Warning: This article may contain spoilers!
Like millions of people around the world, I’ve long been a fan of Wonder Woman. So much so, that when I was a little girl I secretly took a scissors to one of my mother’s blouses and cut the cuffs so that I could proudly wear my homemade Wonder Woman gauntlets at school the next day.
You can imagine my excitement at getting the opportunity to watch some unfinished sequences from the new Warner Bros film and catch up with director Patty Jenkins and some of the Wonder Woman production team ahead of the movie’s release in June.
While there are plenty of similarities (and significant changes) to the story that DC comic fans know and love, this is not the Wonder Woman that audiences will have watched on TV in the 1970s. This is her origin story.
“I want everyone to feel like they’re Wonder Woman when they see this film,” says Patty Jenkins. “It’s the story of someone discovering their power and their decision to do good with it. That’s universal. We all come of age, so that’s the dream.”
And dreamy this film is. Set on the lush island of Themyscira, we meet a young girl Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who is part of the powerful and glorious Amazon women warriors created by the God Zeus.
Despite her mother’s protestations, Diana is secretly trained as a warrior by her sister. There she goes through a very human experience of trial over adversity and overcoming self-doubt. Her powers eventually exceed that of the other Amazons.
Diana’s first encounter with a man happens when U.S. fighter pilot and undercover agent Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on the island of Themyscira (not in an invisible plane, you’ll be interested to note). Steve Trevor has stolen a piece of intelligence that a German general is developing weapons of mass destruction. He needs to get back to London to deliver it to the British Intelligence service.
Upon hearing Steve’s emotional description of a terrible war, Diana is convinced that she must go to where the fighting is most intense so that she can defeat Ares, the God of War. And so our two heroes set off to London, each with their own mission to accomplish.
A movie that wasn’t already time stamped
The film is set during World War I, where Diana’s introduction to the world of mankind is London in 1918. It’s smelly and dark and crowded and a far cry from the pristine world of Themyscira she left behind. Placing the film in that time appears to be a deliberate attempt to free it from the legacy of the past (World War II features in the comic books and the TV series is from the 1970s.)
“With the ’70s, she’s a little time stamped (Lynda Carter) so I didn’t want to go down that route,’ says Jenkins. “World War I was the first where we had mechanized war, that we started bombing people from afar. Who’s the bad guy was much more grey, which made it very interesting because you’re not looking at an obvious villain.”
Amid much speculation (and there is a LOT), Jenkins won’t be drawn on who exactly the evil characters are in the film. So we are still left guessing.
The female hero the world needs right now
Jenkins also believes that the industry wasn’t quite ready for a female lead back then. “It’s ironic you could make an animated film about a dog that was a supernatural character but not a woman,” she says. “There was more fear in the world, at every studio, about doing that kind of thing. Just a belief that only boys liked action movies and boys didn’t like female characters. And that’s what changed. Things like Hunger Games started to show what was possible.”
“I’m the man who can.”
Gal Gadot plays a Wonder Woman with no feminist agenda. She is completely oblivious to the limitations placed on women by society. For example, in one of the unfinished scenes I viewed, Diana is discussing battle with Steve Trevor. He emphasizes that they will need to rally all the men they can. Her response is simply: “I’m the man who can.”
“That is something I cared about a lot. She can never be lecturing or scolding.” says Jenkins. “I went into it saying ‘she’s my Superman.’ I kept seeing female heroes always had to be the alt character. They couldn’t just be the main lead. They had to be made more interesting somehow. I was like, not her. Let her be Wonder Woman.”
A metaphor for female empowerment
Having just seen two short clips and learned about a third of the plot to this film, it’s already pretty clear that this movie is a metaphor for female strength and courage. For example, the Amazons fight in a collaborative way, leveraging each others’ strength.
“Patty really worked hard with her team to design a style of fighting that was incredibly badass and believable,” says Anna Obropta, production liaison for Wonder Woman. “So, where Batman will punch someone in the face and that is effective, it’s not how the Amazons and Diana fight. They have this disciplined fighting style. They are mighty, they are beautiful, and as the Germans learn, this new breed of badass warrior women are deadly.”
Strong but vulnerable heroes
The film is also refreshingly funny with lead characters who are strong and vulnerable at the same time. In previous iterations of Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor’s character feels emasculated by Diana’s powers. Not in this film. The both need and rely on each other.
“I didn’t want him to be a damsel in distress. Since the beginning I cared about making him someone that you could fall in love with, that also has weakness and the vulnerability of that relationship meant everything to me,” says Jenkins. “You would never do that to Superman or Lois Lane.”
“Steve doesn’t have powers of a god, he’s a hero in his own right, he is enormously courageous, he’s a great warrior and he looks out for Diana every step of the journey,” adds Obropta. “She doesn’t know this world. She doesn’t understand the complexities of it, so really she needs Steve.”
The excitement and the pressure
There’s no doubt making a mega movie like this comes with its own sets of pressures, especially when so many people feel a sense of ownership over Wonder Woman and her sidekicks. That’s something Patty Jenkins is acutely aware of:
“This is wild, how much it matters. You hope for the best, but you also have to know you are stepping into a very intense world where she belongs to a lot of people and you have a lot of people to please.”
From what I’ve seen, Patty, you have nothing to worry about.
Wonder Woman is in theaters from June 2017.