Even the best films can have clumsy conclusions.
Wonder Woman has had quite the weekend. Shattering records and proving that a female-led superhero film can be profitable and fantastic at the same time. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is the biggest-ever opening weekend for a film directed by a woman, Variety reports. That’s not all of course. It is currently rocking an RT score of 93%, making it the first great film from the DCU and an all-time great superhero movie.
The significance and meaning of Wonder Woman are phenomenal. Perhaps that is why many critics and audiences have chosen to overlook some of its flaws. That includes a problematic ending that shares the same careless pacing and denouement that many other superhero films suffer.
Up until the final act of Wonder Woman, Diana (Gal Gadot) and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) are attempting to stop the Germans from unleashing a terrible chemical weapon upon the world. Trevor believes that stopping General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is a key component of stopping this destruction from happening, but that he isn’t the only cog to deal with. On the other hand, Diana has been taught her whole life that the struggle between good and evil is equal to man vs. Ares. Ares, the God of War, manipulates men to do his bidding and makes them destroy each other mercilessly. Her whole life has been building up to this moment, destroying Ares is what will fulfill her duty. She vehemently believes that General Ludendorff and Ares are one in the same and that defeating him will bring peace to the world.
Diana soon discovers that destroying one man will not bring peace to the world. Once she despatches of Lunderdorff, the war doesn’t just stop. Suddenly it is revealed that Lunderdorff was not Ares, but that Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) is the God of War. Diana discovers the true secret of her identity, that the sword carries is not the ‘god killer,’ but that she holds power to defeat Ares herself. If you didn’t already guess it, the reveals come fast and heavy during the final moments.
Ares believes that mankind is not worth saving. That they will eventually destroy each other until there is nothing left. Diana has seen first hand that man can destroy each other mercilessly. They can murder each other without a thought in the middle of combat, and they can drop chemical weapons on each other without care. The epic confrontation between Wonder Woman and Ares is about whether mankind is worth saving.
Then comes the death of Steve Trevor. With his death, Diana realizes that mankind is capable of love, peace, spirit, and devotion. She rebukes Ares claim that mankind is all-evil and uses the power of Zeus to defeat the God of War. For Wonder Woman is not a mere superhero, but she is a god molded in clay and brought to life by Zeus.
Why it just doesn’t work
The biggest problem facing the finale is that it feels rushed. This wouldn’t feel so obvious if the entire film up to this point wasn’t so meticulously paced. There are sequences that are cut out to make the film hum along, but they don’t make much sense narratively. Wonder Woman has a confrontation with Ares, there’s another explosion somewhere else at the military installation, and then it seems that Ares has just let Wonder Woman grab her sword so that she can have it destroyed in Ares’ hand. Nevermind that within the course of a few hours it seems that Steve Trevor has driven all over Germany. How does he manage to follow Wonder Woman to the site of missile attack, miles away, and then conveniently show up at the secret military base where General Lunderdorff keeps his missiles? There have to be missing scenes here that show some of this continuity unless they figured audiences don’t need logic in their superhero movies.
There is also the humungous plot dump in the final battle as well. It isn’t enough that Ares is throwing Wonder Woman around using his godly strength, he has to give her storytime as well. This is what happens when you wait until the last possible moment to unveil a master villain. All of his motivations have been explained as myths from the Amazonians within the first couple moments of the film. Ares hasn’t had time to explain his side of the story and his motivations for being a villain.
The way the story has framed it, World War I is mainly influenced by Ares, and that is enough to make him ‘a bad guy.’ The whole reason he even exists in this movie is to make it seem that Wonder Woman has some weakness. That doesn’t come together either when you cast an actor such as David Thewlis as Ares. He comes across as a great intellectual, someone who could manipulate others to do his bidding. As far as being an all-powerful god? Not so much. He just doesn’t come across as menacing. Perhaps he gets his incredible strength from his armor? That could be an explanation. Ares just exists in this story to be an equal, menacing foil to Wonder Woman, but he ends up being nothing more than an exposition CG machine.
Wonder Woman, as a whole, is a massive success story. The box office records it has shattered will do more good for future movies of this ilk than we can imagine right now. Years later, when we look back at it, we will see this powerful story of a woman superhero that was long overdue. Unfortunately, we’ll also see that the ending isn’t revolutionary at all. It falls back on same tired tropes of having a monstrous CGI villain for the hero is dispatch before the closing credits. Marvel and DC have been guilty of doing this over and over again in their features. Wonder Woman is a fantastic feature, but there is room for improvement. Hopefully, a sequel can revolutionize something else about superhero films, their endings.