Wonder Woman & Missed Opportunities

I don’t usually like superhero movies. There are, of course, a few big exceptions: I like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the first Iron Man, the first Avengers, and I like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. None of these will ever be my favorite films, but they all entertained me. And so did Wonder Woman. Aside from a slow start and the chronic condition of an overpowered hero, the film manages to tell an entertaining and engaging adventure story. And it almost, almost surprised me.

Beware of spoilers.

The majority of the film features Wonder Woman’s adventures as she hunts for her super-villain: the Greek god Ares. She is convinced that human conflict, and specifically the First World War, all comes as a direct result of Ares’s interference in the world. Kill the big bad god, she reasons, and you end all war. Put like that it sounds silly, but it’s really no worse than any other superhero’s M.O. (which will have to be a subject for a later post).

Here’s where we find the almost-surprise. She encounters a murderous general in the German army and, convinced that he is Ares in disguise, she kills him. And nothing happens. He wasn’t Ares. He was just another bad man, doing bad things without any real supernatural instigation.

I think that moment presented the filmmakers with a staggering opportunity. The implication of the German general dying, and not being Ares, is that there is no Ares; no supernatural force of evil making human beings do bad things. The protagonist is wrong. Which is a staggering thought: a superhero who spends her entire story chasing a villain who doesn’t exist. Her actions are none the less heroic for lacking such an opposite number; on the contrary, that imbalance grounds her in human conflicts. Super she may be, but she is first and foremost a human being fighting other human beings for ordinary human reasons. Personally I find that a much more appealing prospect than the flat struggles we normally see in the genre.

But hold the phone! Just because that one guy wasn’t Ares doesn’t mean there is no Ares. And the film dutifully produces its super-villain. Oh, to be sure, he makes a point of revealing that, shocker, he is not responsible for human conflict. We are quite capable of killing each other without his egging us on. That in fact, seems to be the reason he wants to wipe out the human race, as no super-villain before him has ever tried to do, I’m sure. For a big reveal it’s rather weak. And the fight that follows is easily the most boring scene in the entire film: a D.C. slugfest tinged with the disappointment of wasted potential.

To be fair, I liked the film. It was an enjoyable adventure that managed, at times, to be surprisingly human. That is not a feat to be ignored, especially given D.C.’s recent track record. But I can’t help feeling that the filmmakers missed an opportunity to create something far more memorable, and a part of me can’t help mourning for the Wonder Woman film that will never be.

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