After the critical disappointment of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the absolute mess of Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. finally knocked it out of the park with Wonder Woman — it's perhaps the best superhero film of the year. Director Patty Jenkins delivered a new and fresh take to the superhero landscape, and Gal Gadot gave us a powerhouse performance as Diana.
But the film is not perfect. Ironically, the DCEU movie that's most reminiscent of a Marvel Cinematic Universe has one of the MCU's biggest problems: a clichéd, mustache-twirling villain. (And Ares even has the mustache!)
Note: heavy spoilers follow for Wonder Woman.
Like Malekith in Thor: The Dark World and Yellowjacket in Ant-Man, #Ares in Wonder Woman is a disposable bad guy with no arc that successfully juxtaposes his story with the hero's. He tells us his motivation, but there's no arc that truly defines his character. And it was a missed opportunity.
Wonder Woman Deserved An Opponent As Great As She Is
There is a reason why The Dark Knight is widely considered to be the best superhero film ever, and that is because its villain is as complex as its hero. Heath Ledger's Joker represents everything that Batman (Christian Bale) does not. While Batman fights crime to establish order in Gotham City, the Joker is there to make sure chaos endures. One can’t live without the other; you can’t have order if there is no chaos to control and you can’t have chaos if there is no order to dismantle. They're each other's counterbalance.
In Wonder Woman, we don’t quite see this hero-villain juxtaposition. Ares doesn’t mirror Wonder Woman. Yes, he is cynical about humanity's self-destructive nature and she learns to love humanity despite of our flaws — but why does Ares want to see humanity destroy itself? The Joker wanted to see the world burn, and it worked for his anarchic character, but Ares feels evil for the sake of being evil. If humanity dies off in a huge war, how exactly does he stand to benefit? A bunch of trees will grow back? Does Ares really care about trees or something?
The best comparison for Ares isn't the Joker, but rather Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) in Captain America: Civil War, who — concluding that the Avengers were beyond redemption — set a plan in motion to turn them against one another. It adequately served the story's purpose, but how many fans consider Zemo to be the MCU's greatest villain? How many casual fans even remember Zemo's name?
Throughout The Dark Knight, the Joker tested Batman's ideology, trying to break his faith in Gotham's citizens (and the citizens' faith in Batman). One could make the argument that World War I itself is a test Ares places upon Diana, but that premise collapses once we learned that Ares — by his own admission — had little to do with the outcome of the war.
Wonder Woman is a story of growth and assimilation, but much of Diana's growth would've happened if Ares had never appeared to face her in the first place. She could’ve gone to World War I with Ares never showing up, and she would've still have had her complete (and excellent) character arc.
A Good Villain Needs To Be What The Hero Is Not
...but that doesn't mean that the villain should be simple while the hero is complex. Ares had no story to tell. He was just there. Almost every character in the movie either changed, tried to change or helped to define Diana’s character — except for Ares, who only serves as CGI entertainment. Maybe no cinematic supervillain will ever match Heath Ledger's Joker, but Ares had the potential to be the Loki of the DCEU.
Even Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), who only appeared about three times in the whole film, had a complete character arc. When we first see her, she is introduced as Steve Trevor's secretary — which, Diana comments, sounds like slavery. In a matter of seconds we know who Etta Candy is, so we root for her character. Ares's purpose in the movie was left vague to conceal his identity until the third act, but this concealment unfortunately led to a muddled motivation.
Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman is one of my favorite films of the year, but like most of Marvel Studios' movies, the villain was a big pile of meh.
Wonder Woman is now in theaters. Do you agree that Ares was its weakest part or do you totally disagree? Let me know in the comments below!