The critics have spoken and the fans are voting with their wallets: Wonder Woman is an absolute hit. One of the reasons for the film's success is that there's a third-act twist that took literally everybody by surprise. We'd known for months that Ares was in it, and clever marketing had left us convinced that Danny Huston's General Ludendorff was actually the God of War.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers for Wonder Woman.
Of course, we were wrong. In reality, he was little more than a pawn, with the main villain actually being played by David Thewlis's Sir Patrick. But that leaves us with some very real questions — who is General Ludendorff? What abilities did Doctor Poison "restore" with her gas? Let's try and solve the mystery!
Behind The Scenes: General Ludendorff Was A Real Person
Fantastical heroes have often been pitted against real-life foes. Last year, for example, David Yates's The Legend of Tarzan took a surprising turn: It placed its hero in a real historical setting, and had him face a villain from the 1800s. Patty Jenkins did the same here: Erich Ludendorff was actually a key figure in German history. Success in military campaigns earned him the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest military decoration for gallantry. By 1916, he was a national hero, his genius lauded by the German press.
Of course, in the real world, Ludendorff didn't fall prey to an Amazon's blade. By 1918 the string of German defeats had cost him his reputation. Ludendorff was actually an important supporter of the armistice, and — in the aftermath of the First World War — was forced into exile, vilified for his nation's defeat. He returned only a year later, having solidified his beliefs into the doctrine of "Total War." He argued that the entire physical and moral forces of the state should be permanently geared towards war, as peace is merely an interval between wars.
Ludendorff was an early supporter of Adolf Hitler, although the two clashed as Hitler rose to power. He died of cancer in 1937, and was given a state funeral against his dying wishes.
The DCEU Version
But who is General Ludendorff in the nascent #DCEU? The film's version of the character is actually opposed to the armistice — but that's largely because he sees the potential for Doctor Poison's new weapons. Intriguingly, though, he's also a powerful physical threat: Doctor Poison gives him mysterious gases that, she claims, will "restore" his power.
From an out-of-universe perspective, this was pure misdirection. It was all part of a cunning attempt to persuade us that Ludendorff was actually Ares. As a result, most DC fans have suggested that Doctor Poison's gas is an early version of the Venom serum, or the Blockbuster compound — super-soldier serums, analogues to those we've seen in the MCU.
But that doesn't quite fit. After all, those serums wouldn't be "restoring" Ludendorff's power, they'd be granting it, for the first time. I think there's another twist to the tale:
In the legends of ancient Greece, the most warlike rulers and warriors were viewed as demigods — children of Ares, sired by the God of War, inheriting his violent nature and beliefs. Often, these demigods possessed notable physical power, although these abilities tended to diminish with age. It made sense in a more superstitious age: A warlike conqueror had inherited their nature from Ares himself, adding a supernatural element to the dramatic events of the real world. At the time of the First World War, I have absolutely no doubt that the Greeks would have viewed Ludendorff as a child of Ares. A prominent military tactician, lauded in his homeland, and proposing a doctrine of Total War? It's perfect.
By this read, Ludendorff is one of Ares's children, a demigod whose power has diminished with age. Doctor Poison's gas restores him, but, of course, he is no match for the likes of Wonder Woman.
General Ludendorff may have died in Wonder Woman, but the possibility that he was a demigod adds another twist to the tale. Suddenly we have an explanation for why the world would plunge into yet another World War in 1939 — because Ares had planted his agents, his very children, across the world. Ares may have been killed, but his agents remain scattered, and they will remain true to their warlike natures.
If I'm right, and General Ludendorff was actually a demigod, then this raises intriguing possibilities for future Wonder Woman sequels. After all, the first film intertwined mythology with history: With the gods now dead, the sequels can continue to do the same through the use of these demigods.
Do you think Ludendorff was a demigod?
(Poll Image Credit: Warner Bros.)