With the news that Ares will likely be the main villain of "Wonder Woman," the picture of the Warner Bros. feature is beginning to come into focus, and it all makes sense not only from the perspective of the iconic superheroine, but also from that of the DC Extended Universe to this point.
Ares has been a Wonder Woman foe right from the beginning, more than 75 years ago. While that history is important, what's more significant is what Ares represents from a narrative standpoint. Before we get into that, however, let's first refresh everyone's memory about just who Ares is in conjunction with the Wonder Woman story.
There are basically three distinct Ares over the years.
The first debuted in 1942's "Wonder Woman" #1, although he went by his Roman name Mars, and played an instrumental role in the creation of the Amazons, as he and Aphrodite basically warred against each other, with him using men and Aphrodite using women. It was Mars who was responsible for Hercules conquering the Amazons.
However, interestingly enough, this original view of Mars was dropped pretty much after the first issue, and from that point forward, he was more of a traditional supervillain, who even had a base on the planet Mars.
Following 1985's "Crisis on Infinite Earths," however, when George Perez, Greg Potter and Len Wein rebooted Wonder Woman, Ares was a major villain and this time, he was more of a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker. In the first major storyline in "Wonder Woman," Ares pushed the United States and the Soviet Union toward war. Ultimately, Wonder Woman revealed to him the folly of his ways in "Wonder Woman" #6 by using her Lasso of Truth to show him what the end game was for his way of life.
After seeing how awful things would be if he ever actually succeeded, he then insisted that Wonder Woman serve to avoid that fate at all costs by making sure that the world never falls into a world war. So yes, the god of war actually demanded that Wonder Woman keep the world at peace! With that said, though, as the years went by, he slid a bit from that initial position and he became more and more of a thorn in Wonder Woman's side, to the point where, during writer Gail Simone's run on the series, Wonder Woman even ended up killing Ares!
Finally, there's the New 52 version of Ares courtesy of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Here, Ares is a mentor to Wonder Woman and specifically chose her to carry on as "War" once he was finished.
As the end of their run, that's exactly what happened: Wonder Woman became the goddess of war.
Now, when looking at the upcoming "Wonder Woman" film, we can probably discount the Azzarello take on Ares, However, surprisingly enough, some of the reports make it sound like the Golden Age Ares might actually play a similar role, in the sense that he may have been indirectly responsible for the creation of the Amazons, as a response by Zeus to his initial creation of the god of war. In other words, Zeus is displeased with what happened when he made Ares, so he created the Amazons to be better versions of his initial approach, and Ares has vowed revenge on them ever since. That's an interesting take on the old origins of the Amazons, and a clever twist on one of the best aspects of Wonder Woman's mythos, which is the way it is connected to Greek mythology (this is a link that's lasted throughout all the various incarnations of Wonder Woman over the years, albeit in different forms).
While that aspect of Ares might be part of the film, it's the Perez-era incarnation that seems most similar to the one that will appear in the film (as portrayed by Danny Huston): someone who's working behind the scenes to make sure that World War I becomes much more than just the "Great War."
That manipulative, war-mongering Ares is the one that really works well for the character of Wonder Woman. When you have someone considered a champion of peace like Wonder Woman, then having her foe as the god of war is a perfect contrast. It was a brilliant innovation of Perez, Potter and Wein to present Ares that way in post-"Crisis" "Wonder Woman," so we hope that's how he is portrayed in the film (not that we would object to seeing Huston take Ares from behind the scenes to the forefront in a scene or two, wearing his famous armor, of course).
However, even more specifically, up until this point, the DC Extended Universe has followed a basic argument of "the only way to defeat war is with more war." That's not abnormal for superhero films, of course, as most of the Marvel Studios feature follow this path as well. In other words, the bad guys cause war, but the only way to defeat them is to use a war of your own. Zod declares war on Metropolis, Superman declares war on Zod. Hydra declares war on S.H.I.E.L.D., S.H.I.E.L.D. declares war on Hydra. Here, however, if the villain of the piece is the idea of war itself, we might see the rare superhero film where war is not simply answered with even more war ("Doctor Strange" and its classic final victorious negotiation is another rare example of winning without escalation). Of course, since we know that Wonder Woman has pretty much given up as a hero by the time she shows up in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," which is roughly a hundred years after the events of the "Wonder Woman" film, it is likely that whatever approach that Wonder Woman used during World War I did not end up with her in a good place. Hopefully, though, it is not a message of "peace cannot stop war."
Therefore, with the use of Ares as the film's villain, the movie gets to use the Greek myths as a significant backdrop for the film, while also pitting a hero of peace against a villain of war, all the while making the film stand on its own footing against all the other standard superhero plots that we have seen over the years. That is why Ares really works as the perfect villain for this movie.
Directed by Patty Jenkins, "Wonder Woman" stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Lucy Davis, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui and David Thewlis. The film opens June 2.