Many Christians fear mainstream cinema, so much so that there’s a cottage industry of “faith-based films.” But among other things, DC Comics’ new hit Wonder Woman proves that Christians can appreciate Hollywood films — the movie even arguably has a Christian message.
Wonder Woman is the first film DC Comics has gotten right in the studio’s new round of the Justice League. Man of Steel (2013), Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and Suicide Squad (2016) left a great deal to be desired, especially in contrast with Marvel’s magic machine. But perhaps by presenting the challenge of navigating the complicated waters of feminism, Wonder Woman forced the studio to put together a solid film, with an excellent leading lady, strong character development, and a compelling plot.
But Wonder Woman does much more than just present a strong female superhero. It uses the story of this outsider to penetrate into the nature of mankind, and the results are astonishing — and fully compatible with the gospel message.
Diana (Gal Gadot, partially known from the Fast And Furious franchise) grows up among the Amazons, but has always thirsted for a grand adventure. Her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her the story of Zeus and Ares. Zeus, king of the gods, created human beings to be good and virtuous, but Ares corrupted them, planting war in their hearts. Ares, the evil behind the world, must be destroyed.
Even in this quasi-pagan myth is buried the seed of Christian truth: God made men good but they were corrupted by the serpent. This deposit of faith in a secular film only grows as the story unfurls.
When World War I comes to the Amazons’ back door thanks to Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, best known for Star Trek), Diana goes out to end war once and for all, by slaying Ares.
After growing up among the Amazons, Diana is book smart but incredibly naive. Everything about 1900s society is new to her, and she is convinced that if she can only get to the front, she can kill Ares and end the Great War.
But Diana slowly comes to the realization that people are twisted in their own hearts — they start wars, steal, kill, and destroy, Ares or no Ares. In short, they deserve to die. The idea that war gives men purpose, and that it should never end, becomes tantalizing to her.
Until at one pivotal moment, Diana comes to another realization. “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe, and I believe in love.” Out of context, this sounds very corny, but it forms the centerpiece of the film, and delivers a message powerfully reminiscent of the gospel.
Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, has long praised The Lord of the Rings for doing what the best storytelling should do, echoing the story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
While some Christians have criticized The Lord of the Rings for surface elements like magic that some might fear would corrupt children, the central narrative of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy — and the superb film trilogy based on those books — is redemptive sacrifice. There are multiple “Christ figures” — Sam Gamgee, Frodo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, and the king Aragorn — whose stories echo Jesus’ death and resurrection, by which Jesus reconciled sinful men and women to God.
But here’s the thing. Those Christ figures do not make The Lord of the Rings a “faith-based” story. While there is a clear place in the cinematic marketplace for films like The Passion of the Christ (2004), Risen (2016) (review here), and most recently The Case for Christ (2017) (review here), Christians need not swear off movies without an explicitly Christian message. The Lord of the Rings trilogy does not foot that bill, but it is some of the most redemptive cinema ever made.
Kreeft argues that if the gospel is the greatest story ever told, then other stories should be evaluated by whether or not they echo the gospel — whether they are explicitly Christian or not.
By that criterion, Wonder Woman blows many other superhero films out of the water. It’s not just the subtle imagery of Diana rising in the air forming the shape of Jesus on the cross (something widely reported about Man of Steel in 2013). Fundamentally, Diana makes a choice that human beings are worth saving and loving despite their fallen nature, and here’s the key bit — despite the fact that they deserve to die.
In Diana’s heroism, there is more than a hint of the gospel, especially when she declares, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe.” That is the Christian message — that all people deserve death and hell, but by believing in Jesus Christ and by accepting his sacrifice, Christians are forgiven their sins and can be reconciled to God through Jesus.
In addition to this, the film shows one powerful moment of true sacrifice that inspires Diana to “believe in love.” This is why the line is anything but corny in context, and this sacrifice also arguably reflects the gospel message.
Wonder Woman did not just throw in these elements to appease Christians — they are the nut and kernel of the story. Like The Lord of the Rings, which has Christ figures who sacrifice for the good of others and thereby reflect the gospel, but which is not a “faith-based” film only marketed to a niche Christian audience, Wonder Woman is deeply compatible with Christianity without being explicitly Christian.
There are many movies, television shows, and various cultural artworks which Christians should either avoid or only watch with care. Many corners of Hollywood do indeed push the sexual revolution into all sorts of art where it arguably does not belong, and Christians should be cognizant of that fact.
But there is a great deal of good cinema and television which Christians can watch and even embrace, and Wonder Woman is a shining example of it.