Wonder Woman has hit the ground running since it came out and has only continued to pick up steam. The reviews have put it in the top 1% of superhero movies and it just had the fourth largest 3rd weekend for a superhero movie behind The Avengers, The Dark Knight and Spider-man.
I’ve seen Wonder Woman four times now and I am surprised that more has not been written about how it’s so similar to Man of Steel. The themes in both movies, for both characters are very similar, what is different is the two characters themselves and their circumstances growing up.
Norman Lao said it best on my Facebook so I will quote him here.
“I think the biggest difference between Clark and Diana are the ways they were raised. Clark was an alien raised by humans who worried what “mankind” would do if they ever discovered his secret. The Kents, knowing full well that mankind is in fact laced with a rich history of paranoia and violence towards not only each other, but that which they fear – especially proof of alien existence – i.e. Kal El, makes them, and especially Jonathan, very wary of how they raise and educate Clark until he needs to reveal himself. Diana on the other hand was raised as a warrior amongst other warriors – training and honing herself to defend the world against and the inevitable return of evil without any exposure the gray and ambiguous nature of good and evil and the spaces in between. I think this is where she actually has the advantage over Clark because she has been raised with extreme and concrete definitions of “good” and “evil. She knows and believes what is right and wrong. These are the fundamental differences in the storytelling and what I believe succeed very well in their respective films.”
Even though Diana and Clark are raised in different circumstances, the lessons they learn are not that different. What is most interesting about them is the ways in which watching the sacrifice of a loved one affects their actions forever. Clark watches his father die in a tornado. Now so much has been said about this scene but the best thing I have read on it comes from The Fanboy Perspective.
In the context of Man of Steel, Jonathan’s death is all about sacrifice, not only Jonathan’s sacrifice but it was also setting up Clark’s sacrifice later on in Man of Steel. Clark learning limitations to his powers mattered little in Man of Steel because he wasn’t so incredibly overpowered to begin with, but to learn about sacrifice and selflessness was paramount for the narrative and development for this version of Superman. Clark sacrificed himself, at least according to Jonathan, for the Earth and in the end Superman sacrificed Krypton and the future of his own kin, for us, for Earth.
The fact that Clark could had done A, B or C in the tornado scene is what made this scene so powerful, that it was a conscious decision by Jonathan and that his death was not a fluke of destiny ie a heart attack. Jonathan’s willing sacrifice basically made the man of steel who he is and who he will become, Earth’s greatest champion. Because let’s face it, when Clark finally becomes Superman, he sacrifices himself for us 100%, and I think Jonathan gave him the courage to do that. Jonathan taught Clark his most defining lesson through his own death and I think that’s rather poetic.
Clark sacrificing himself and his life on Earth for the safety of Earth when Zod first showed up demanding Kal El present himself to them, ‘or else’ is powerful, the only way Clark could protect Martha was by volunteering to leave her behind forever. Superman destroying the world engine on what was very likely a suicide mission. Superman destroying the scout ship and the genesis chamber, which was Krypton’s only chance at living again, and Superman ultimately killing Zod, the last of his brethren. It was all about sacrifice. That’s what Jonathan’s death taught Clark, sacrifice and selflessness, and I think that is the absolute epitome of Superman, and what he represents.
Jonathan’s death scene was the underlying pulse of the entire movie and remains Kal El’s moral compass, long after he’s gone. Sacrifice is what Man of Steel was all about in the end. Superman sacrificing himself, his people and Krypton for us, the shamelessly ungrateful humans. Now I think that’s some powerful storytelling right there. Very few comic book movies even attempt to imbue the sort of heart and internal fortitude that Man of Steel did with Superman.
I also take issue with the popular usage of the word ‘Tornadocide’, that word implies that Jonathan had a suicidal intent when he went back for the family dog, he clearly did not want to die. Jonathan had every intention of coming back to his wife and son but the circumstances quickly changed and Jonathan was forced to make a monumental decision in what was literally, a second. Jonathan had explained to Clark before that there were bigger things at stake than their own lives and in that moment, Jonathan had to decide if he had the courage of his convictions, and he did.
Now, this scene for Clark is pivotal for his growth as a character and why he will act the way he does later on and Diana has her moment. Ares almost has Diana. He’s almost convinced her that mankind does not deserve her or is worthy of her protection. Like Zod (who’s name is a lot like God), offered Clark the opportunity to remake the world for the Kryptonian people, Ares offers Diana the same choice, to join him and recreate paradise. What happens in that moment, as Diana, tank raised over her head, ready to bring it down on the worst of humanity, she remembers Steve’s sacrifice.
Remembering Steve make the choice to put the lives of his enemies above himself as well as his friends changes Diana forever. She chooses to believe in the truth about humanity, there is a great darkness within them, yet there is also the ability to transcend that darkness though self-sacrificial love. The word agape in Greek means, “selfless love of one person for another” and that is the love with which Diana fights in the name of. She, like Steve, puts herself on the line, even for those that don’t deserve it.
This not only mirrors Man of Steel, but also Clark’s decision in Batman v Superman. Clark willingly chooses humanity and Earth. He says this is his world and he willingly sacrifices himself for it, even though, as we we have seen, half the world is either afraid of him or worse hates him. Sacrifice is the DC Comics mantra in it’s films and each film has been building on this theme. Loving sacrifice is the hallmark of the truest heroes. At the end of Wonder Woman, Diana emails Bruce, thanking him for bringing back Steve to her, but it’s bigger than that. Remember, Diana has taken a step back from suiting up as a hero. She’s been working from the shadows to inspire humanity. What Bruce has reminded Diana of is the lesson Steve taught her so many years ago and that Clark reenforced not that long ago, loving sacrifice is the best way to inspire love and change in others. So at the end of Wonder Woman, we see her go off, to join Bruce as a team, to help stand between evil and the world. The age of heroes has come again.
Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories episodes about Wonder Woman. For more on Man of Steel, check out The 602 Club #15 and for more on Batman v Superman check out The 602 Club #74 and S20.