Wonder Woman: Power, Grace, Wisdom and Wonder
Power, grace, wisdom and wonder: inspiring qualities intrinsic to one of the greatest Super Heroes of all time, known the world over as Wonder Woman. A revered and enduring DC archetype and a global symbol of strength and equality for more than 75 years—how and when did she come to be, and why did mankind’s welfare become so important to her?
Director Patty Jenkins’ larger-than-life hero’s journey “Wonder Woman” tells the long-awaited origin story of Diana, the only child of Themyscira, a secret island gifted to her people from the king of the gods himself, Zeus. Hailing from the world of Amazons, Diana has been preparing for combat her whole life. But to become a true warrior, she will need to carry the courage of her convictions—and an arsenal like no other—onto the most harrowing battlefield the world has ever known.
“The time is absolutely right to bring Wonder Woman to movie audiences,” says Jenkins. “Fans have been waiting a long time for this, but I believe people outside the fandom are ready for a Wonder Woman movie, too. Superheroes have played a role in many people’s lives; it’s that fantasy of ‘What would it be like if I was that powerful and that great, and I could go on that exciting journey and do heroic things?’ I’m no different. I was seven years old when I first read Superman, and it rocked my world because I felt like Superman. The character captured exactly what I believed in then and still do: that there is a part of every human being that wishes they could change the world for the better.”
See Also: Wonder Woman #245, July 1978 Issue - DC Comics
Then came Wonder Woman. “I watched the TV show, and she was everything a girl could aspire to be: strong and kind, exciting and stylish, powerful and effective, and just as fierce as the boys. She’s a badass, and at the same time she stands for love, forgiveness and benevolence in a complicated world. I feel so honored to be making a movie about a Super Hero who stands for such important values.”
The film’s screenwriter, Allan Heinberg, wrote the Wonder Woman comic for DC in 2006 and 2007 and was thrilled to be part of the film. He states, “Wonder Woman has been my all-time favorite Super Hero since I was a first-grader watching ‘Super Friends’ on Saturday mornings in Tulsa, Oklahoma. To have had any part at all in bringing her story to the screen—and to have done so alongside a creative team that includes Patty Jenkins and Geoff Johns—is a lifelong dream come true.”
Much like her director, “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot says, “What attracted me so much to this character is that she is so many different things, and they live within her in such a beautiful way. And because this is the first time we’re telling the story of this icon on film, Patty and I had many creative conversations about her. She’s the greatest warrior in the comics, but she can also be vulnerable, sensitive, confident, and confused…everything, all at once. And she never hides her intelligence or her emotions.”
Though creator William Moulton Marston first introduced Wonder Woman to readers in the midst of World War II, the film is set in 1918, at the tail end of the First World War. Charles Roven explains the filmmakers’ thinking behind the time shift, noting, “Juxtaposing this commanding female character who hails from a race of equally strong independent women with the early days of the suffragette movement was really interesting.
“Secondly,” he continues, “from a visual perspective, the subtleties of the era better convey the true horrors of modern war. It was the first war where fighting went from close range in hand-to-hand combat, or if you shot somebody you had to be relatively close and face your adversary, to being fought from a distance. You could bomb some place without even knowing what your foe looked like, or who it is that you might be killing. It actually became easier to kill. We wanted that new dynamic of war to be fresh for our character, Wonder Woman, because she is used to warriors being people you looked up to, and now she’s looking at a war where there’s no such thing as a hero, really, because you can’t be a hero if you don’t know who you’re fighting.”
And that is something Wonder Woman struggles to comprehend. Producer Zack Snyder relates, “There’s a purity to Wonder Woman that I love. She doesn’t have a broken past, she’s not seeking revenge on the people who wronged her and she isn’t coming from a dark place. She had an idyllic childhood and was taught to value life. She can be a hero purely from a place of wanting to do what’s right in the world, which is really cool, and I think both Patty and Gal found the perfect way to convey that in the movie.”
Producer Deborah Snyder felt that Jenkins completely shared that vision for the film, but, more importantly, had an unparalleled passion for the character. “Patty’s excitement followed her all through shooting,” Snyder recalls. “She looked up to the character, and she felt a great responsibility, as did the rest of the team, to make sure she brought Wonder Woman to the screen in the most honest way possible. This is a figure who came before us and will outlast us, who fights for freedom and justice but also believes in love. I think that makes her enormously compelling.”
See Also: Wonder Woman #229, March 1977 Issue - DC Comics
When a man—the first one Diana has ever seen—comes to shore, he opens her eyes to the larger world outside of her sheltered island, an undertaking he begins quite by accident, by crashing off Themyscira’s shores. Producer Richard Suckle notes, “She saves his life and, in turn, it’s Steve Trevor who teaches Diana about man’s world. They’re a great couple in the canon, but I really love the way they are in this film. There is chemistry, and the movie does allow for that to play out within this huge action adventure, and without a damsel or a dude in distress. They need each other, they learn from each other, and they’re equals.”
Jenkins adds, “From the moment they meet, there is a spark, and the way their love story unfolds is captivating and unique, especially for this kind of movie and for the time in which it’s set.”
Chris Pine, who plays Captain Steve Trevor, enjoyed the parity between them, and appreciated what Steve is able to learn from Diana as well. “I felt part of something very special, making this film, which I think is much more than a superhero movie. It’s using the global medium of film and this bold manner of storytelling to depict the actions of this very powerful woman in a violent, male-driven world. She shows my character—who has been a spy, who has seen evil up close and been fully immersed in the morally gray, toxic universe of war—that there is still room for idealism and for an earnest desire to do right by others. It’s a story that resonates and that’s very a propos to today.”
“Every superhero has his or her strong points,” Jenkins contends, “but I think the greatest thing about Wonder Woman is how good and kind and loving she is. Yet none of that negates her power; it enhances it!”
“When we first meet Diana in the story, she’s a curious little girl who’s very courageous but also sassy and a little bit naughty,” Gadot smiles. “She admires the Amazon warriors she sees all around her, and she wants to be like them, to fight. However, Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta, is very protective of her young daughter, and does not allow her to train. But Diana has a spark in her, and a fire in her eyes. It’s clear that she will get her way, she will get what she wants, somehow.”
Newcomer Lilly Aspell plays the eight-year-old Diana, and Emily Carey plays her at age 12, before Gadot takes over the role. “Both girls did a fantastic job portraying a younger Diana,” Gadot says, “giving the audience insight into the determination she has from the very beginning, which I think is so helpful to understanding the woman she becomes.”
But it’s Gadot, Jenkins attests, who fulfills the image of the Wonder Woman the world has been waiting for, inside and out. “Gal is literally the nicest, most beautiful, most dedicated individual you’ll ever meet. All she wanted out of this whole process was to do justice to the character. She genuinely wanted to embody the Diana everyone expects.”
And it wasn’t always easy, thanks to cold weather, extensive training, heavy action and the fact that Gadot appears in nearly every scene. “When times would get rough on the shoot, it was Gal we looked to,” Jenkins states. “She has such inner strength, such an iron temperament, that she could work through anything and always keep an upbeat attitude. She’s a pretty amazing person.”
Gadot credits her director with keeping her spirits high. “I am so lucky that Patty was directing me on this movie,” she says. “She is so funny and warm, such a brilliant and talented person, and her vision and her passion were completely in line with mine. I remember the first time we sat together, we talked about the film but we also talked about life, our families…everything was so similar. To be able to work with someone you agree with creatively about almost everything is special. And even if our ideas conflicted, we would have a fair debate and I think we not only evolved from the discussion, but the result was that we got the best we could out of the scene. I’m grateful for her guidance and her friendship.”
The spirited and determined Diana instinctively knows her place is among the many warriors in her midst, and is not of a mind to be swayed—proving she is, indeed, her mother’s daughter. Hippolyta did not become queen through inheritance but through valor.
Connie Nielsen, who plays the most regal of all the Amazons, affirms, “Hippolyta is very brave. Justice and truth guide her belief system completely. And she is raising her daughter to behave the same way.”
Nevertheless, there is one truth Hippolyta is at first reluctant to accept: that Diana is destined to be a great warrior. She does not want Diana to fight. She knows what it really means to go to war, so of course she doesn’t want that for her daughter. But her daughter wants to be like her mom and, in Diana’s case, even more so like her aunt, General Antiope, the greatest Amazon warrior of them all. To make matters worse, Antiope openly questions her sister’s refusal to allow her to train Diana in the art of combat. She begins secretly training her niece.
Robin Wright takes on the role of the one Amazon willing to go against her queen. “Antiope’s motives are practical and pure,” Wright argues. “She wants to adhere to the law laid down by her sister, to do as her queen commands. But she’s also a realist, and because she has a sixth sense that war is coming, she wants to make sure Diana is fully prepared.”
Regardless of the sincerity of Hippolyta’s maternal love, there is something hypocritical in the silencing of her sister. “Hippolyta knows that silence equals oppression,” Wright attests. “Antiope sees her obsessive protection of her daughter as understandable but myopic. And Antiope, unlike her sister, recognizes and respects the power within Diana that is aching to be acknowledged.”
“The Amazons have seen a lot of loss, a lot of pain, all of it due to war. Hippolyta remembers how they were betrayed, despite their enormous service to the world, because they were feared by men,” Nielsen says in defense of her character. “She knows that where there is one man there are more, so she is worried for the safety of the entire colony of Amazons, including her daughter.”
Gadot quickly bonded with her Amazon relations. “We had a natural way of getting into our characters and immediately felt comfortable around each other,” she says. “They both share a number of traits with the women they play, Connie being very knowledgeable, confident, charismatic like Hippolyta, and Robin being vivacious, very easygoing, and so good with the youngsters on set, because she’s young at heart. And of course Antiope is the one the little Diana turns to as a mentor.”
Antiope does train her niece in secret, until they are caught in the act. When a furious Hippolyta confronts her, Antiope defiantly justifies her actions, even evoking the name that Hippolyta fears most of all: Ares. Antiope is convinced it is only a matter of time till the god of war returns, and Hippolyta, unable to argue further, at last concedes.
“Can you ask for a better villain?” asks Deborah Snyder. “He’s mythic and complex, a name we all know and who naturally instills fear in anyone who understands the role of the Greek gods.”
But it is not Ares who breaches the Amazons’ serenity. That intrusion comes instead from American military pilot Captain Steve Trevor, the man fated to take Diana away from the safety of the island and the watchful eye of her mother.
Commenting on the film’s take on the well-known character, Chris Pine observes, “He’s a classic kind of early 20th-century depiction of masculinity. He’s rough and roguish. He’s got a sense of humor about himself, and is realistic without being righteous, romantic without being saccharine. He’s earnest about his mission and wants to do right by those he serves, but he doesn’t have to please everyone. He’s a great maverick.”
Coming to grips with the fact that he’s landed in the middle of an island of strong warrior women, Steve is respectful of them amidst his general confusion about them. And despite his protestations, he reveals his status as a spy and outlines his mission in great detail to the Amazon council, thanks to the Lasso of Hestia or, as it’s more commonly known, the Lasso of Truth.
Once aware of the war raging in the outside world, Diana insists the Amazons take up arms against this great evil, for it can only be Ares’ doing. “But when the idealistic Diana realizes her mother doesn’t want to do anything about it, she is surprised and shocked,” says Gadot.
Diana had been raised on the story of Ares, how the god of war had corrupted men, how it was the responsibility of the Amazons to destroy him and everything he stands for, that it is their mission to bring peace and love to mankind. For Amazons, she will later tell Steve, are the bridge to the greater understanding between all men.
“Queen Hippolyta has already taken this journey,” Jenkins explains. “History has taught her that mankind may not be worth saving, or at least not worth dying for. But Diana is still young; she has that rectitude of youth where you really think that what you believe in is something purer and more incredible than your parents ever knew.”
In addition, Gadot relates, “Diana has this urge to help, to fulfill the Amazons’ destiny in a proactive way. When Steve arrives on the island and reveals what’s happening in the world, it’s a huge catalyst. She can’t stand aside while millions of innocent lives are lost.”
She will go. She must go. She can make a difference, of that she is certain.
Such wide-eyed optimism is wholly unfamiliar to Steve. “The war has stripped him of any of that,” Pine asserts. “He’s a jaded realist who has seen the absolute nadir of morality that human beings can have, such as the need to kill needlessly, often mercilessly. And here is this woman with her wonderful hope in what humankind could be, and he just cannot relate.”
Zack Snyder says Steve’s critical perspective of Diana is important to the story “because we need to be able to look at Wonder Woman through the eyes of the audience. In a way, Steve represents the status quo, and he has to be changed by Wonder Woman just as, hopefully, we will be. He has to begin to see the world through her eyes.”
“What Diana brings to Steve Trevor—to this man who has seen the worst of the world—is that there’s still room for idealism,” says Pine. “That no matter how ugly the world that we live in is, no matter how much desolation we encounter, there is still hope that in the best parts of ourselves we will protect and do right by one another. That’s what we should hold onto, and that’s what she represents.”
Diana is equally affected by Steve. Gadot notes, “She’s very curious about who he is, and even more so about the world he comes from. When she first gets to London, she’s a fish out of water, overwhelmed by all that she sees. I think she expected to see something that is more similar to Themyscira, so she must therefore rely on Steve to help her navigate this new world.”
Gadot also felt a bit of a parallel between the storyline and her own journey. “I felt very comfortable working with Chris,” she says fondly. “That worked to my benefit because Chris has so much experience, but this was my first lead role ever. There he was guiding me through London as Steve Trevor, but also guiding me through this experience in such a nice way. He is very much a leading man—talented and smart, and totally hilarious. I’m not sure people know how funny he is; we ruined so many takes because he made me laugh.”
Pine says he enjoyed the collaboration as much as Gadot, expressing great admiration for her command of the title role. “Gal knocked it out of the park. She’s physically perfect for it and she’s got a work ethic like no one I’ve ever met before. She’s a tremendous actress and I was so glad to play opposite her.”
Pine was also thrilled with his other “leading lady”—director Jenkins. “Patty is a pretty incredible human being,” he states. “When we first met about the part of Steve, she sat across from me and essentially acted out the entire film over the course of a two-hour lunch. She was so specific, so articulate, and so ardent. I would’ve said yes just for Patty alone.”
Once Diana and Steve reach London, it’s even clearer that Diana does not fit in. Despite being wrapped in a cloak, the decidedly underdressed, statuesque stunner is getting strange looks from those around her. Luckily for the both of them, Steve had called for his very capable, very dependable secretary, Etta Candy, to meet them and help Diana disguise herself as an everyday woman.
“Etta Candy is a great character who has been around throughout the history of Wonder Woman, in various capacities, including as Diana’s best friend,” offers Jenkins. “A great version of Etta, and one that suited our needs, is that of Steve’s secretary, a go-to, reliable character in his uncertain world, who is also an example of a modern woman—in 1918, that is.”
Lucy Davis plays the role of the feisty gal who, like many women of her day, can only fight by using their principles. “I spoke about Etta with Patty over Skype, and then I looked her up and found out what a fun character she is, and she really resonated with me,” Davis recalls. “At first glance, Etta is very different from Diana: she looks different physically, and she comes from an entirely dissimilar environment. Diana has been brought up in this all-female world that’s about equality, and Etta lives in what’s very much a man’s world.”
In spite of the restrictions placed on women of the era, Davis appreciated taking a step back in time. “When I was young, I loved my history lessons, and in particular World War I, so when I learned ‘Wonder Woman’ was set in during that time, I was excited. The next thing I knew, we were filming on location in London, with carriages and cars from 1918 on the street, and everywhere people walking around in period wardrobe. I couldn’t see anything from today, and it was fabulous. Magical.”
However, one of the most memorable scenes for Davis came near the end of the sequence during which Etta takes Diana shopping. “She gets to look after the sword, which was one of my favorite scenes to film because we were all laughing a lot that day, and I found it difficult to keep a straight face,” she says.
The sword in question is Diana’s most prized possession. It is called the godkiller, and she plans to use it to kill Ares—for only the fiercest Amazon can—as soon as Steve takes her to where the fighting is the most serious: the front. In addition being to being entrusted with this sacred weapon, Steve trusts Etta to manage their secret operation, which he undertakes without the authorization of the war office.
Or perhaps just not officially. Played by noted British actor David Thewlis, the eminent Sir Patrick is Steve’s superior, and he is adamant that Steve not do anything to upset the coming cease-fire he and his colleagues are working so hard to negotiate, with the hope of at last ending the war.
“Sir Patrick’s entire drive is to bring about the signing of the armistice,” Thewlis says of the statesman he portrays. The actor looked to historical characters to inspire his performance, mainly Sir Arthur Balfour. “Patty and I talked about Balfour, who was a labor politician of the day and who certainly had the look we liked. I also looked to Clement Attlee, a post-Second World War prime minister.”
When Diana first meets Sir Patrick, she has followed Steve, uninvited, into a roomful of men debating the possible peace accord. “She’s drawn to him as one of the only people talking any sense, in her opinion,” Thewlis offers, “and he sees in her somebody sympathetic to his cause, and quite vehemently so, which suits his agenda.”
Therefore, Sir Patrick offers to support a clandestine mission, run by Steve in the field with Etta managing from his office in order to avoid suspicion. Thanks to the funds he provides, Steve can afford to go to Belgium in search of two of the war’s most dangerous proponents: General Ludendorff and his favorite chemist, Dr. Isabel Maru.
But first, in order to get where they need to go, Steve will need to recruit reinforcements. And he knows where to find them. Steve takes Diana to a seedy pub where he hooks up with two old buddies: the multilingual Sameer, a former Moroccan soldier turned top undercover man; and Charlie, a former crack sniper who has been discharged from duty and who now spends his days fighting in the ale houses. Upon meeting them, Diana realizes that Charlie is somebody who kills people from a distance, which she finds incredibly dishonorable, and that Sameer is a con artist. She doesn’t quite understand how Steve can trust these men. In fact, she wonders, are they even good men?
As they say, war makes for strange bedfellows, and in this case, perhaps, even stranger allies.
“In an ideal world Sameer would have been an actor and an artist,” says Saïd Taghmaoui, who plays the role. “He never wanted to be a soldier, so he approaches his military service as if it were one big acting job. He’s very quick, he can make up stories, and he’s a master of many languages. And these skills prove really useful to the team.”
Charlie’s may prove less so, for when his sniper skills are called upon, his hands shake, and so does his confidence. “Charlie was sent home as unfit for battle, due to what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” explains Ewen Bremner, who plays him. “At that time, it was known as shell shock. Contrary to Charlie’s boasting and his chutzpa, he goes to pieces on the battlefield at a critical moment.”
Deep in the Belgium countryside, under the cover of darkness, Diana is introduced to the last dubious member of the team, a towering Native American black marketeer simply called The Chief. A neutral player in the hostilities, he operates as an independent businessman with the odd freedom that only a war can bring, finding his niche as one who ferries goods across enemy lines.
Eugene Brave Rock plays the even-tempered man who is content to be on either side, so long as he decides. “He’s the go-to guy who can get you anything you need,” says Brave Rock. “And he’s a free man there, whereas back in America, he would not be.”
The character was based on men like him, who fought overseas during WWI by choice. Jenkins notes, “It was so profound to me to learn that Native Americans, who had lost everything to violence and unfairness in the U.S., were volunteering for a war to escape the horrors at home.”
The Chief can also see in Diana what others cannot. “Everybody else just sees this beautiful woman,” Brave Rock observes. “The Chief is the only one who sees her for what she really is, who sees into her spiritual eyes.”
Another who has suffered unspeakable horrors but who has chosen instead to embrace them, to even devote herself to furthering the evil in men’s hearts, is Dr. Isabel Maru. Her genius, fostered by the German army, is in developing chemical warfare, which would allow for killing on an almost incomprehensibly massive scale.
Elena Anaya, who plays the poisoner, says, “Dr. Maru hates the weak, and hates to be weak. She loves her job, the marriage of science and war, so much it seems to entertain her. She could work day and night, completely focused on inventing these new formulas that can destroy mankind.” Dr. Maru is outwardly scarred, but the biggest damage is deep inside her. “She has no empathy,” Anaya continues. “Hers is a crazy mind and a dark soul. So she and Ludendorff complement each other quite well.”
Actor Danny Huston plays the film’s formidable villain, the maniacal General Ludendorff. Huston says of his dark-hearted character, “Ludendorff possesses a dogmatic, stubborn, committed, unfailing desire to win. He lacks all compassion for the individual, and is more than willing to have great losses to achieve victory. So he’s quite a force to contend with.”
Standing proud in his uniform adorned with medals, Ludendorff “represents our fascination with decoration, with pomp,” adds Huston. “The attitude, his sense of empire…if you look at First World War Germans, they wore the red and gold colors of imperial Rome. All these elements are historically part of our larger culture, and I don’t think we can ignore them entirely, even today, which made him very intriguing to play.”
When Ludendorff approaches Diana, he claims the night is for celebrating victory, the impending accord notwithstanding. “War,” he explains, “is a god who demands human sacrifice. In exchange, war gives man purpose, a chance to rise above his petty moral life and be better than he is.”
His words stir Diana. She knows she must stop him or the war may never end.
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