' ' Cinema Romantico: Notes on Wonder Woman's Ending

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Notes on Wonder Woman's Ending

“Wow them in the end,” declared Brian Cox’s stone cold version of screenwriting guru Robert McKee in “Adaptation”, “and you’ve got a hit.” That might not be an exact quote of the real-life McKee but it is close enough, and it re-proves that Robert McKee doesn’t always know what he’s talking about. I submit Patty Jenkins’s 2017 summertime blockbuster “Wonder Woman” as evidence. If there were dissenters, as there healthily should be, “Wonder Woman” was nevertheless mostly loved, whether you consult that infamous fruit-named website, note the film’s 2nd place 2017 box office position or simply listen to word of mouth, on the street or across the Interwebs. This critical harmony scanned even more impressive because it seemed like an additional element of the movie achieved something as close to consensus as is possible anymore – that is, even if “Wonder Woman” was good, its finish was a letdown.

Search the Interwebs and you will find all manner of “Wonder Woman” conclusion laments. “Why Wonder Woman’s Ending Doesn’t Work,” went one. “The Biggest Problem With Wonder Woman’s Ending,” goes another. “What was your least favorite part of the movie?” wondered The Ringer’s Exit Survey. “The final battle between Ares and Wonder Woman,” replied Chris Ryan. “It feels like every DC title fight takes place inside of a pottery kiln in another dimension: Everything is on fire, physics are totally abandoned, points of reference are lost, and plausibility — even the comic book kind — goes up in smoke.” Amanda Dobbins was more concise, saying “The last 20 minutes, lol.” I, however, was less compelled to laugh out loud than raise my fist.

To thoroughly examine this subject obviously means spoilers of the most top secret nature are in order, and so if you have yet to see “Wonder Woman”, I ask that you please excuse yourself from the conversation, go see it and check back upon completion of viewing. For the rest of you still on the blog, we know that Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) – Wonder Woman – suspects vile German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) to be Ares, the God of War, in human form. If she slays him, she will end WWI. Alas, when she does slay him, nothing changes, the war rages on, mankind remains evil.

There is an argument to be made, and some have made it, that the movie might have done well to end right there. Forget for a moment that Hollywood would never sign off on such a downer for a potential blockbuster, it’s an interesting idea to consider, “to have it be that Ares hasn’t actually been pulling the strings all along,” as Eric Eisenberg writes for CinemaBlend, “and reveal it’s just the inherent violent nature of man that has led to worldwide war.” But then, this is a superhero movie and a traditional showdown rather than a pointed rejection of that showdown is required. As such, the movie’s pivotal reveal is that Diana’s war cabinet benefactor, Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), is Ares.

At first brush, this twist seems weak, not so much in its obviousness as in how it simply reinforces Diana’s worldview rather than challenging it. If Ares does exist, and if he has made mankind evil, then she’s more a precog than a multi-dimensional superhero, able to see the future rather than simply battle through the present. Eh, except that’s not quite right. After all, Ares, in his big speech, explains he is not so much the author of The Great War as the instigator, appealing to people’s worst impulses, allowing mankind’s inherent violent nature to rise up and fuel armed conflict.

Diana, however, in the run-up to this showdown, has been afforded the opportunity to see mankind through each end of the looking glass, both in her relationship with crack pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an earnest aura hanging over him despite his inecessant mansplaining, and in their subsequent little ragtag crew, where the drunkard and the cad prove themselves to be of more genuine heart than their outward appearances might imply. She sees the men for their worst and their best, shaping a worldview that emerges not so much as black & white nor even gray but, mostly sunny, which is why when Ares encourages Diana to give up on mankind too, bringing her eye-to-eye with Doctor Poison, daring her to look at someone so venomous and still extract the good, Diana does just that, meeting Doctor Poison’s eyes and clacking her bracelets together as a means to turn the other cheek.

You might argue that Ares’s speech goes on too long, blunting the movie’s otherwise impressive pacing, and you might argue that the ensuing action sequence in which Diana learns she has the power to slay the God of War is uninspiring. But then, if Wonder Woman has a cinematic soul sister, it is Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine”, which get a little too hung up on haunted house theatrics in its climax but still ultimately effects a metaphysical hymn.

Indeed, if the aforementioned Ryan’s critiques that physics and points of reference fall by the wayside ring true, the thematic through-line is strong enough to compensate for the CGI slush, sort of spiritual truth superseding formal truth, which might make the more orthodox film critics harumph, and fair enough & so be it. But when Diana sends all of Ares’s computer-generated imagery right back at his hate-mongering ass, I could only see “Wonder Woman” the same way she sees us.

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