Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers for Wonder Woman.
It wasn't exactly a surprise plot twist, but the third act of Wonder Woman revealed that Diana is no ordinary Amazon. She is the God-Killer — because only a god can kill another god. Thematically, the idea is genius: it subverts the traditional 'mirror-image' villain, by having Diana become the good reflection of Ares. Unfortunately, the twist also exposes the nascent #DCEU to a very real threat: the danger of power creep.
What Is 'Power Creep'?
The term 'power creep' is borrowed from multiplayer games, and describes the need for new content to be more powerful than old content. Imagine, for example, that you're playing a collectible card game and already have a weapon that you consider nigh-on unbeatable. How can the developers tempt you to purchase the next pack? The easy answer; create a card that's even more powerful.
The problem is, this gets out of hand very easily indeed. Sure, newly-added content gets bought, and companies stay in business, but gradually the game's balance goes out of whack. It has a nasty habit of breaking communities of fans apart.
Why Power Creep Is A Problem For 'Wonder Woman'
In the DCEU, #WonderWoman is a goddess. She's literally the daughter of Zeus, wielding enough power to kill the god of war himself, and we're explicitly told that only a god can kill another god. In other words, this hero is more powerful than anything we've seen before.
And this is where we come to the danger of power creep: In the context of the story itself, the revelation of Diana's divinity makes perfect sense. In terms of building a franchise, though — let alone a shared universe — it raises the ominous prospect that each villain to face Wonder Woman needs to be beyond Ares in power-levels just to feel like a solid threat to her. Steppenwolf and Darkseid will work as potential enemies, but what next? Given that Wonder Woman seems now to be the last of the gods, the rest having been slaughtered by Ares, what other forces can possibly pose a threat to her?
From a cinematic point of view, the danger of power creep is that of an ever-increasing scale of threat. DC superheroes are often referred to as gods among us — invincible titans like Superman or, now, goddesses like Wonder Woman. You can very easily fall into the trap of each film trying to outdo the other in terms of spectacle — and the stakes become increasingly remote, and dissatisfying to audiences.
How To Avoid Power Creep
There is, however, a solution to this problem: careful, clever writing. Just as cautious developers can avoid power creep by ensuring concepts are balanced against one another, so the DCEU needs to be careful in ensuring physical stakes aren't all that matter.
Wonder Woman was a masterclass in this approach. The real conflict running through the story is a philosophical one: What should Diana make of the human race? It's only when this philosophical conflict is resolved that she finally claims her power, lashing out against Ares and overcoming him. In exactly the same way, future sequels need to face the character with moral or philosophical hazards that are just as (if not more) important than the final "bad guy battle" at the end of the film.
Meanwhile, DC also need to ensure that they surround Wonder Woman with characters we truly care about — just as we cared about Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman. Ensure that Wonder Woman can be injured through threats to her friends and loved ones — the secondary characters who are so important in giving a superhero a place in any cinematic universe.
Let me be clear: I loved Wonder Woman. I thought the movie was a tremendous success, and — in terms of themes and concepts — the revelation of Diana's divinity was perfectly done. However, the tale told in Wonder Woman does raise real challenges for future writers in the wider DCEU. When the sequel comes, it will need to be just as well-written — and the writers will need to avoid the very real danger of power creep. Because, as any game developer will tell you, once you start down that road? Forever will it dominate your destiny...
Who do you want to be the villain in the inevitable sequel? Let me know in the comments!