Can Wonder Woman save 2020?

Israeli actress Gal Gadot is back as the superhero who broke Hollywood box office records. Can she pull it off again in this pandemic-hit year? K J Yossman reports.


It’s taken almost a year but 2020 has finally produced something to look forward to: no, not the Covid-19 vaccine (although, yes, that too) but the return of Wonder Woman to the silver screen, with Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot reprising her role as Amazonian superheroine Diana in Wonder Woman 1984, which is released next Thursday, December 16.

A night out at the cinema may seem like a distant memory, and even the pre-publicity events are virtual. But this week Gadot promised 2.5 hours of movie magic for those brave enough to venture out to see the film. “It’s the hardest movie I ever got to shoot by far, but it was worth it, ” she says, to a group of journalists assembled on Zoom. She explains that director Patty Jenkins wanted to keep CGI to a minimum. “So most of the stuff that you’re gonna see is real people doing the real thing, whether if it’s us, or the stunt people, it’s real people. So it took much longer — you have to prep it, to rehearse much longer.”

“But when you see it in the movie, you can just tell that it’s the real deal,” Gadot adds. “You can see by the face expressions that it’s real, you can see the weight and the movement and the speed.” Clad in a 1980s-style grey suit with her dark hair slicked back, the actress was joined by Jenkins as well as co-stars Kristen Wiig, Chris Pine and Pedro Pascal, and producer Charles Roven.

While the first Wonder Woman film was set during World War I, the latest instalment of the female-fronted franchise sees the immortal superheroine plunged into the excesses of the 1980s: not only the clothes and the music but the consumerism and sexism too. For Gadot, who was born in Petach Tikva in 1985, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of bringing a character like Diana to the big screen.

“I wasn’t lucky enough to see so many ‘wonder women’ type characters when I was growing up,” the former IDF soldier says, admitting that she felt emotional watching the film’s opening sequence, which involves an eight-year-old Diana competing with a group of Amazons in a Triathlon-style challenge.

“For the first time I didn’t feel like I was ‘Gal the actress’, ‘Gal the woman’ — I felt like Gal the eight-year-old watching another eight-year-old doing something out-of-worldly and being so good at it,” she says, her passion obvious.

“And it moved me so deeply and so much that I just, you know, I got emotional, and all of that. But then I realised, like, the power of these movies: you can become someone when you see [them].”

“I’m a big believer that when you see it, you think you can be it, and then you become it, right?” she continues. “So I didn’t have the opportunity to see all of these strong female characters and now seeing it and seeing the way that it affects my daughters — but by the way, also boys and men and all different types of people — it’s so powerful, and it’s so strong, and I feel very, very grateful that I have the opportunity to be a part of this.”

This time around her daughters — eight-year-old Alma and Maya, three and a half — also got to be a part of it, with a cameo alongside their father, Gadot’s property developer husband Jaron Varsano, in the film’s closing scenes.

Hollywood executives, meanwhile, are counting on Wonder Woman to prove as much a heroine off-screen as she is on it, with the future of Tinseltown thought, in no small part, to be riding on Diana’s muscular shoulders.

With cinemas already struggling to compete with streaming companies, even before the pandemic, attendance this year has reportedly dipped to the lowest since records began. Another of Gadot’s upcoming movies, the Kenneth Branagh-directed Death on the Nile, was due to be released this month but has been pushed back and is now rumoured to be heading directly to streaming service Disney+. Wonder Woman was itself pushed back twice: first from June to October and then to December. The film’s box office takings next weekend will no doubt be interpreted as a prognosis for the industry as a whole.

If anyone can rescue the ailing cinema business, however, it’s surely Wonder Woman — or at least Gadot. The first film, which was released in 2017, took more than $800 million worldwide, shattered records and made her a movie star. Last week Hollywood trade press reported she had pocketed an eight-figure sum to play a spy in a new James Bond-style franchise called Heart of Stone and in October she announced plans to reunite with director Patty Jenkins on a new Cleopatra film. The partnership between Gadot and Jenkins is, in no small part, the backbone of Wonder Woman’s success: “There’s something about working with a director that is completely there with you, for you, behind you, beside you and to guide you, that gives us the freedom to really let go and take all the risks that one can be very frightened to take if he doesn’t have such [a] partner,” she says.

Gadot, who effuses warmth on screen and in interviews, is equally exuberant about the rest of the cast and crew, with whom she filmed across Washington DC, Spain and the UK (including Hertfordshire, Surrey and London). “We shot the movie for almost eight months,” she says, “and it was so intense and so long and so exhausting and physical and everything, and I think that the fact that we were there for each other for real, like, we were there to make each other laugh, we were there to hug each other when one of us was crying — we were there during the weekends, we wanted to get together again with everybody — so it’s like the biggest gift for me from this movie and I think that one of the key elements to why these movies that we’re making are really working is because we absolutely love and adore each other for real. The chemistry is just it’s just there. And I couldn’t be more lucky.”

“Lucky”, it seems, is one of the most repeated words in Gadot’s vocabulary. In a cover profile in Vanity Fair in October, the interviewer noted how often Gadot refers to herself as “lucky”, with the actress revealing she recites Modeh Ani every morning. “In the Jewish culture there’s a prayer that you’re supposed to say every time you wake up in the morning to thank God for, you know, keeping you alive,” she told the magazine. “So every morning I wake up and step out of bed and I say, ‘Thank you for everything, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

Such unabashed acknowledgement of her good fortune, however, has resulted in some backlash. At the beginning of the pandemic she organised an admittedly cringe-inducing celebrity singalong to John Lennon’s Imagine, roping in Wiig, Natalie Portman and Sarah Silverman, among others, which was almost universally reviled. “I started it,” she admitted to Vanity Fair. “And I can only say that I meant to do something good and pure, and it didn’t transcend.” The announcement that Gadot, a former Miss Israel, would be playing Cleopatra also enraged some keyboard warriors (many of whom were apparently unaware that the Ptolemic ruler was originally Greek, and not Egyptian).

Still, Gadot has plenty to keep her upbeat even despite the global pandemic. She recently completed Netflix film Red Notice alongside Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, which she was in the middle of filming when Covid-19 hit in March, and has formed her own production company, Pilot Wave, with Varsano. The couple’s first project will be a series for Apple TV about Jewish actress-slash-inventor Hedy Lamarr. On Zoom on Monday, when the compère jokes about a third instalment of the Wonder Woman franchise, Gadot replies: “I’m tired just thinking about it!”

As for the current Wonder Woman movie, despite having been filmed over a year ago, it features some eerily prescient messages about anti-consumerism and global co-operation. “We discussed a lot about the history of Diana and how her life had been since we last saw her in 1918 all the way to 1980s,” Gadot says of her character. “You know, she lost all of her team members [in the first film], she’s been very lonely, she doesn’t really want to engage and make new friends because then they’re gonna realise she doesn’t age and they’re gonna die and she has to let go. So she kind of isolated herself from the world. And her only goal is just to help and better mankind and be there for them and guide them and try to do good.”

If ever mankind has needed a unifying force, it’s now. “I was invited by Warner Bros UK to see an early screening of the new Wonder Woman film yesterday and I’m still smiling,” one reviewer tweeted. “Wonder Woman 1984 is the film the world needs right now.”




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