
General Ludendorff / Doctor Poison
It was very interesting to see a villain duo like this. And Ludendorff’s respect and trust for Dr. Maru seemed surprisingly genuine for the time. He was actually willing to recognize that she was a capable woman, and he treated her better than the other soldiers on his side.
But Ludendorff was weak and this weakness was emphasized by his need for drugs to make him physically strong. He was also weak in the sense that he was an unwitting tool of Ares, and a tool of the German leadership. In a cowardly act, he used Maru to eliminate the German leadership in order to continue the war. He had no empathy or love, just hatred and greed. In the end he died fairly easily at Diana’s hands, even with his super strength.
Dr. Poison was actually the stronger of the pair. She was strong willed and a survivor. Although she too was manipulated by Ares, her intelligence was the conduit for Ares’ manipulation. She was knowledgeable in chemistry, as well as the Ottoman and Sumerian languages. Although we don’t know how she got her facial scars, it did not weaken her. She was also not gullible to Steve’s advances and compliments.
And of course the big bad...
We think Ares was a great choice for the villain in this movie because this is Wonder Woman’s origin story, so it’s great to have a villain who is connected to her roots with Greek mythology. For the same reason, it was great that they had the Kryptonian General Zod be the villain for Man of Steel. And Ares, from Greek Mythology and the comics such as the classic George Perez run in the 1980s, we know that he derives power from war. He thrives on men warring against each other, and this even showed up symbolically in the final battle when Ares’s armor literally formed from all the carnage and wreckage of war that was around him.
In the movie, we saw the story of Ares turning on the Gods, and this is similar to how Man turns on his own kind, too. In that respect, perhaps Ares admires Man. One possibility is that Ares was actually lying to Diana. Perhaps he does NOT actually want mankind wiped off the face of the Earth. After all, if Ares truly wanted Man destroyed, why not just kill them all? The other Gods were dead, so there was no one to stop him. Rather than obliterating them, he feeds them ideas and thoughts to fuel the engine of War. And Ares probably does not expect this to lead to the destruction of all people, at least not anytime soon. So in this line of thinking, Ares just wants to spur more and more destruction and hatred, he does not actually want to wipe out mankind and reclaim the entirety of Earth. When he shows Diana that pristine, man-free world, he is actually just lying to her and trying to entice her to join his side.
That’s one possibility. The other possibility, of course, is more straightforward -- which is just to take Ares at his word. That he actually does want to kill mankind because they are Zeus’s creation whom Ares resents. But there are at least two factors suggesting that the straightforward interpretation is questionable. First, as we said before, why hasn’t Ares been killing people then, since he clearly seems to have the power to? And second, Ares is a known liar, and given that he knows Diana is naive and drawn to noble aims, it would make sense that this is how he tries to lie to her to manipulate her into giving up her quest. How do we know Ares is a liar? After all, he claims to be the God of Truth, right? And when he said that, he was holding the lasso of truth, so isn’t he really the God of Truth, not the God of War? Well, this may be a matter of debate, and we will have to do some further analysis on it, but at this moment, I’m going to say that he was lying --- he is not the God of Truth. The moment that I became convinced of this was later when he told a bald-faced lie. Near the end of the final battle, he told Diana that Steve had left her nothing, and that his sacrifice and his life were basically worthless. But this was demonstrably false. Steve had left her his watch, and of course more than that, he had left a very deep impression on her that she would never forget. He also helped her to change as a person, so Ares was dead wrong in his description of Steve. Because of this lie, and probably others that we’ll find once we look more closely, it seems like Ares can’t actually be the God of Truth. So he is what we thought he was, the God of War.
Okay, we need to move on, but really quickly, about the twist that Ares was Sir Patrick. I’ve already watched the movie with several different people, and the twist has basically half-worked on just about everyone. People all seemed to suspect that Ludendorff was not Ares, but people were not able to figure out who the actual Ares was. So they all still tended to like the reveal that it was Sir Patrick. Some people thought it was maybe Doctor Poison who was actually Ares -- a woman, when everyone was assuming Ares was a man. And others thought that maybe Ares was no one, just a story and that it was going to be only the inner demons of men. Overall, I liked the twist with Ares and Sir Patrick, because even if you saw it coming, it was still filmed really effectively in terms of Diana being surprised that it was him. One more lesson about the world that she had to learn -- don’t just assume that because someone is talking peace that they have the best intentions in mind.
And by the way, it does make sense that Sir Patrick earlier would help the gang get to the front, even though he was Ares all along. The reason he wanted to send them to the front was so that Diana would see all the carnage and death. Ares wanted them to get there so that it would make Diana ripe for the conversion to his side -- he hoped it would turn her against Mankind. But his plan failed because Diana’s compassion and love was strong enough to still carry her through.
Alright, let’s briefly talk about...
Hippolyta and Antiope
Hippolyta was a great warrior and champion of the Amazons who freed them from enslavement in the distant past. Now, with that troubled history, she is overprotective. She tells Diana stories to hide the truth from her in this attempt to protect her. She does not want Diana to learn to fight. She knows Diana’s destiny is to kill Ares but does not want her to face him. Even when Hippolyta realizes that Diana has to learn to defend herself, she then orders Antiope to train her harder than ever because now she wants Diana’s skills as a fighter to help protect her. Eventually she realizes that she must let her bird fly from the nest like any good parent and gives her approval and encouragement by giving Diana Antiope’s tiara.
Antiope is a good complement to Hippolyta. She also loves Diana but her style is different -- Antiope is encouraging and is protective in a way which gives Diana the tools to protect herself. Antiope also functions in this movie as an exemplar of leadership. She is the Amazon general and she trains her warriors personally and has great respect for them, and gets respect in return. She literally rides to battle at the front of the charge, she fights alongside the other Amazons, and then gives her life to save Diana. In this way, Antiope is a stark contrast to the generals in Man’s World -- to General Ludendorff, who shoots a soldier just to prove a point, and Antiope is also a contrast to the British general who sits in comfort and talks about soldiers dying because “that’s what they do.” When Diana steps forward and gives that British general a piece of her mind, it really resonates because Antiope was the example that we know Diana is referring to. When Diana says the British general should be ashamed because real generals fight alongside their soldiers and would die for them, it really punches home because Diana was there with Antiope and loved her. In this way, Antiope’s presence was felt even though she was only in the first portion of the movie. And of course Antiope was also a big part of the classic No Man’s Land scene because that’s when Diana put on the tiara and tried to live up to Antiope’s example, just as Hippolyta had hoped she would.
Alright, last but not least, we have...
The Gang (or the Team, or the Squadron, or whatever it is we should call them) - Sameer, Charlie, and Chief
We will cover them a lot more in our scene-by-scene analysis, and we’ve already mentioned them a bit when we were talking about themes, but overall, they collectively have a nice arc where they shift from focusing on profits and self interest, but by the end they are in it for the cause. Diana has inspired them, and maybe they’ve found a bit of their inner strength and goodness.
Those are some changes, but what they had consistently throughout the movie was their loyalty to one another and their friendship, presumably because they had already been through quite a lot together before the events of this movie.
Individually, they bring a great mix of personalities to the movie, and the casting was great because they also have such distinctive faces and silhouettes, which works really well visually. They also each have their own battles, as we described earlier, and they also each are valuable at different times in the film, such as in the Battle for Veld, around the Gala, and of course them all working together at the end to take out the plane loaded with poison gas.
But for the sake of time, we need to move on. The last thing we want to do in this episode is share some specific moments in the movie that were meaningful to each of us. We’ve been talking across the entire film and in broad strokes, so now we wanted to get a bit more specific as a sort of teaser of the kinds of things that we’ll get to in our scene-by-scene analysis.
- First up, I’ll start with a moment that really stood out to me, and it’s related to the personal battles theme from before, but it really hit me in a specific way in the celebration after the Battle for Veld.
- Diana learns many lessons throughout the movie about Man’s World and about humanity. One lesson, articulated to her by Sameer, is that everyone is fighting their own personal battles. When Sameer says the line about personal battles, we see Diana looking at her compatriots. She has just heard about Sameer’s personal battle with racism and unfulfilled dreams. And she looks at Chief, who desires to be free and who left his own land because it had been taken from his people. And then Charlie, whose nightmares she had witnessed and who she knows has lost his sharpshooting ability and thus his purpose. But then the part I love is that this scene has an unspoken implication about Steve Trevor -- he’s the other member of the team, and Diana realizes that she doesn’t fully know his personal battles, and so we the audience also realize at the same time that we’ve gotten to know Steve’s personality, and we know about his convictions to stop the war, but we don’t know the state of his emotional damage or his personal desires separate from the war. This is a masterful emotional set-up, and it pays off very soon afterward during the dancing scene. That’s when Diana and us together find out that Steve has not yet found love or been able to experience a normal life. He’s had to exude vigor, but he hasn’t been able to settle down with someone who feels like home. These two moments together -- Diana thinking about the personal battles and then making that personal connection with Steve -- are just small examples of how well this film handled the emotional and personal relationship elements of the story.
- Next, let’s go to Alessandro, who first of all noticed some great connections between Steve’s sacrifice at the end of Wonder Woman and Superman’s sacrifice at the end of BvS, and particularly Diana’s reaction to Superman’s death. But Alessandro also had some insights about that same scene that I mentioned when Steve and Diana were dancing together in Veld. He interpreted the moment in the context of inexperience. The idea of inexperience seems to be a huge underlying element to this movie - inexperience as in things we haven’t experienced yet and are therefore unfamiliar with or naive to. There is an element of unawareness, or lack of knowledge….essentially Naivete without the implied “gullible” interpretation of the word. And inexperience as in things we haven’t experienced yet and are currently missing out on, may never get the chance to experience, or are beyond our scope of existence such as the world of Gods to Man. While there is much that Diana is “naive” to about the world of Man, such as snowfall and beer, there are also things Steve is “naive” to about his own world, such as marriage, family, and growing old. And just as Steve is “naive” about many things in Diana’s world upon Themyscira and among the gods, Diana too is “naive” about certain aspects of her world. In both worlds living in battle and fear, naivete or inexperience is perpetuated as a result. Men and women cannot reach the heights of their full capabilities and enjoyment and appreciation of the place of their existence when allowing War and fear to permeate their actions and motivations and reason for living. The scene of Diana and Steve dancing amidst the snowfall epitomizes this notion by encapsulating the ideas and lessons regarding this inexperience and naivete about secrets, ways and means, and living, presented in the movie. It stood out to Alessandro as a quintessential scene that tied the movie together. The scene also served to advance Steve and Diana’s relationship and essentially add to their overall experience as if it acknowledge this theme while fighting against its underlying elements.
- Alright, next up let’s here from one of our new contributor’s Rebecca:
- The aspect of Wonder Woman that has lingered with me the most is Steve Trevor’s watch. While it could be seen as an ordinary object, for me, it represents two of the major themes I took away from the movie: Time and Legacy.
- When Diana is introduced to the concept of the watch, she is confused about why Steve would allow something to tell him what to do. I imagine that is because Diana is a demi-god or demi-goddess and is immortal so time wouldn’t hold the same value or weight for her as it would for Steve. But, for Steve, the watch is more than just a device that tells you the hour of the day. It’s a cherished possession given to him by his father, who had it as he went through Hell and back. The watch embodies the legacy of Steve’s father that keeps ticking and has stood the test of time, itself.
- The tragedy of Steve Trevor’s character is that he teaches Diana about Mankind choosing to get married and having children, but he will never be able to experience those life events for himself. His time is cut short and he knows it when he tells Diana “I wish we had more time”. Despite going through his own Hell and back, the only part of Steve Trevor that remains in the world after his death is the watch he passes on to Diana. As I see it, in that moment, the watch goes from symbolizing time to representing legacy. Steve’s legacy.
- Steve Trevor is remembered after the war is over when Diana finds his picture among those lost in the fight, but more importantly, his memory is carried with her into the present. In addition to Bruce Wayne bestowing Diana Prince with the original photographic image of the team who helped her defeat Ares, visually depicting the group’s legacy that remained with her a hundred years later, we find out that Diana still has Steve’s watch, a reminder not just of his father’s legacy, but of her time with Steve, what he gave up for the world, and his love for her.
- The Amazons also influence Diana’s journey through Hippolyta offering Antiope’s battle headgear/headband that becomes Wonder Woman’s tiara. So while legacies are not exclusive to Mankind, I was most moved by how a non-superpowered man impacted Diana Prince’s life through his example of self-sacrifice.
- And finally here is our other new contributor, Sydney, with her observations:
- “I believe in love” line really hit me for the same reasons that the “men are still good” and “this is my world” lines did. In all three cases those lines could be cheesy, but they occur after key moments of transformation for these characters which gives them greater authenticity. Each of them have had their ideals tested, and have emerged all the more heroic for it.
- Diana begins the movie believing in love - the naive, childish notion that all of mankind is fundamentally good and will return to being so after she literally destroys War. She’s not wrong to feel compassion for mankind, or to fight her way across the front lines, she just wrongly assumes it will always be so easy.
- Her faith in the goodness of mankind is shattered after she kills Ludendorff. Suddenly it seems everything she believed in was a lie, and she becomes disappointed and cynical. She comes to agree with her mother that mankind is undeserving of her compassion. Even Steve’s desperate plea for her help is ignored - it just doesn’t seem worth it.
- Steve’s sacrifice opens her eyes to the truth - that the good guys win by never giving up, by doing something. Humanity is more complicated than her simple ideals accounted for, but just because there is evil in them doesn’t mean they are all without worth. Her compassion can still make a difference, it just requires action and a belief in a better world. She believes in love again, only this time with an understanding of the world’s complexity.
- In real life childhood idealism gives way to adult cynicism, and most people stay that way their whole lives. But not the people who change the world for the better, or at least try to. Those people see the evils of the world and choose to embrace ideals like love anyway. In BvS, Bruce undergoes this same transformation/unification. The comforting idealism of the “beautiful lie” was crushed by the reality of “20 years in Gotham”, taking him to the darkest and most cynical point of his crime-fighting career. The sacrifice of Superman, a man he had deeply distrusted, convinces him that goodness still exists in the world and is worth fighting for. This is what Wonder Woman has always stood for, and it’s what the entire DCEU stands for. You can call it whatever word sounds less corny to you, but I agree with Diana that it’s love
End of Episode
So those are some of our preliminary thoughts on Wonder Woman. We will, of course, be delving into more detail in our future scene-by-scene analysis, and we’ll undoubtedly clarify or revise our thoughts on some of these themes and I’m sure we’ll see more threads and connections that we missed the first time around.
Thank you for listening. And as always, we thank the Suicide Squadcast and the Man of Steel Answers podcast for their inspiration. If you are new to our podcast, you can get a sense of what we’re all about by checking out our Batman v Superman analysis. We have covered that entire film and I’ll put a link in the show notes to a webpage that collects all of the episodes into one place. We also have audio commentary episodes available for all the previous films in the Justice League Universe -- Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad. You can find all of our episodes on most podcatcher apps, on Google Play, and on YouTube. Thanks again for listening, and we hope you will join us in the future as we delve further into Wonder Woman. And we won’t forget about Suicide Squad either -- those episodes will still be mixed in periodically.