I think it is, at this point, probably safe to start talking about Wonder Woman's ending without too much preamble. You've probably seen it, but in case you haven't, hi, we are going to talk about the ending of Wonder Woman.
So ... spoilers.
So ... Diana "kills" Ares. To clarify: Diana kills Ares insofar as a character can ever be killed in a comic book movie about gods and heroes. What matters is that Diana believes she has killed Ares and, ultimately, killing Ares is what she set out to do from the very beginning of the movie.
But, while Diana vowed upon leaving Themyscira that she would slay the god of war, I'm pretty confident at this point that she really shouldn't have and that the story beats leading up to the third act back up my claim.
Before we can talk about that, though, let's get one very important thing out of the way: Wonder Woman has been a killer in her comic book form (and even cheesy '70s TV form) for a very long time. I'm not saying Wonder Woman shouldn't kill, I'm saying she shouldn't have killed Ares this time, for reasons I hope will become clear.
Wonder Woman has killed Nazis, gods, clones of Hitler and Medusa. Diana even technically killed Batman once. She killed Maxwell Lord, lost her friendships with Batman and Superman *and* got kicked out of the Justice League for a while.
We'll come back to that last example again later, but it's critical that this point be clear: Saying Diana shouldn't have killed Ares in her 2017 film debut isn't the same as saying Superman shouldn't have killed Zod in Man of Steel (BTW, spoilers for Man of Steel, I guess).
Clark Kent, to his very core, is not a killer. When people question Kal-El's choice to kill Zod in Man of Steel, it is primarily because it goes against all established canon for one of the most famous characters in recorded fiction ... and also because it doesn't feel earned in Man of Steel's story.
But, just between us squirrel friends, I am more okay with Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel than I am with Diana killing Ares in Wonder Woman. Frankly, Man of Steel is an extremely violent movie where Clark's mentors teach him to protect himself before he protects anyone else. The DCEU Superman bears very little resemblance to his comic book counterpart (or his previous movie versions). "Killing is wrong" is, frankly, not in the DNA of Man of Steel. I don't like that very much, but that's the nature of the beast. Of course Superman kills Zod -- there is no moral imperative within the narrative telling him not to.
Contrast that with 2017 Wonder Woman, a movie which features a version of Diana who fights for love, for justice, and because she wants to bring an end to war in Man's World both for their own sake and the sake of her sisters on Themyscira. And, on top of all that, I believe this Wonder Woman story has baked within it the lesson that killing is not always the answer; that you don't always fight war with more war.
All good hero stories involve a protagonist who takes a journey and learns lessons from the world and its people along the way. And while Diana does a heck of a lot of teaching of her own (undoubtedly the best part of the entire film is when she inspires the Allies to save a small town from subjugation and death), her story wouldn't be worth telling if that education weren't a two-way street.
Enter Steve Trevor. From the very outset of Wonder Woman, we learn that Steve is not a glory-seeking warrior but an information-gathering spy whose purpose is to find the most speedy end to conflicts both immediate and long-term. At this point, World War I is nearly over, and for Steve to understand Doctor Poison's plans and prevent them before they happen could be the tipping point that brings the entire war to end all wars to a close.
But Diana does not believe Steve at first. She believes in the stories her mother taught her growing up about evil gods who would poison men's minds. Diana believes that if she can kill Ares and Ares alone, all conflict among men will cease.
Likewise, Steve does not believe that something supernatural like Ares could exist at all. He is so utterly in the muck and mire of a war unending that he has begun to lose the forest for the trees. Both Steve and Diana lack faith in humanity, but for completely opposing reasons.
And I want to pause talking about a movie you've probably already seen to remind you of something you probably already know: There is no complete end to conflict among the human race, and I don't just mean the wars America has been in since 2001. We are not peaceful creatures. To weave a Wonder Woman story wherein Diana does not understand that the very nature of human life is conflict is to tell a very dishonest story indeed.
And yet, as Steve Trevor boards a plane in personal sacrifice to destroy the weapons which put all human life in peril, the act that we are meant to believe ends the war is Diana killing Ares.
Ares, to his credit, shares with Diana the same truth I just laid out: that humans fight each other and they need very little push from gods to do so. If Ares left it at that, he would be absolutely right.
But then the moment passes and, as many villains do, Ares bloviates and tries to convince Wonder Woman that humans, as conflicted souls, are not worth saving. Humans will always destroy each other, so why not let them destroy each other completely?
Wonder Woman as a story gets so close to getting it right: We see Diana understand Steve's sacrifice (which he makes because he is inspired by Diana's heroism), we relate to Diana's anguish over the deaths of her sisters on Themyscira and the death of Steve. But while her sisters dying was what set her on this path in the first place, it is Steve's death that should have made her see a better way. Steve didn't love Diana because of who she kills, but because of who she saves and the courage and love and selflessness with which she does so.
In the Greg Rucka comic, when Diana kills Max Lord, there is no other option. She kills Max in order to save Superman and the lives that Superman would have ended while under Max's thrall. While held by the lasso of truth, Max admits he will never stop making Superman a killer until he's dead. That is why Diana kills Max -- because what other choice did she have?
In Wonder Woman, Diana has a choice. Ares is right in that it took very little to manipulate humanity, but that is precisely why killing him should solve nothing.
Diana kills Ares and the fighting just ... stops. And that doesn't make any sense. At least let the fighting continue afterward a little longer. Let Diana feel regret for her actions and the weight of understanding that humanity's struggle will never be solved by a single action, no matter how noble. Tell the truth: that heroism can change minds, but there will always be another battle.
But, really, Diana shouldn't have killed Ares at all, because just as Steve learned the power of bold gestures and love from Diana, Diana should have known from Steve that killing Ares was not the key to ending World War I. Had she merely subdued him, as Hippolyta and Zeus had done in the past, that would have been enough for that battle. And then we could have seen Diana return to London to tell the Allies' leaders what Steve did so that they knew it was finally time to reach a meaningful truce.
It never made sense to me that Diana would stop fighting, that Steve's death would in some way break her to the point that only a man in a bat suit could set her back on the path to righteousness. If anything, the story Wonder Woman tells should've led to a place where Wonder Woman never stops fighting, where she finds a place within Man's World, and continues the work that Steve and she started together: preventing acts of violence and protecting the poor from oppression and subjugation through acts of courage and love.