We love antiheroes, don't we? From the playfully apathetic fun of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the hilarious antics of Deadpool, antiheroes aren't hard to find in today's movies. Why are they so popular? One reason among many is the fact that antiheroes are defined by their character arc, and so we often get a richer result from movies featuring these misguided people. The #DCEU has heavily featured antiheroes, and #WonderWoman is similar, introducing a hero that spends most of the story acting on a warped ideology. The problem is that even though antiheroes are everywhere, they're really hard to write.
It's a good thing Wonder Woman came along, because the DCEU's newest just showed everyone who's boss and absolutely nailed a challenging character arc. How did Wonder Woman succeed? There are two simple reasons, and they helped Wonder Woman grow from an OK film to an outstanding one. Head's up! This article has a few spoilers for Wonder Woman, so if you haven't seen the movie, proceed with caution.
Where Does It Begin?
Right from the start, Wonder Woman builds the elements of a successful story. The film begins on the island Themyscira, an Amazonian paradise created by Zeus. When an American spy (Chris Pine) breaks through the mirage and crashes in the ocean, Diana dives in to save him. Steve Trevor, the pilot, brings news that beyond the island, there's a war stretching across continents.
Diana, played by #GalGadot, begs the other Amazons to go fight. She believes the god of war, Ares, is responsible, and plans to kill him. Her fellow warriors refuse (of course), and so she takes Steve and sets off on her own (of course).
This is where the most important part of the setup comes into play. Wonder Woman is brimming with mythology, and even when Diana crosses into World War I, she retains her mythological worldview. She spends most of the film convinced that once she kills Ares, the war will stop and mankind will be good again. Even though she performs some pretty heroic deeds along the way, she's misguided. It's a simple beginning to a simple arc: The hero who fights for the wrong reason.
Where Things Turn Around
Things change when Diana kills a man she suspects to be Ares and nothing changes in the war. The fighting continues. She's distraught, angry and confused. Steve Trevor jumps in to say, "Maybe it isn't Ares. Maybe it's just us."
Until then, Diana had fought under the assumption that she was saving mankind from the influence of Ares. When Steve tells her that everyone — him, Diana, the soldiers, everyone — is to blame, her mythological ideology crumbles away. What kind of impact does this have on the story?
We see troubled character arcs like this quite often, but Wonder Woman made it work exactly how it's supposed to. When Diana changes the reason she fights, it's believable, emotional and compelling.
Wonder Woman's Character Arc Meant Something To Everyone Else
When a hero changes direction, the change has to have a significant impact. Diana is thrown into a moral dilemma with the worth of humanity and her own motivation on the line. It hits hard because she must reconsider the beliefs she's held all her life. The personal stakes are high, but while many superhero movies tend to lock the focus on the hero's own internal struggle, Wonder Woman moves beyond.
Her arc was powerful because it means something to her and to us. After all, in Wonder Woman's setup, humans are the ones in the crosshairs. We wanted Diana to change, but we also needed her to change because if she didn't, the side characters we'd grown to love would suffer. A character arc with a multidimensional impact is the first way Wonder Woman takes its story to the next level.
Wonder Woman Doesn't Exactly Save The Day
Perhaps the strangest success of the story comes in the form of surrender. In the last act of Wonder Woman, Diana must give up control. She's hit with a moment of weakness (made even more powerful by Gal Gadot's performance), and so Steve goes in her place to save the day, but he assures her it's all he can do. She has to handle the rest.
Now, it doesn't exactly look good for a character when they fail, so why is it important for Wonder Woman to split the heroics between Steve and Diana? Instead of undermining Diana's strength, this plot point serves as a motivation. As some of Diana's choices go away, she becomes stronger. She reaches inside herself and pulls energy from the very core of her character.
Wonder Woman balances heroics with reality. The result is surprisingly emotional.
Wonder Woman is not a perfect movie, and thankfully, Diana is not a perfect hero. We see this kind of character all the time, but it isn't often that a story hits with such power and such simplicity as this one. Hopefully it's an encouragement for people who want to see better #movies in the DCEU. Hopefully it's an encouragement for people who just love stories. Misguided characters are hard to write, but Wonder Woman lives up to the challenge.
What inspired you most about Wonder Woman?