[Spoilers Ahead for Wonder Woman]
When I visited the set of Wonder Woman, I noted that I had two major concerns about the film. I didn’t go into them because they could be considered spoilers, but since the film has been released, I’ll go into what they are. The first is the way the movie begins. The movie essentially has three prologues: Diana at the Louvre, Diana as a child, and the story of how the Amazonians came to be. It’s all necessary exposition, and director Patty Jenkins handles it wonderfully. The movie never feels like it’s dragging, and you become more invested in Diana’s world the more you learn.
My other concern was Ares. While on the edit bay visit we were told that David Thewlis was playing a British politician named Sir Patrick Morgan, word had leaked that he was actually Ares. I was worried that this was an unnecessary twist since Morgan’s job—advocating for the armistice—would seem to be at cross-purposes with Ares’ true goal, which is perpetual war.
However, in seeing the finished film, the Sir Patrick Morgan/Ares reveal does make sense. We see that Morgan is largely an ineffective politician, so he can hide in plain sight, gumming up the works for peace even as he seemingly advocates for it. As for why he doesn’t kill Diana the moment he sees her, he explains that he wants Diana to join him in ridding the world of mankind.
At first, I bristled a bit at the twist because it felt like a reveal for reveal’s sake, and one that most audiences will see coming a mile away. Wouldn’t it just be better if Ludendorff was Ares or if Ares was just a faceless figure who comes down after Diana kills Ludendorff? But the more I thought about it, the more I think it does work in terms of Ares being a constant presence, and his ability to push mankind towards their darkest desires. Some may see the character as a half-measure, but I see him more as a facilitator. He can’t directly create wars, but he can nudge mankind towards our worst impulses.
So the reveal that Morgan is Ares isn’t that big of a problem. The larger problem is casting and depiction. Thewlis is a fine actor, and I understand why they cast him as Sir Patrick—he looks the part of an unassuming British politician circa 1919. The problem is that when it comes time for him to go into Ares mode, he still looks like Sir Patrick, except now he’s in big, bulky armor, complete with era-appropriate moustache. If his true form had been some kind of supernatural figure, that would have been better because it would have put Ares in the realm of the mystical rather than “David Thewlis is here and he’s cosplaying as Ares.”
I can kind of see what Jenkins might have been going for—that rather than some monstrous figure, Ares is deceptively human. He’s not a hulking god, but rather a manifestation of weak men who pray on other weak men. But the execution comes off a little ridiculous, and it’s made worse by the fact that the third act, and specifically the battle between Ares and Wonder Woman, runs on a little too long.
Also, the defeat of Ares raises more questions than it answers. We know that World War II is on the horizon, so if Ares is dead does that mean mankind is solely responsible for that war? And if Ares isn’t responsible and it’s just mankind, then how powerful was Ares in the first place if man, without any helping from the God of War, can create a conflict that results in the deaths of over 70 million people worldwide? The movie leaves no indication that Ares survives Diana’s attack (if he did, it would diminish her title as the “God Killer”), but I’m curious how the franchise will address World War II (if it ever does).
Overall, the Ares twist doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it might. It’s essentially trying to make sure the film can have its antagonist both ways: that mankind is flawed and that the God of War exists. While I think they probably could have done a better job casting or depicting Ares, the decision to include him and have him living under the guise of Sir Patrick Morgan is far from a fatal decision.