A romantic reunion: Inside Wonder Woman 1984's timeless love story
Patty Jenkins was making plans to resurrect Steve Trevor before she even killed him.
The director was still filming 2017's Wonder Woman, spotlighting Gal Gadot's superpowered, altruistic Amazon, when she started wondering where Diana might go next — and whether her high-flying companion Steve (played by Chris Pine) should be by her side. Jenkins didn't know then, of course, that the first film would become the cultural phenomenon that it did, raking in more than $800 million worldwide and becoming the biggest live-action film ever directed by a solo female director. And Pine's World War I pilot was long fated to die in the final act, sacrificing himself to aid Diana.
By the time filming started, Jenkins was already busy sketching out ideas for Diana's next chapter — and as she watched Pine and Gadot banter on set, she found herself mulling Steve's future, too.
"It was near the middle of the first one that it started to come to me," she explains. "[Co-writer] Geoff Johns and I started talking about it. We started to break the story, and we would stand on the side while they were lighting a set and just figure out big chunks of it."
Those on-set brainstorms would become Wonder Woman 1984, the candy-colored blockbuster sequel that catapults Diana from World War I to the neon excess of the 1980s. It's a playful send-up of the decade's materialism and if-you-dream-it-you-can-do-it ambition, peppered with action set pieces that are, at times, literally explosive. (One key scene follows Wonder Woman's invisible jet as it zooms through a firework show.) There's a new setting, as the undercover goddess gets a gig working at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and new opponents, too: Pedro Pascal plays the narcissistic businessman Maxwell Lord, who's out to obtain a mysterious artifact, while Kristen Wiig plays Diana's friend-turned-foe Barbara Minerva, better known as the furry, fanged Cheetah.
But even with all the whiz-bang fight scenes and lassoing of bad guys, Wonder Woman 1984 is ultimately, like its predecessor, a love story. The late Steve is resurrected in the 1980s (through your typical kind of universe-altering, time-skipping comic book twist that we won't spoil in any great detail here), and together the Themysciran princess and the war hero team up once again to explore — and ultimately try to save — the world, spreading their earnest message of decency and kindness along the way.
"There's a real dearth of romance in modern cinema, which is so strange to say, given the fact that Hollywood was founded on romance films," Pine, 40, says. "There's that, and the fact that you have a lot of swapping of identities [and] gender roles. It's usually the man who's the primary hero. So to have a man who's supporting the woman in her role as the hero is unique. There's parity in the relationship and they support one another. They bring out the best parts of one another."
"I remember Patty kept saying on the first one, 'Casablanca, Casablanca, Casablanca,'" Gadot, 35, adds. "There is something in their love story that is so timeless and classic."
Gadot and Pine never had a chemistry test before filming began on the first Wonder Woman; Gadot was confirmed to play the hero well before Jenkins offered the role of Trevor to Pine. "I was sure," the director explains. "I was just so sure that he was the one [even though] it wasn't really until I was on set, and you saw the two of them together, that you saw how great [they are]."
Jenkins knew she'd made the right call watching Gadot and Pine film the boat scene in the first film, where a discussion about the nature of men and women turns into a clumsy flirtation. As written, the scene was awkwardly funny, but Gadot and Pine improvised on set to sharpen the comedy — and the romance.
"It was a very easy dance with Chris," Gadot says. "[For] actors, the way we work is very simple: We get the script, we break down the character, and then you work with whoever you're playing off of. With Chris, it was super organic and it was such an easy back and forth. It felt like a dance."
Love stories are, of course, a staple of the superhero genre, whether it's Superman rescuing Lois Lane for the umpteenth time or Tony Stark trading flirtatious barbs with Pepper Potts. But part of what made the first Wonder Woman so swoon-worthy was its unprecedented approach to comic-book romance. She was a near-immortal goddess who could crush a gun with her bare hands, and she met challenges with optimism and delight. He was a smirking hotshot pilot who was constantly awed by her power, but never acted threatened. The more time they spent together, the more they realized that the world really was full of, well, wonder. (It also helped that they're played by two very attractive and very charismatic people.)
"I would always joke, 'Let's pretend that Indiana Jones met Wonder Woman,'" Jenkins says. "Indiana Jones is not going to be such a baby that he's emasculated."
"It was in the default of the story," Gadot adds. "We didn't try to make a point out of it, just because this is who we are, Patty and myself. We are women, and we are feminists, and we believe in equality. And portraying Wonder Woman [this way] — who's the symbol and the beacon of all these things — just goes without saying."
In the first film, Steve served as Diana's mortal tour guide, introducing her to the world of men (and the joys of ice cream). In 1984, the once-naïve Diana has become the expert, chaperoning Steve around D.C. as he learns about escalators and the U.S. space program. "The fact that he got to be the fish out of water in this one was a fun change," Gadot says with a laugh.
One scene playfully flips the script from the first film: In Wonder Woman, Diana tries on a whole closet of unfamiliar clothes to fit into 1918 London. In the sequel, it's Steve's turn to play dress up, in a montage of him donning '80s-appropriate looks (including, of course, a fanny pack).
"Chris gets on a runway and he starts saying hilarious things, but he doesn't know they're hilarious," Jenkins explains. "You're just messing around for hours trying on different things, and him riffing on different things. On the day, he was like, 'I don't know.' I was like, 'Believe me, it's gold. We've got it.'"
"We really just talked about: What is it like for Steve to be here now, taking in an escalator for the first time?" Pine says with a laugh. "Is it like a mushroom trip? Is it really fun? Is it terrifying? It was acting class 101 and playing really big emotions."
And while Pine paraded about in parachute pants, his scene partner had a hard time keeping a straight face. "I'm super easy to get to laugh," Gadot admits. "He literally calls me Giggles Gadot."
For Pine himself, his favorite scene to shoot was a more serious one: Later in the film, Diana and Steve huddle together on the streets of D.C., sharing a tender moment as the city is wracked with chaos. The first time he watched the final cut, the look on Gadot's face made him emotional.
"It's just such a beautiful Casablanca moment," he says, echoing his costar's reference. "The score's big, and there's emotion. She just gave me chills. Her performance is really spectacular."
When Wonder Woman 1984 begins, it's been 66 years since the two lovers said goodbye on that German runway. But in some ways, their separation feels even longer: Off screen, the sequel has had a bumpy flight, and it was originally scheduled to hit theaters in December 2019, before being pushed back to summer 2020. Since then, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced Warner Bros. to move WW84 again and again. (EW visited the set of the sequel in London in 2018, and you may remember our first cover story on the film, way back in the distant days of February 2020.)
Now, after all that shuffling, WW84 will finally debut in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max on Christmas Day — kicking off WB's controversial plan to simultaneously release all of its 2021 movies both theatrically and on its nascent streaming service.
"I never thought I would feel this way about the decision to switch to streaming and theatrical," Jenkins admits. "In this case, your priority as a filmmaker is to make a movie that moves and reaches audiences so they have communion together in a theater. But there's no way better to do that right now than send people who are suffering and who might be with their family something to watch together."
And when 2020 has brought so much struggle, Wonder Woman's hopeful vision of 1984 feels particularly appealing. In a year marked by isolation, there's something reassuring about Diana and Steve's optimistic love story, which proves that passion can endure through world wars, global uncertainty, and even poor fashion choices.
"After the year that we've had, to be able to share a film that's about a superhero whose weapon is love and compassion and kindness," Pine says, "feels like the perfect dose of grandmother's chicken soup for the end of the year."
—Additional reporting by Leah Greenblatt
Footage courtesy Warner Bros. Cover edit by Chanelle Berlin Johnson, with design by Chuck Kerr. Video interviews edited by Ethan Bellows.
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