Wonder Woman is breaking new ground yet again.
Three years after the DC Comics icon became the first female superhero to headline a contemporary blockbuster, a much anticipated sequel reunites breakout star Gal Gadot with powerhouse director Patty Jenkins. Originally scheduled for release in June, “Wonder Woman 1984” was seen as one of summer’s surefire hits.
Expectations were so high that industry observers forecast it would gross $1 billion worldwide, besting the $800-million-plus global gross of the original. And it would have played a central role in what looked like a watershed year for female-directed tentpole movies. (Marvel had “Black Widow” scheduled for May, followed by “The Eternals” in November. Disney’s “Mulan” would have opened in March.)
Instead, in a sign of how swiftly the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the industry upside down, “Wonder Woman 1984” will become the first tentpole title to premiere in theaters and at home simultaneously when it hits the streaming platform HBO Max on Christmas Day in the U.S.
That fact, and the subsequent announcement from the film’s studio, Warner Bros., that its entire 2021 slate of films would premiere the same way, has drummed up significant controversy. Some call it a betrayal of the exhibition industry, which has been hard hit by coronavirus shutdowns. Others label it a myopic move that shortchanges the talent involved in the projects in an effort to turbocharge the anemic launch of Netflix and Disney+ competitor HBO Max.
But despite all the industry drama, nothing about what audiences will see in “Wonder Woman 1984,” which wrapped production in 2018, is any different than they would have seen this summer. For Gadot, who is in the midst of a flurry of press to promote the release, the important thing is not where audiences will catch up with Wonder Woman, but the fact that the film is coming out at all.
“Before the pandemic, I would’ve flipped out and had a tantrum and fought super hard” for a traditional theatrical release, she says. “But in pandemic times, you just don’t know. I hope that, once the pandemic is over, all these wonderful big movies with great filmmakers and stars will go to theaters. I can’t see studios making tentpole movies just for the streamers because it’s a 360 experience to go to a theater and experience that. I certainly hope that, once the pandemic is over, things will go back on track.”
Whether viewers are watching at home, at a drive-in or socially distanced at a theater, seeing Diana Prince back on track is sure to provide welcome escapism after a brutal year. “Wonder Woman 1984” reunites the heroine with her long lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), mysteriously resurrected more than 70 years after his death. They face new villains Maxwell Lord (“The Mandalorian’s” Pedro Pascal) and the Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), and take on a crisis that threatens to plunge the entire world into chaos.
Or maybe it’s not so escapist after all.
“It’s funny because we could’ve never anticipated when we shot the movie back in 2018 that it was going to be so relevant to now,” says Jenkins. “Of course we made the movie to be seen on the big screen — we shot on film for IMAX and had Hans Zimmer scoring the entire film. Of course this movie should be in theaters, and it will be. But the fact that it’s going to be on HBO Max domestically just means that more people are going to be able to watch it in America. And nowadays, I’m really in a place where I just want people to see what we did.”
For Jenkins, Wonder Woman’s appeal remains her dedication to always doing the right thing. Even when it came time to think about a sequel, that wasn’t a quality she wanted to change. After all, 2017’s “Wonder Woman” quickly emerged as the critical and commercial jewel in DC’s current cinematic crown.
“It’s so great that it’s Wonder Woman leading the way,” says Jenkins. “A lot of other great filmmakers have been messing around with other [heroes’ stories], and that’s awesome too, but I’m so happy for her success and for getting to [direct] it.
“What I find interesting about her is that she and Superman are the OG, true north, very simple superheroes,” she adds. “They are people with superpowers [who are] here to save the day. All of the other superheroes that came after had some slant or angle that separated them. And so I think that was something that was strangely missing with so many superhero movies. None of them were very simple in that way. I loved getting to do that with her.”
When I go to set, I completely forget about [superpowers], and I’m actually focusing on her vulnerabilities and heart and imperfections.
— Gal Gadot on what she loves about playing Wonder Woman
“Wonder Woman 1984” marks the fourth film in which Gadot portrays the Themysciran goddess.
“I feel like from one movie to the next I’m getting more and more close to the character and to understanding her DNA,” Gadot says. “It’s delightful for me to play this strong, powerful warrior fighter goddess. But when I go to set, I completely forget about all of those things, and I’m actually focusing on her vulnerabilities and heart and imperfections. That’s where I find the meat for the character.”
The vulnerabilities this time around include her affection for Trevor — Gadot and co-star Pine effortlessly slip back into their winning chemistry, even when he’s sporting an ultra-’80s fanny pack — and an unexpected decline in her powers. No matter what challenges the character faces, Gadot says she always feels secure working with Jenkins. (The duo will re-team next year for a new take on historical epic “Cleopatra.”)
“I’m very lucky that I got such an amazing partner who has such a clear, distinct vision about Wonder Woman and who she is,” says Gadot of the director. “And the fact that we are on the same page and see completely eye to eye and have the same intention for the character and how we want to make the audience feel. The first ‘Wonder Woman’ was the movie that I really feel was my breakout, and same for her. I feel like we were the underdogs that no one believed in. And then we did it together, and only we know how it felt. She’s a fantastic, smart, amazing woman to work with, and I’m very proud to call her my friend.”
Originally introduced by director Zack Snyder in 2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Gadot’s Wonder Woman will next be seen in Snyder’s cut of “Justice League,” which will be released as a four-part miniseries on HBO Max early next year. The director’s cut has been long anticipated by a vocal section of the DC fanbase. Gadot can’t spill any details — she has yet to see it — but acknowledges, “I’m very happy for Zack to have this opportunity of having his version of the movie out there.”
The theatrical version of “Justice League,” which was completed by director Joss Whedon after Snyder had to step back for personal reasons, opened a few months after “Wonder Woman” but was roundly dismissed by critics and audiences alike. The disappointment turned into something even more serious over the summer when Gadot’s “Justice League” co-star Ray Fisher spoke out about “gross, abusive, unprofessional and completely unacceptable” treatment by Whedon during production.
Although she declined to elaborate further, Gadot acknowledged she had her own “experience” with the director, which was resolved to her satisfaction. “I’m happy for Ray to go out and speak his truth,” says Gadot. “I wasn’t there with the guys when they shot with Joss Whedon — I had my own experience with [him], which wasn’t the best one, but I took care of it there and when it happened. I took it to the higher-ups and they took care of it. But I’m happy for Ray to go up and say his truth.”
The “Justice League” controversy was just one moment in a year of sweeping change. As “Wonder Woman” bounced around the release schedule, Gadot’s early days of the pandemic were equally unsettling. “It’s been like a rollercoaster,” she says.
She and her family — the star is married to Israeli real estate developer Yaron Varsano, and the couple have two daughters — spent the first three months of the pandemic isolating in their L.A. home.
After six days, the actress assembled a group of celebrities to participate in what she hoped would be an inspiring message of solidarity. In a video posted to her Instagram, she and two dozen stars including Jimmy Fallon, Sia and Mark Ruffalo sang a mashup cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The three-minute clip was lambasted on social media and labeled as tone deaf.
“Sometimes you want to do a good deed and it’s just not the right good deed,” she says. “I had the best intentions, and I wanted to share my love and to show that we’re in this together and we’re all one. And sometimes it just doesn’t work. I have such a thick skin from being in this industry since I was 18. I know you can never please everyone and someone is always going to have something to say. So I’m just going to speak my truth and be authentic to me. That’s all I can do.”
Three months after the “Imagine” video snafu, Gadot and her family decamped to Israel to visit loved ones. “Back then, [Israel] was over the first wave of COVID,” she says. “And other than wearing a mask and social distancing, everything was normal. So all of a sudden we had a lovely summer with our friends and family in Israel. We felt like we gave our kids and also ourselves some sanity because the beginning was very rough.”
The reprieve was short-lived as the family relocated once again to Atlanta for Gadot to resume production on the comedic action thriller “Red Notice,” also starring Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, for Netflix. “From having freedom and enjoying life in Israel, we had to go live in a bubble completely quarantined for three months,” she says. “It was crazy, and I felt like I was living in a bunker. When I came back home to L.A., I was afraid of coming out of the house because I got used to living in such a bubble. I’m just grateful for having my family and having a home.”
Shooting “Red Notice” in the midst of a pandemic was “weird and complicated,” Gadot says. “I wasn’t too scared because Netflix had done such a great job of keeping everyone safe and doing testing and [quarantining], but there’s something so surreal about that. We had an amazing crew, and they had to be sequestered. I had such an admiration for them doing that in order to get the project done.
“I’m such a touchy person and I love people [but on set] my makeup artist had on glasses, a mask and a face shield and when she was doing my makeup, she was breathing and she had steam all over her [shield]. Like, it’s just weird to work like that. I’m very lucky that we got to finish the movie because there’s something very strange about having an unfinished project. We were shut down in January and came back in September so it was an eight-month break.”
With “Red Notice” finished and “Cleopatra” on the horizon, Gadot is also looking ahead to the release of another high-profile project, the “Murder on the Orient Express” sequel “Death on the Nile,” which Disney inherited in its 20th Century Fox buyout. At one point, that release was scheduled for Dec. 18, but it was ultimately postponed due to the pandemic.
For now, she and Jenkins are focused on how audiences will receive the landmark release of “Wonder Woman 1984.”
“In this case, I’m just happy that we’re releasing the film,” Jenkins says. “I felt pretty good about releasing it this way because we’ve learned that it’s very hard to predict the future, and there were no good options. But I’m disappointed that [Warner Bros. is] not waiting and seeing what happens for the other films that they’re doing it with.
“In our case, we are the most overdue movie, so I really think now was the time to release our film. This was a special case.”