WARNING: This article may contain potential SPOILERS for Wonder Woman
The Death and Return of Superman. The Dark Knight Returns. Just a few years into their shared movie universe, and DC Films has already adapted some of their most iconic comic book stories to film. With Wonder Woman next to debut, the conversation has shifted to the tone, the style, and the overall ambitions of director Patty Jenkins’s vision for a modern Diana Prince. And then there’s the villain she’ll be facing off against, who may or may not be Ares the god of war himself. But even that massive a showdown comes with its own unique… complications.
Since most people come to grasp the world around them through opposites and differences, it only makes sense that a hero will rise to greatness if – and only if – their villain is up to the challenge. Comic book superheroes and villains may be the latest to ride rivalries to the top of the blockbuster box office, but an upstart hero setting out to rid the world of a villain’s malevolence is a tale as old as time. The problem that modern moviegoers now face is that with more and more heroes being thrust before them every year, the repetition is starting to show.
We all know the formula, since it’s been adapted faithfully from the comics themselves: villain hatches a plan to be bad (like, seriously bad), and the hero steps in to spoil their fun in the name of all that is good. It wins points for simplicity, but when a studio is churning out three films a year, fans start to demand more. To their credit, it’s one area where DC Films’ has at least tried to offer some variations. Man of Steel‘s villain was actually just concluding a clash of patriotism and politics he began with Superman’s father. Batman V Superman pitted two heroes against eachother through intense manipulation. Even Suicide Squad‘s stars knew little about the monster of the film, and cared even less.
But by setting its narrative (an origin story) against the backdrop of World War I, Wonder Woman allows a new meaning to the idea that in the modern age, war itself is the enemy. And after getting an early look at the movie from the director, we believe even more depths of villainy is in store.
What We Suspected
Before the principle casting for Wonder Woman had been completed, rumors broke that the studio was looking to cast a distinguished actor for the role of Ares, the Greek god of war. It wasn’t a surprise, since Ares is typically in opposition to Diana, her mother Hippolyta, and the Amazons as a whole. And knowing that he is well known to change his appearance to hide in plain sight, fans knew to be on the lookout for the villain of the film looking anything but divine. And in the very first trailer, a mysterious German general played by Danny Huston fit the bill.
Diana marching toward him as she reached toward her concealed swords seemed to be smoke, but the complete and total lack of details about his character was the fire: Huston’s general was, most likely, Ares in disguise. And so fans believed, with a following trailer seeming to confirm the suspicions by showing Diana and Huston’s character in combat. Since Wonder Woman is more than a match for even a skilled human fighter, godly super strength seemed the only answer. And not to fear, comic book fans: a toy confirmed that at some point in the movie, Ares will appear in his true form.
Thankfully, details on Huston’s mystery general were finally offered during our visit to the editing bay of Wonder Woman. The bad news: he probably isn’t playing Ares. The good news? We can now make an educated guess as to the true villain of the story – and it’s as unexpected as it is an inspired, and its thematically rich subversion holds a ton of potential.
The New Details on That German Villain
First and foremost, it isn’t just any German military man being played by Huston and, apparently, playing a pivotal role in the poison-gas-focused conflict driving the film’s events. His character is ‘Erich Ludendorff,’ which is a name that sounds familiar to history buffs or enthusiasts of World War I-era military campaigns. Because Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a very real person, a very real German general, and by the height of the Great War, was leading the German war effort as Quartermaster general alongside Paul von Hindenburg.
In a broad sense, the historical Ludendorff isn’t too far off of the implied character of Wonder Woman‘s version. He was gruff, serious, generally disliked due to his intentional avoidance of friends, and in a military campaign, possessed of more determination and willingness to go to extremes than most of his colleagues. But it becomes much harder to believe that Ludendorff is a Greek god in disguise, considering that Ludendorff lived through the war, playing a significant role in later German politics and military philosophy. So unless Ares is strangely committed to seeing his charade through to the end, something else is at work.
It’s understandable why fans would make the assumption that the head of the German military (if his fictional role is similar to his actual one) is the main antagonist of the war. Therefore, it would be Ludendorff whom Steve Trevor would name as the ‘villain’ to be stopped – and whom Diana would then assume must be Ares. She may approach him with her God Killer sword, but it’s no god she’s looking to strike. In fact, if our theory – based on the new information gleaned from the production – are accurate, her target might actually be the last person anyone would expect…
The True Villain of The Movie
Fans knew to take the rumor of Ares’s true identity with a substantial pinch of salt, with the reveal spinning out of early test screenings (somewhat famous for both their bombshells reveals and misdirection). The report didn’t get any easier to believe when actor David Thewlis was claimed to be Ares in disguise, since few knew which role he was playing… or that he was even among the film’s cast. Now, thanks to our glimpse behind the scenes, we can say his character will be ‘Sir Patrick Morgan,’ a complete work of fiction… and a member of the Allied war council, pushing for peace.
Neither of those seem like obvious positions for Ares to take, but perhaps fans are giving the god of war too little credit. He is, after all, the god of war, meaning it’s his overall goal to encourage destruction on as large a scale as possible. Perhaps the true satisfaction comes not in causing the devastation himself, but by encouraging men to do it themselves, supplying the simple push, wrapped in heroism and moral obligation. For those unaware of their WWI history, the conflict only reached it massive scale once England decided to mobilize its forces into mainland Europe.
Officially, that decision was made based on a ‘handshake deal’ with France, and a promise of protection to Belgium, the country Germany passed through in its attempt to out-maneuver French defenses. At the time, those among the English leadership (Thewlis’s Sir Patrick Morgan possibly among them) debated whether to involve their nation in a war that they could, if desired, stay out of. In the end, arguments that to do so would be a betrayal of their honor, their moral obligation to their allies, and their nation tipped the scales. It was a moment of honor… but it made inevitable the millions upon millions of deaths that occurred in the ensuing war.
In a fictional sense, Ares having the foresight, knowledge, and divine influence to know that urging England into the war for the best reasons would lead to calamity is a cruel twist. But what about his role on the war council, pushing for an armistice to bring the war to an end? Shouldn’t the god of war be eager to keep the fighting going as long as possible? Again, not if you’re devious and war-mongering on the level of a god. Because as bad as World War I was, it set in motion the inequalities and anger that led to World War II… which led to the Vietnam War… the Cold War… the Persian Gulf War… all the way up to the modern day.
As a way of adding potentially more historic weight to this theory – or, we suppose, to Ares’s brilliance – some historians debate whether England staying out of the war would have led to a more stable outcome for the world. Germany would have defeated France in another installment of their generations-long conflict, becoming the superpower that seemed inevitable. Instead Germany was crushed and looted, instilling the rage and thirst for revenge that brought the rise of the Nazi Party (and so on, and so on). In other words, the pursuit of peace by Ares amounted to a brief pause, in which superpowers could catch their breath before continuing the fight.
If this is, indeed, the path being followed for Diana’s first and most brutal villain, then it’s one which seems poised to ring as thematically, morally, and historically true. Not to mention a revelation that trying to wage war against war is impossible. Diana might be able to defeat Ares, or even a desperate general or two, but the real villain of that story is the anger, distrust, and callousness of mankind itself – yet another subversion of the audience’s ‘supervillain’ expectations.
Setting The Stage For Justice League
Here we remind readers that this origin story is not, and can never be one of victory for Diana. Even if she were to find Ares, and even kill him, his work is done. Rather, his influence is finished – it wasn’t his control, his greed, or his madness that brought destruction to man’s world, but men themselves. That’s as good a reason as we can think of for Diana to turn her back on the world, and the fruits of anger and hate that Ares had instilled – “…a century of horrors.” But where Ares won through the worst of men, Diana’s return to heroism is linked to a photo of her wartime friends: good men, believing in the goodness, the best of the world.
It would explain why Diana was convinced in the final moments of Batman V Superman to join Bruce’s crusade, once he claimed that “men are still good… we can do better. We will.” If someone like Batman can find his optimism again… then maybe Diana can too. That’s the story already quietly begun in Batman V Superman, so it only makes sense it should be the narrative arc that brings Wonder Woman into the Justice League at the peak of her power and conviction.
Honestly, we pity whoever stands against her.