WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Wonder Woman.
It’s too soon to know how big an impact Wonder Woman will have on the future of the DCEU or superhero movies in general, but we’ve narrowed down the one movie scene that establishes enough of Diana’s journey to be deemed the most important. Every viewer is sure to have their favorite, whether it’s Wonder Woman’s ‘No Man’s Land’ march, or one of the countless scenes that make Wonder Woman a feminist victory. But before Diana’s true adventure begins, a scene tells fans and the industry all they need to know about Wonder Woman – not only as a woman more powerful than most of her male colleagues… but among the superhero community, too.
The scene in question comes shortly after Diana has been told by her mother that Steve Trevor will not be allowed to return to his home, and that neither Diana, nor any of the Amazons will be heading to man’s world as their duty to kill Ares would demand. But Diana wouldn’t be Diana if she didn’t believe the war must be ended… and she must be the one to do it. So with that knowledge as motivation, our heroine heads to the bluffs directly opposite the massive tower housing the Amazons’ most holy relics.
The gap is too far for any Amazon to cross (based on the combat we’ve seen so far), but even that isn’t enough to dissuade Diana. She merely heads back for a running start, builds her final resolve – with little help from a nearby goat – and makes the leap. In the process, illustrating exactly why she’s one of the most unique heroes in all of comics.
Action Triggers Power, Not The Other Way Around
Her powers emerge to help make it possible, leaving Diana dangling from the tower basking in her (momentary) victory. The full extent of her powers is soon demonstrated as she finds herself in need of some improvised handholds, but what makes Diana different from most superheroes has already been glimpsed: her will, determination, and call to action has caused her superpowers to emerge – not the other way around. The audience may know that Diana possesses the powers of an Olympian god or demigod, but she doesn’t. And that fact alone sets her apart almost all modern superhero origin stories.
Heroes like Spider-Man, Superman, Hulk, Doctor Strange, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Iron Man, and too many more to count were blessed wit superpowers or super-abilities, and decided it was time to become the hero. But Diana felt the call to heroism and self-sacrifice for her people before receiving any blessings, as far as she knew. As a little girl overlooking the training Amazons, she dreamed of defending her people, and slaying the great villain, Ares. Where so many origin stories tell of people who ‘got superpowers, and became a hero,’ Diana is among the elite company who proved themselves to be heroes – who then ‘got superpowers.’
Diana’s power simply showing up to allow her to continue her mission soon becomes a trademark. She possesses the knowledge to decipher the details of a chemical weapon looking to kill millions of innocents. But it was Diana’s agency in pushing her way through doors of British Intelligence that afforded the opportunity.
When told that it is simply not possible for Diana to cross the machine-gun raked No Man’s Land, she is unable to do nothing, even if it means her death. Her ability to withstand the barrages shows not all the rules apply to her once she’s set her mind to doing the impossible, and the ensuing battle sees Diana, time and again, prove able to do that which others would have deemed un-doable.
In the film’s climax it’s not even clear if Diana’s new demigod superpowers are consciously mastered. She simply refuses to yield in the face of Ares, and her powers help keep her in the fight. She embraces the power of love and belief in mankind, and without any lengthy explanation needed, Diana is able to destroy Ares when even her father could not. The point is clear: Wonder Woman is exceptional. And where that first scene leaping towards the tower was truly a leap of faith, her superhero career is anything but. Diana’s powers make her extraordinary and, seemingly, unstoppable… but it’s her decision and commitment to act that brings them all out to begin with.
That distinction establishes a parallel between Wonder Woman and Marvel’s Captain America in just a single scene: Diana was always a hero, she just needed the “super” to hold up its end of the bargain.
Finally a Woman’s Powers Are a Gift, Not a Curse
By now most superhero fans with an eye for gender representation will have noticed a discrepancy between males and females with superpowers in comic movies, fantasy, science fiction, etc., etc.. Where the men either immediately or eventually see their superpowers as a gift, and the testing and mastery of the powers as a thrilling ‘coming of age’ story (or montage), women face a different road ahead. Often, the surfacing of a latent or new superpower is treated as an illness: something to hide, remove, control, or at the very least suspect as a problem to be solved (no matter how cool those superpowers may be). For every ‘Professor X’ there is a Jean Grey, for every Flash there is a Killer Frost, for every super-fast Quicksilver, there is a mentally-traumatized Scarlet ‘Witch.’
It’s a gender difference that means men will typically exert power by hitting things, while women are given powers rendering them unpredictable, mentally unstable, or simply tied to forces from an ‘unknown, mystical, potentially harmful’ source. But with Wonder Woman, Diana’s discovery of her ability to punch straight through stone is treated as the world-altering, empowering, and thrilling gift the viewers would take it to be. After smashing her hand through the stone in a frantic fall, Diana deduces that she is stronger than any Amazon before her.
Testing out the theory by hammering another handhold, Diana is off, smashing one hand into stone above the other with a determined, surprised, but intrigued smirk pulling at the corners of her mouth all the while.
In no uncertain terms, it’s the superhero movie scene we’ve been waiting for. For proof of just how groundbreaking it is to see a woman given the physical strength of Superman, we would ask readers to try to imagine another scene where a young woman is given this kind of treatment upon the discovery of her powers. Not an ability to deceive, evade, warp minds, or conjure magic: the ability to be stronger than any man alive. Now picture her instantly accepting that fact with a smile on her face, accepting it as a tool to support her mission of heroism and not a change of her ‘core identity’ or ‘essential being’ that must be addressed or controlled for fear of harming those she cares about.
The closest Wonder Woman ever comes to that trope is the first explosion of Diana’s godly powers. Yet even then, the resulting response to Diana’s crossed-vambrace-shockwave is one of total confusion, not outright fear or paranoia. Best of all, Antiope (Robin Wright) is on hand to show that Diana’s first step towards self-realization is a good thing. But any concerns that this incident will color Diana’s journey with apprehension or doubt are blown away with Diana’s incredible leap and subsequent rock-smashing.
It makes sense that these powers take form only moments before she picks up the Godkiller Sword, her signature shield, Lasso of Hestia, and signature armor: these physical gifts, like the costume and weapons, are simply the tools of our hero. Tools that, once discovered, play little role in defining her character, motivations, or purpose.
It’s Diana’s decisions and values that make her a hero long before her powers make her ‘super.’ Once they do, she embraces them just as readily.