As the Rotten Tomatoes score for Wonder Woman shot over 90% and remained high in the week leading up to the movie’s release, I anticipated witnessing the general cultural reaction and figuring out why critics were praising this DCEU film when they spit on the preceding three. The most notable victim of these scathing commentaries was director/producer Zack Snyder who was blamed for the supposed failures of Man of Steel and its followup Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. So imagine my surprise as I sat in the theater on the Friday night of Wonder Woman‘s release weekend and realized that the movie shared not only ideas and imagery with Snyder’s previous DCEU work but a story structure with Man of Steel.
To be clear, saying movies share a story is not saying they are the same movie. Wonder Woman has major differences in areas such as director, writer, cast, crew, characters, and setting. There are stylistic and thematic similarities, but noting them shouldn’t take away from the work of director Patty Jenkins and her team. Likewise, my intent is not to say that having the same story of Man of Steel makes Wonder Woman a bad or worse movie. Quite the contrary, the similarities of Wonder Woman to the Superman reboot are part of what makes it so good, and Jenkins and everyone involved should be praised for that achievement.
Now, without further ado, here is a point-by-point comparison of the stories of the two movies.
This point is pretty obvious. Wonder Woman begins on the island of Themyscira. Man of Steel begins on the planet of Krypton. While visiting both we learn about the cultures that shape the heroes’ identities as well as the failings of those cultures because of their lack of humanity. We’re also told the details of the heroes’ births as well as how and why they are sent to Earth.
Diana is created by the ancient Greek god Zeus who molded her out of clay and breathed life into her. And though Diana doesn’t realize that she is the Godkiller until the end of the movie, we as the audience learn early on that Zeus created the Godkiller and sent it/her to Themyscira to be cared for until she fulfills her eventual purpose of protecting humanity from the Greek god of war Ares.
Kal-El is sent to Earth by his parents because Krypton is collapsing. And just like Diana learns her birth father’s true intentions later in the movie, Clark finds out that Jor-El believed he would give humanity “an ideal to strive towards.” Jor-El continues, “They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” And how interesting is it that Jor-El’s words end with “wonders”?
On Themyscira, knowing that Diana was designed as a weapon, Queen Hippolyta, who has taken on the role of Diana’s mother due to her position as leader of the Amazons, doesn’t even want Diana to train to fight. She is even more reluctant to let her leave the island when Steve Trevor arrives.
In Kansas, Clark is raised by the Kents. His adopted father Jonathan discourages him from using his powers because “people are afraid of what they don’t understand,” so he thinks the world will reject his adopted son.
When Diana travels to London with Steve Trevor and meets his secretary Etta Candy, she is overcome with excitement and joy as she is introduced to the new and confusing customs of humanity. Etta takes her shopping. Steve takes her through the streets and to the British military headquarters. In all of these situations, she reacts with, well, wonder.
Clark’s experiences with humanity happen in an alinear fashion. (Remember, I’m comparing story not plot structure though this is the one place where the two movies beats differ majorly.) Clark is literally overwhelmed as a child in school when his superpowers give him an intense awareness of everything that’s going on around him. He tells Martha Kent, “The world’s too big, mom.” Clark grows a bit older and is bullied. As an adult, he becomes a drifter, moving from job to job usually after an incident sees him use his powers to protect someone.
Like the first similarity, this one is obvious. Diana meets Trevor, and Clark meets Lois Lane. What’s important to note, however, is that both Trevor and Lane show their heroes something they have never seen before that is distinctly human–love. Trevor demonstrates it by fighting as hard as he can for what he believes. Lane demonstrates it by believing in Clark in a way that the Kents never did.
After traveling to London with Trevor, Diana goes with him to the British military headquarters where she tries to talk the Imperial War Cabinet out of an armistice with Germany. The old white men don’t listen to her (ha!), so she and Trevor go rogue (one) and form a crew of their own to travel to the Western Front in Belgium. There they come across No Man’s Land, an area between British trenches and a German occupied town that the British have been unable to cross. Diana leads the British troops across No Man’s Land to free the occupied town, which eventually leads to the end of the war.
After the Kryptonian solider and would-be dictator Zod threatens the citizens of Earth to turn over Kal-El, Clark turns himself in to the American military. He eventually earns their trust and alongside such soldiers as Colonel Nathan Hardy destroys the world engine, which eventually leads to his final confrontation with Zod.
Ares finally reveals himself to Diana with an offer–join him to destroy all of humankind. He then tries to convince her that humanity is corrupt and not worthy of existence. It is also in this confrontation that she learns that she too is a god and that Ares is her half brother.
Zod, the former best friend of Kal-El’s birth father, wants to purge Earth of humanity so that he can use the planet as a new home world for the Kryptonians. However, the key to recreating the Kryptonians is locked in Superman’s DNA. Zod tries to convince Kal of humanity’s weakness so that Kal will join him in exterminating them.
To make his case to Diana Ares shows her the physically disfigured German Dr. Poison whose weaponized gas just ed to the death of Trevor. Ares is about to kill the villain when Diana intervenes, killing the last remaining member of her race and becoming the protector of Earth.
To force Clark to take drastic action, Zod targets a father, mother, and daughter with his eye lasers. Clark holds Zod by his neck and struggles to wrench Zod’s vision away from the innocents. He is unable and realizes there is only one solution. He snaps Zod’s neck, killing the last remaining member of his race and becoming the protector of Earth.