¹Firstly a huge thank you to Warner Bros and the team (Sophie, Carrie, Emma) and – it goes without saying; Chuck Roven, Patty Jenkins, Anna Obrapta, Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Ewen Bremner and Lindy Hemming.
An extremely cold, February day brought me an hour drive North, out of London, to Leavesden studios, homes of the Harry Potters and Batman movies and now the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) – Justice League and, for us, here today ‘Wonder Woman’.
I was fortunate to have met with producer Chuck Roven, costume designer Lindy Hemming, stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine and briefly director Patty Jenkins. The level of detail on set was outstanding. A French town, that was the setting of a battle, had shops with products and brands of its time, even inside, where audiences wouldn’t necessary be witness of; the trenches stank and had pots on the boil and one immediately felt transported to a dark, gritty, depressing and unsettling World War I. A climb up a ladder and a peek over those trenches gave a glimpse of No-Mans Land – the ground between two opposing sides. Even that, looked distant, unbelievably muddy, impossible to cross and hopeless. It certainly did its job, as I felt the need to quickly descend to be honest and be safely out of those rat-run shelters and back in the comfort of a warm studio.
It’s a live-action first, in its 75 year life, that the origin of Wonder Woman has ever been told. And so, with that, we shall start at the beginning.
The ‘Wonder Woman’ feature begins in present-day, with our heroine, the brilliantly cast Gal Gadot, working in the antiques department in The Louvre, in Paris. She has received a package from Bruce Wayne – and, if you’re familiar with ‘Batman VS Superman’, where we briefly last caught her in action, Wonder Woman was seeking something. Well, it is this particular something that has just been sent to her, via Wayne Enterprises. The package is a one hundred year old photograph depicting her and a mixed group of guys, one of whom looks very much like Chris Pine.
Gal and the audience are transported back to the lush, idyllic Island of Themyscira and its Amazon women who rose out from the sea and were created by Zeus. They were the island’s peacekeepers, protecting everyone from the war-loving Aries. Diana, a Princess, is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and God, Zeus. It is an eight-year old Diana who is fascinated by the warrior women and wants to be one herself. Led by the Queen’s sister, General Antiope (played by Robin Wright), she goes against the Queen’s wishes and secretly trains the eight-year old Diana to fight.
It is when Diana is a teenager that the Queen discovers her training. Disappointed at first, she soon sees a passion and natural instinct in her daughter and states that if she’s going to be a fighter then she best be a damn good one. She feasts her eyes on something that Zeus has left after his death. It is a sword known as the ‘God Killer’. It will be soon be hers.
A plane crash-lands on the beach one day and a man is seen for the first time. If you’re gonna see a man for the first time, best they’re one helluva man, right? Chris Pine is that man. Playing the role of Steve Trevor, a spy working with the British on a secret mission, which involved him stealing some German tech, he, unfortunately for the women of Themyscira, was followed to the island by German soldiers.
A battle commences between the Germans and the Amazon warrior women. Skillfully taking on men with guns by their carefully choreographed, teamwork fighting style, the warrior women defeat the soldiers. Diana even has her own technique in crossing her arms and releasing her own power. They also imprison Steve Trevor and, wrapped with a lasso (it makes people tell the truth), Steve tells of the war he had come from. Diana believes Aries is behind it and demands she is taken to the war. A deal is struck to release Steve Trevor, so he can deliver his stolen documents and for Diana, the princess, to accompany him to ‘the war’. With that, Diana and Steve head by boat to England.
I’ll pause for a moment to say that I was shown a wonderful scene by super-ace director Patty Jenkins (”Monster”,”Arrested Development”, ”The Killing”) consisting of Gal’s Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor in a boat at sea and about to settle down for the night. Apart from the trailer, it’s the first time since being on set that I saw, albeit a temp-edited section of film, that I realized this movie – this epic superhero movie – and its tremendous scale. It is, after all, being filmed on real film. Insisted by director Patty. Yes, folks, this ain’t no typical twenty-first century cinema venture that is shot on digital. This isn’t even your run-o-the-mill superhero outing. As Patty says, you can’t get certain feelings across, not to mention an epic sense, shooting on digital. You have to shoot on film in order to gain that epic sensation and yes, it definitely comes across, as does the emotion.
Emotion comes in bundles. Gal’s Diana expresses such beautiful naïve, almost child-like qualities with such wonderful innocence. She has a passion to help all life and can’t comprehend the want in mankind to hurt and kill each other. Chris Pine’s Steve, also, isn’t the usual male you’d expect to be in a movie of this type. He’s the guy who says and does the thing you want him to do; the ideal boyfriend, in a sense and definitely not a sidekick. He’s an equal.
Various emotions are equally balanced and none more so than the humour – and Chris’ sense is by no means forced or an easily-guessed, off the cuff one-liner that you’d find in a comic-book movie. His humour is realistic and genuine, as is his performance. I spoke with Chris between a particular and highly significant battle scene. He appeared sluggish and distant. “C’mon, mate, wake up a bit,” I thought. However I quickly changed my mind and realized The Pine was tired. He’d just fended off snipers and machine-gunning Germans and explosions in a muddy Belgian town in the freezing cold. I guess the warmth kicked in as that familiar eye-twinkle returned I told myself “I’m glad Pine is the male lead in this film and not some hyper-masculine bloke. Yes, he’s more handsome than most of us – OK, all of us, but at least his arms and neck isn’t bigger than the average guy’s waist. He looks and fits the time-period.
We arrive in London and Diana, our princess, becomes Diana Prince and underneath her coat, she’s not wearing too much at all. Pine’s Steve Trevor naturally picks this up and arranges for his assistant to sort her out in the fashion-of-the-times.
Only Gal Gadot could pull off wearing an outfit in such style and only costume designer Lindy Hemming can assist with such a task. From Bond to Batman and “The Krays” to “Paddington”, Lindy has worked most genres.
I asked Lindy about some of the outfits, namely the Amazon warrior women and the iconic Wonder Woman outfit itself: “It’s not a feminist track. You see more exposure at the gym. Vaginas and breasts! I’ll never expose in a gratuitous way. I don’t think how she (Wonder Woman) looks is any different to how other women look most days today,” said Lindy. Lindy came out of super-hero retirement thanks to Chuck’s (producer Charles Roven) persuasion. If this is her last gig, the movie’s title fits. She’s a Wonder Woman herself. I comment about the length of Wonder Woman’s skirt to which Lindy replied, “There are school girls at the bus stop and you can see right up their legs!” In the words of Lindy: “It can’t be a pair of satin knickers. The world is different now!”
So once Gal’s Diana is dressed accordingly and Pine’s Steve Trevor has delivered his stolen docs, it’s time to crank up the pace and for Diana to widen the eyes of the establishment and those controlling forces heading up the war party. Turning heads, due to simply being a woman, Diana soon joins Steve and his own group odd-bods. “Take me to the war,” Diana says naively. To the ‘war’ he does.
Secondary comic-relief comes in the form of “Transpotting” and “Black Hawk Down” actor Ewen Bremner. He plays Charlie, one of Chris Pine’s gang. Charlie is a member of the Scot’s Guards. Actually, he’s a shell-shocked dismissed soldier who’s one hell of a sniper and is struggling to find his mojo again. Good ole Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor re-commissions him. Ewen was given practically a free-run with regards to ad-libbing humour and whether one will be able to understand him or not, you just know it’s going to be funny because it’s Scottish Ewen Bremner playing a First World War dismissed Scot’s Guard.
“I was filming before I read the script. In fact, I just had lots of conversations with Patty about the character. Actually, she had cast a friend of mine, an old friend of mine, David Thewlis, who I was in a film called ‘Naked’ with twenty-five years or so ago.” Charlie is a chauvinistic. Bigoted. He takes time to realize she (Diana, Wonder Woman, has powers). He does, eventually, warm to her.
Ewen Bremner on Gal Gadot: “She sells it well. She’s a goddess. Acting and prancing around in the freezing cold, she’s amazing. She’s simply amazing.”
Partnered with Ewen’s Charlie is Eugene Brave Rock who plays ‘Chief’. “I had just finished ‘The Revenant’. I was on vacation. I was called and given the script. In my audition I was shaking and sweating. It was a fake scene I had to do. Whoa. This is a good movie.” The Chief feels free and isn’t on a reservation anymore. “She (Diana) understands me and my language. I’m from the Blackfoot Tribe.” Gal Gadot’s Diana, the Wonder Woman, can detect and understand most languages and dialects.
Eugene Brave Rock on Patty Jenkins: “She is so engaged. So focused, so energetic. She has brainstormed all kinds of problems:
Leading Diana eventually to the Western Front and the trenches makes one hell of an impact and it definitely did on me. I saw and mentioned this earlier. I studied World War I. I’ve read about the dismay, the impossible environment and trauma of that time and I visited the set of ‘Wonder Woman’. Yes, it’s a superhero comic-book movie, but it was exactly as how I imagined the horrors to be. Diana is horrified to see such traumatized people and death around her and the helplessness. She refuses to simply do nothing and ascends those wooden steps that I myself had climbed up.
She puts on her glistening tiara, rids her trench coat, pulls her God Killer sword and leaps into No Mans Land. This was another section of footage I was fortunate to see with director Patty Jenkins and it was without a doubt a ‘wow’ moment. Breathtaking, powerful and utterly emotional as we not only see Diana as ‘Wonder Woman’ in her actual garb, but we see her deflecting machine gun bullets left, right and centre, in a depressing muddy field, enabling her team and the allies to over power the Germans on the other side. Bullets zip this way and that. The emotion seen on Gal’s face is evident that this was a tough and exhausting shoot, but also says ‘look where we are. Look at what I’m doing. Look at this Wonder Woman’.
In the words of Lindy Hemming; “It can’t be a pair of satin knickers anymore. The world is different now!”
“Wonder Woman” commences in Australia June 1.