By Travis Trombley
The answer: Wonder Woman's theme of belief.
This film is one that maximizes its setting as a narrative element, at least in concept. While the use of this resource leaves much to be desired thanks to a mismanagement of screen economy, the idea behind it recognizes the value of historical context to make a powerful statement on philosophical trends over the past century. In short, when Diana chooses to “believe” in humanity at the end, she’s overtly confronting a hyper-masculine idea of identity construction that dominated western culture before the war and the cynical dismissal of human life that took root after.
The execution of this commentary owes much to the film’s intelligent use of supporting characters: Charlie, Sameer, and Chief. Each member of the trio gets introduced by emphasizing first and foremost their flaws: an alcoholic murderer, a con artist, and a war profiteering smuggler. As we get to know them, though, we see in them the war’s effects on men: they are selfish, reluctant to act without the motivation of coin, and adamantly against taking extra risks. Even Steve, our “above average” specimen, finds himself forced into a human calculus by the realities of the war. He wants to stop the fighting, but he knows doing so means he can’t save everyone.
This comes to a head during the No Man’s Land scene when Diana wants to leave the trench to help a nearby village occupied by Ludendorff’s Germans. Steve and the others refuse, claiming it’s suicide and that it’s not their mission to help those people, the war having made them all pragmatists, and justifiably so, as we’ll see. But while they huddle to plan, assuming they’d convinced Diana from her folly, she heads towards the ladder, setting into motion the film’s best scene.
And when Diana sheds her coat and emerges from the trench for the first time in her superhero garb, driven by an uncompromising, moral compulsion, and actually survives the German onslaught, she changes the mentality of her comrades. When they see Diana in action, Steve and the others join. They save the village together. By the end of the sequence, those characters - previously established as quite self-centered and cynical - regain a spark of hope. They choose to fight on, even without payment, because they believe in Wonder Woman. In that sequence, we witness what might be the greatest purpose of the superhero: inspiration.