This past weekend I again had the privilege of going to see and, this time, the honor of taking my wife. I was pretty excited to see Wonder Woman again, not just because I had a hot date, but because I always like to look for early hints and clues to the later reveals that I missed the first go around and gain added appreciation for the characters and a deeper understanding of their motivations.
If you haven’t had a chance to go see Wonder Woman you can check out my non-spoiler review here!
Without any further ado, lets get into some spoiler talk!
One of the biggest criticisms I have repeatedly heard about Wonder Woman is about the villains and how, like many other comic book movies of late, they are very weak characters. While that maybe true for one of the three villains, I believe that the other two are stronger than they are getting credit for. Starting off with General Ludendorff, played by Danny Huston, it’s very clear that his main role in this movie is to be the bait in the bait and switch as to the true identity of Ares and while that plot thread in the movie may not always be convincing, Ludendorff is still a decent villain. Ludendorff is a man who has been completely enveloped and engrossed by war and no longer gives any regard to human life as evidenced by the callous execution of his own soldier early on in the movie. He is driven to continue the war no matter the cost, he even goes as far as killing a dozen or so German generals so he can carry out his plans to gas the front lines. All this goes to show, that he has completely given himself over to Ares’ control. Ludendorff does come off as a “mustache twirling” villain at times but I think the character serves his purpose for illustrating just how much Ares has managed to influence the world. I will admit that the vials of super strength gas that he uses a few times, comes off as silly but I think that was mostly written in as a device to allow him, a human, to go toe to toe with Diana near the end of the movie. (And that gas may also be an Easter egg to Bane, the gas being a precursor to the venom he later uses.)
Next up is Dr. Isabel Maru aka Dr. Poison, played Elena Anaya. Similar to Ludendorff, Maru is completely consumed by war and her work designing the most terrible, awful, horrific weapons ever used in warfare short of nuclear weapons and also similar to Ludendorff, Maru is a puppet of Ares’, listening to his whispers of ideas. Where Maru and Ludendorff differ though, is how they are used in the movie. While Ludendorff is the decoy Ares for much of the movie, Maru is built up to be the extreme example of the evil that is inherent in humanity and Ares presents her to Diana as that example hoping to goad Diana into hating humanity as he does. In the end, I don’t really see Maru and Ludendorff as villains per se but as puppets being masterfully manipulated by the true villain of the film, Ares.
Ares, the main villain of Wonder Woman, when taken on the surface, isn’t that big of a threat to our hero who defeats him somewhat handily after she realizes what she truly is and the power within her. However, when you start to dig into what he was trying to accomplish and the way he went about it, he becomes a much deeper, darker villain. As the movie trucks along, the audience is led to believe that Ludendorff is Ares, as discussed earlier, and Diana continually assumes that Ares would be where the fighting is the heaviest as he is the one inciting the violence but, as we discover, Diana has it all wrong. Ares is not a commanding general screaming orders on the battlefield, he is a behind the scenes puppet master, whispering in the ears of of his minions. We see a couple first hand examples of this as we get small flashbacks to Ares with both Maru and Ludendorff and he even tries to goad Diana into killing Maru by crushing her with a tank. Those three examples all show just how adept Ares is at pulling peoples strings but I think the greatest example is the Armistice.
Once Sir Patrick, a member of the Imperial War Cabinet who aides Diana and Steve and is fighting to achieve peace through the Armistice, is revealed to be Ares, its a bit confusing as to why he was calling for peace in the first place, being the god of war and all. Well, it takes some historical context to realize that all the Armistice did was stop the war for about twenty years until World War II started. The Armistice heavily penalized Germany, causing resentment which lead to Hitler gaining power and eventually the invasion of Poland kicking off, or resuming, world war. So in essence, Ares knows that by sowing peace now, he will reap even more war later. I didn’t know about, or at least remember, this very important piece of history that adds incredible context to Ares’ plans and as soon and my friend, and World War I history buff, Erin told me about it, it really blew my mind. Seriously. It elevated Ares from being another run of the mill comic book, super hero, sorta blah movie villain to the level of Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at least Loki at the end of the first Thor). It goes to show just how much of a long game Ares was playing and how masterful he is at playing the puppeteer.
David Thewlis is the perfect person to play this version of Ares. While one might typically expect the god of war to have a body style more akin to The Mountain from Game of Thrones, casting someone with Thewlis’ look is perfect for the style of character they wrote Ares to be. Someone weaselly, someone who you might be inherently wary of just based on how they carry themselves, someone you would expect to whisper evil into peoples ears. Now this opinion maybe heavily influenced by his current role on season 3 of Fargo (which is amazing if you’re not watching it) where he, again, plays some one pulling the strings from behind the scenes, in the shadows.
One thing that I was really afraid of going into this movie was it being overly preachy and heavy handed with its messaging. I love all four DC TV shows that are currently running on the CW – Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. Each has their own pros and cons that are individual to each show and for Supergirl it is its heavy handed, almost ham-fisted way of getting it’s point across. For instance in the season 2 finale (SPOILERS FOR THAT THROUGH THE END OF THIS PARAGRAPH), Supergirl has to fight a mind controlled Superman and defeats him in hand to hand combat which is fantastic and it was a really dramatic scene. What undercuts that scene later on, is the way the writers feel it necessary to spoon feed the audience by constantly reminding us that Supergirl is stronger because she defeated Superman. “Who is gonna fight the big bad?” “Well Supergirl should do it because she beat Superman so clearly she is the better, stronger fighter.” Ummm yes that was clear when we saw her beat Superman, no need to remind us of that three times, we got the point when it happened. Now relate a scene of that nature to what happens in Wonder Woman in the “No Man’s Land” scene. Everyone is telling Diana that she, nor anyone, can go out over the trenches because they will get killed instantly. In this moment, it would have been insanely easy, and quite lazy, for the writers to make some sort of winky line like “No Man’s Land? Ha, I am a woman!”. But no, they are better than that. Diana says that this is “what she came here to do” and she does it. Perfect, beautiful, powerful. Don’t tell me Diana is powerful, SHOW ME and let me get to that conclusion on my own. All too often these days, I’ll watch a TV show or a movie and it will metaphorically hand me “2”, then hand me “2” more, and then TELL ME “See now you have 4”. It drives me up the wall. If you hand me “2” and then “2” more, I know I have “4” and there is no need to explicitly state that I now have “4”. The audience is smarter than that and writers should respect the audience versus spoon feeding us every little thing they wish to convey.
In my non-spoiler review, I said that all of my negatives were nit picks and that still stands after a second viewing. The pacing in a few spots is a bit off and there are a couple scenes where it is very noticeable that the foreground is a real set and the background is a green screen especially the scene with Diana and Steve in the small boat right after they leave Themyscira. It wasn’t enough to take me out of the movie but definitely noticeable.
One other small nit pick, is that this film comes dangerously close to being the spiritual sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. A red, white, and blue costumed hero with special weapons and a naive outlook is exposed to the horrors of World War as they fight evil scientists bent on world domination and then there is a heart breaking scene involving a guy name Steve in a plane. Now, obviously that is a gross oversimplification of both plots but you can see what I’m getting at. Fortunately the writers and Jenkins do more than enough to keep the two movies from being carbon copies of each other even if there are a number of similarities.
As I said in my non-spoiler review, I really enjoyed Wonder Woman. It’s a smart movie, with smart characters, that respects its audience – movies like that are in short supply and I cannot wait to pick this up on Blu-ray when it comes out so I can watch it again and dive into any and all special features it has.
Until next time, Thank You for reading and…
SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!