Wonder Woman, both the character and the film, had a lot riding on its shoulders when it was released in 2017. Amazingly it was the first live-action film where Wonder Woman was the lead, it was the first female-led superhero since Catwoman and Elektra in the early 2000s, and it was the first superhero film to be directed by a woman. Then there’s also the fact Wonder Woman was a part of the DCEU where the response to the previous film in this universe, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was mixed, to say the least.
But much like Diana, Wonder Woman could handle that pressure and did pretty well for itself. It was the sixth most profitable film released in 2017 and the response to the film was very positive from fans and critics alike with it earning a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 440 reviews, with an average rating of 7.64/10.
Really, the lasting image from Wonder Woman, and to be honest possibly one of the most iconic film sequences of the decade, is the No Man’s Land sequence. This is the moment where everything comes together for Diana and she has what is an incredible hero moment.
It’s always fun and exciting seeing superheroes have cool fights and take down the bad guys, you want the hero to succeed and to look like a badass while doing it. Sometimes, there are great action sequences but not necessarily a strong enough or character-driven enough narrative to make the action truly satisfying. With the No Man’s Land sequence though, you have both the story and the action come together at the perfect moment.
Up to this point Diana, and the audience, know how strong and skilled she is. Diana is confident in her abilities and is steadfast in her beliefs of what’s right and wrong, and how people should help others. It’s those around her that have told her she can’t do this or can’t do that. Sometimes it’s done through no malice, Steve Trevor, for example, wants to do the right thing but is restricted by the rules of the military or government that Diana is just not aware of, and then there are other instances where historically in the society of 1918, it is just believed that women, in general, shouldn’t be involved in certain things and it’s nothing personal to Diana.
This all comes to a head when Diana, Steve, Charlie, Sameer, and The Chief arrive at the trenches at the Front Line. On the way there Diana has been bombarded with the sights, sounds and smells of suffering. Injured soldiers screaming in pain, lost and scared children, terrified horses getting stuck in the mud; it’s almost too much to bear and along the way, Diana’s told they can’t stop to help because they must keep to schedule. When they arrive at the trenches Diana encounters a woman, who tells her of a town called Veld where the people are starving and are treated like slaves, she wants to save them because that’s what she left her homeland to do – save people and stop their suffering.
Again, Steve tells her she can’t: “This is No Man’s Land Diana; it means no man can cross it. This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch… This is not something you can cross, it’s not possible! We can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.” But this is the moment where Diana has had enough of being told what she can and can’t do and takes things into her own hands: “No, but it’s what I’m going to do.”
It’s hard to put into words how the No Man’s Land sequence made me feel when I first saw it, or even how I still feel myself get choked up even when I just watch that 4-minute sequence on YouTube. Everything from how the sequence is filmed, to the score, to the performances, it gives me this feeling of empowerment and hope and awe.
The score composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams has been building to Diana’s hero moment and it complements the action on-screen perfectly. There’s almost a hush that falls over the scene once Diana decides to cross No Man’s Land, the score quietens down and the sounds of the shelling stop just for a moment, as she changes into the iconic costume. How each element of the iconic Wonder Woman costume is revealed as Diana climbs the ladder out of the trenches, the shield, the arm guards, the boots, the lasso, is brilliant. While we’ve briefly seen her in the costume before, this is when you get the full effect of it, especially in the wide shot as she steps into No Man’s Land. This is Wonder Woman, and she won’t be silenced or stopped from doing what is right. The score begins to build into a crescendo of emotion as Diana climbs that ladder and then makes her way across the battlefield. It’s as if as she’s crossing No Man’s Land that she begins to truly understand herself and her abilities.
One of the many things I love about this scene is that, to begin with, Diana is acting in the defensive; deflecting bullets and bombs with her armguards and shield. It’s not until she reaches the German trench that her actions become more offensive, knocking down soldiers and destroying machine guns. By the time she reaches the town of Veld she truly knows what she is capable of and doesn’t hold anything back as she goes about saving the town.
Diana is the hero of her story and while she does have some help from Steve and her friends, it’s nice to see male characters in that supportive role and while they may all have their moment to shine, they never take the spotlight away from Diana.
Part of the impact of the No Man’s Land sequence is from Diana proving people wrong. Everyone, and especially women, have been told at some point they can’t do something. Whether that’s being explicitly shut down by another person, or by circumstance and society as you’ve never seen someone who looks like you doing that thing and therefore it seems like it’s just something you’re not meant to do.
The No Man’s Land sequence is the epitome of a hero moment in modern-day superhero movies, and it is a sequence that I do believe will stand the test of time and become one of the defining moments of cinema this decade. It is such a satisfying sequence because you really feel that you and Diana have earnt that moment. There have been action sequences already in Wonder Woman, but the No Man’s Land sequence is the culmination of everything Diana’s learned about the world of man, her powers, and herself. This is when she truly begins to be the hero she was always able to be, a leader and a fighter, but also one who is full of compassion and is more often led by her heart than her head.