Wonder Woman 1984: How a top-secret love story and brand-new armor promise to make the sequel sing
Gal Gadot is waiting for the boosh. Eyes narrowed, bouncing lightly on her toes — float like a butterfly, sting like an Amazonian queen — she moves soundlessly through the chilled air of cavernous studio outside London, her shoulder blades blooming into a set of molten-gold wings.
When the explosion comes, it’s muffled, but the soldiers who emerge from the blast in full combat gear don’t look like they’re here to make friends. As she dispatches them one by one, it’s impossible not to imagine how many of them are experiencing the highlight of their working lives in this very moment: men who will spend the next 40 years telling every first date and airplane seatmate about that one time they were annihilated by the warrior princess of Themyscira.
“Ahhh, so uncomfortable!” Gadot says with a good-naturedly grimace after the scene finally wraps, shrugging off her shiny albatross and slipping into the plush gray robe and Ugg boots that wait for her just off stage. It’s the closest the 34-year-old onetime Miss Israel will come to uttering an uncheerful word, even after long hours spent in a wingspan that defies the natural laws of both orthopedics and most actual birds.
Endurance, though, is built into the brand: A months-long shoot has already hopscotched from the sunbaked Spanish cliffs of Tenerife to suburban Virginia and now back to the bone-chilling damp of England in early winter. On the set of 2017’s Wonder Woman, Gadot remembers, she and costar Chris Pine would sing Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” to each other between takes to stay warm; in the follow-up, due June 5, the action moves from the grim grayscale battlefields of World War I to the neon era that birthed many a hair band — and the movie’s titular star, too.
“I was born in ’85, but it’s funny, I really do remember,” Gadot says in her lightly accented English, settling into a canvas-back chair steps from where she just brought a battalion to its knees. “Probably more so because of my parents, but it was a such a standout decade as much as it goes with fashion, music, politics. And the look of everything! The colors.”
If you had to pick just one from the palette, you might want to start with green: the color of money, of course, but envy, too. “In 1984, America was at the peak of its power and its pride,” says associate producer Anna Obropta. “Apple computers and parachute pants, wealth, commercialism, glamour, even violence — everything was larger than life. It was a decade of greed and desire, a time of ‘Me, me, more more more.’”
Returning director Patty Jenkins, whose sure hand helped guide the first film to near-universal acclaim and more than $800 million at the box office, elaborates: “It was a time where no cost had shown up yet. There was the fear of the Cold War,” she concedes. “But it really was like, ‘This is gonna go on forever!’ The feeling that the world was this cornucopia that would never stop giving was so enormous.”
Not so much, maybe, for Gadot’s Diana, a woman forged in the last movie’s era of scarcity and sacrifice. Now working at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C., she lives quietly, still mourning the loves she’s left behind. “She has not only had the loss of [Chris Pine’s] Steve Trevor,” explains producer Charles Roven (American Hustle, the Dark Knight trilogy). “She’s lost nearly all the people that are important to her because they’re not immortal, and her life is actually quite lonely and spartan. In fact, the only joy that she gets out of it is when she’s actually doing something for people, if she can help those in need.”
In this go-go decade, though, the line between want and need is easily blurred. Enter Maxwell Lord, a self-made mogul-slash-guru played as a sort of insidious mix of ’80s icons both fictional (Gordon Gekko) and real (Tony Robbins) by Pedro Pascal. “Max is a dream-seller,” says the 44-year-old actor, best known for his turns on Narcos, The Mandalorian, and Game of Thrones. “It’s this character who encompasses a component of the era which is, you know, ‘Get whatever want, however you can. You’re entitled to it!’ And at any cost, ultimately, which represents a huge part of our culture and this kind of unabashed — it’s greed,” he breaks off, laughing. “It’s f—ing greed, of course. But it’s also about ‘How do you be your best self? How do you win?’ So he’s definitely the face of that version of success.”
If Diana is immune to Lord’s charms, her new co-worker Barbara Minerva — a shy, socially awkward gemologist played with stumbling-foal charm and a frizzled perm by Kristen Wiig — is not. The comic-book faithful will know what’s coming: a transformation that turns a rare friend into one of Wonder Woman’s most formidable nemeses. It was less familiar, though, to the actress portraying her: “I did not really know so much about Cheetah,” the longtime SNL star, 46, admits. “Before I even talked to Patty [Jenkins], there was an idea that maybe it might be about being a villain for the movie, so I went online and looked at all the villains of Wonder Woman to try to figure out which one, because I was so excited,” she laughs. “And I was really, really happy to find out it was her.”
That meant doing serious stunt and wirework for the first time in her career (“I mean, I was sore for about eight months. A lot of ice baths”) and also taking on what is essentially two separate roles: “I’ve never really played someone who walks into the room and owns it — especially when she starts out so insecure and self-deprecating,” she confesses. “We didn’t want to see Barbara in Cheetah, and I didn’t want to see Kristen in Cheetah, either.”
Jenkins never had any doubt that Wiig was right for the part. “In the lore, Cheetah is often someone who’s friends with Diana but jealous of her,” she says. “And I feel like Kristen’s playing a character who’s both ends of the spectrum — she’s your warm, funny friend who’s kind and interesting and then can transform into something completely different. Yes, she happens to be a woman, but she’s straight out of the Gene Hackman Superman school of great, funny, tremendous actors. I don’t think of her being a female villain, although she is. I feel that way about Wonder Woman, too. The female component of it is huge, but she’s also just a hero, a universal hero.”
And if Diana has to face not one formidable villain but two, doesn’t a demigoddess deserve a little backup? Pine’s Steve Trevor will be returning, though there is not a Lasso of Truth on this planet that will get anyone in the cast or crew to reveal exactly how. Just know that her fighter-pilot paramour has somehow made the journey through space and time to find himself by her side once again — and if he has to strap on a fanny pack to do it, well, that’s just what a real man does. “In the first movie, I played the world-weary soldier who has seen all the depravity that humankind is capable of displaying,” says the Outlaw King star, 39. “And in this one I get to be much more wide-eyed and joyful. My role is really just as a friend, lover, boyfriend-cum-bodyguard who’s trying his best to help Diana on her mission. I’m like the Watson to her Holmes.”
Though there’s much more than tweedy repartee in the playful romantic chemistry between Pine and Gadot that marked the first film, and set it apart from so many of its action-focused peers. That connection — and the easy, equal give-and-take of their onscreen banter — is owed at least in part to plain luck: “There was no chemistry test!” says Gadot. “Honestly, we just had it…. And where other men could be intimidated by the fact that they’re not, you know, the hero hero that men usually are, with Chris he enjoys it, and it challenges him in a way that is so much fun and so funny.”
That, says Jenkins, is exactly why she chose him: “He’s not beta at all. He’s a super alpha who can absolutely wear his discomfort on his sleeve. So, from day one, I was always saying that it should almost be like Wonder Woman meets Indiana Jones, where Indiana would never be emasculated. Chris just very naturally has that quality. You can tell by meeting him that he’s warm and he’s chill and he truly appreciates women.”
Pine appreciates, too, that the movie’s take on romance isn’t exactly typical of the genre. “I think sometimes superhero films may feel they have to fit in a love story just to tick that box,” he says. “Whereas in this, it’s part and parcel of the spine of the lead character. And that is Wonder Woman — she leads with love and compassion and protectiveness, and these qualities that I think are nurtured by a good strong relationship.”
But even love, of course, can’t conquer all — at least not without a little heavy metal. Cue the Golden Warrior Armor made iconic in the comic books, which makes its first big-screen appearance here: Jenkins found a reference of soldiers in ancient Rome to help solidify the look of the shield; Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming (a veteran of many Bonds and Batmans) spent long hours working with designers and artisans to nail down multiple iterations of the famous wings.
Some are made from a spine-straining carbon fiber weighing upwards of 44 pounds; one set, destined to be CG’ed later, looks almost tablet-like, a sort of platinum-dipped Ten Commandments; another like an extremely blingy set of Venetian blinds. But most important, Hemming says, was to make sure that “in the light it’s always liquid, moving. There’s a feeling of non-flatness…. Because in the comics, she does fight her mightiest battles in the golden suit.”
Even when the stakes are high, though, certain occasions still call for the classic red and blue. One of the movie’s earliest scenes finds Diana coming to the rescue in the fairest ’80s destination of them all, the mall. Award-winning production designer Aline Bonetto, who oversaw the sets on the last film (she’s also responsible for the signature look of 2001’s Amélie) took over a recently closed shopping center in Alexandria, Va., and built out 65 storefronts, including a number of dearly departed brands (rest in peace, WaldenBooks). “Seeing the old round letters on the Gap logo!” Wiig sighs happily. “It was like I had stepped back into my childhood. I was such a mall girl.”
There’s a major set piece too, in the only place in America that may be more exalted than a good galleria: the White House. At the time of EW’s visit, a partial replica of America’s First Home had just withstood a major showdown between Wonder Woman and Lord. Paintings hang askew, marble columns are toppled, and drywall litters the marble floors; it looks like either a frat party or a roving pack of gremlins came for the Lincoln Bedroom. “It’s funny,” Gadot says of shooting scenes like these with her costars, “when we do the fight stuff, we go full-blown and we’re like, super badass. But then when they cut we go, ‘Oh my God, are you okay, Booby? Oh no! Did I scratch you, sister?’”
Things are much calmer on the museum set, a sleek modern structure that contains Barbara and Diana’s offices, and in the latter’s apartment, a sparsely decorated space that bears the tidy but faintly depressing traces of a lonely life: clean lines, bare kitchen, neat wardrobe; its only real personal touch, tellingly, are the handful of black-and-white photos perched on a side table; it’s clear that in this space, she’s thousands of literal and figurative miles from home. Though fans will get a chance to see their warrior princess back on the turquoise shores of Themyscira, at least in the form of a flashback — reunited with her mother (Connie Nielsen), and aunt (Robin Wright) for what might best be described as a sort of Amazon Olympics.
The competition is equally fierce if a lot less friendly later in the film, during an explosive high-speed chase through a Mad Max-style desert. (If it’s not exactly Fury Road, it definitely doesn’t look like a breezy one.) But for Gadot, who gave birth to her second daughter just weeks before Wonder Woman’s release — her five-months-pregnant belly, famously, had to be greenscreened out in reshoots — the long months of training and bruisingly elaborate fight sequences are worth the personal costs.
“I think that when I just started, I didn’t understand the magnitude and how much this character means to people,” she says. “I was feeling like the little girl who’s supposed to climb the Kilimanjaro mountain, scratching my head and thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to do this?’ But now I feel like I know where I’m going and I know what we’re doing. If in the first movie Diana didn’t understand the complexities of mankind, now she completely understands it…. She loves people, and I think that’s the key to this character, you know? She has the powers of a goddess, but she has the heart of a human.” And the wings, too, to make it fly.
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