[Editor’s note: Last week Editor At Large Aaron Sagers traveled to Warner Brothers' production facility in London for details on the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. The report is broken up into three parts, and there are minor spoilers throughout for those who do not wish to know anything about the film.]
"I want everyone to feel like they're Wonder Woman when they see this film. 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." – Director Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman
A handful of scenes and 15 minutes or so of footage with temporary music and unfinished effects is not enough to tell you whether an upcoming movie is great.
However, considering they are earmarked by the filmmaker as examples – of tone, character development and superhero action – those scenes (detailed below with dialogue) can serve as a showcase of what the movie is striving for.
If, indeed, the footage I saw from the Patty Jenkins-directed, Gal Gadot-starring Wonder Woman at the London production facility last week are an accurate indication, then I am very enthusiastic, and cautiously optimistic, for this June 2 release.
Arguably the most famous female superhero, and simply one of the most recognizable, Wonder Woman is a character with 75 years of history. Aside from the pressures of being the first big-budget, female-led superhero blockbuster (apologies to Elektra and Catwoman) – and the first to bring the Diana of Themyscira, or Paradise Island, if you prefer, to the big screen – the movie is a critical piece of the interconnected DC Expanded Universe, which could also stand to have a critical win.
And yet, Jenkins' mission statement above does shine through in what I saw.
They're on a boat
For instance, in the first scene shown at the production facility, Diana and Steve Trevor are on a boat, leaving Themyscira in Act One, and on their way to London -- and eventually to the front lines of World War I.
Chris Pine's Steve Trevor is cocky but not arrogant. He is aware of his good looks, and has the swagger expected from a flyboy spy. Still, he attempts to be a gentleman, giving Diana the opportunity to sleep alone since he thinks most unmarried women in 1918 wouldn't want to cozy up to a single man at night.
Meanwhile, Diana is slightly naïve but confident and brash. When discussing their plans to head to battle, she declares "I'm the man who can!," without a sense of irony. She discusses the pleasures of the flesh, and how Amazons discovered how to reproduce, making men unnecessary, but her attitude isn't combative or harsh but more matter-of-fact.
The scene feels light and jaunty as these strangers from two different worlds awkwardly learn about one another. Steve becomes flirtatious, but not in an icky way. It feels a little like a first date, but it's funny and charming. When Diana assumes Steve doesn't sleep with women, he protests and tries to explain his chivalry – poorly.
Then, when we next see the pair – after a brief villain scene between Danny Huston's Ludendorff and Elena Anaya's Maru – they're arriving in smog-ridden London, having gained a tow from another boat.
Diana is unimpressed with the grime of London, calling it "hideous." The duo walk through the streets of London; both are in a hurry and getting frustrated with one another. He wants to deliver the notebook he captured from the Germans to his command, and she just wants to know when they'll get to the war.
"I let you go, you take me to Ares," Diana reminds Steve. "We made a deal, Steve Trevor. And a deal is a promise. And a promise is unbreakable."
He replies, "Okay, all right. Will you come with me first, to deliver this? And then we'll get you, then I'll take you, uh, to the war. Deal?"
Diana nearly tosses aside her cloak with her warrior garb underneath. Steve, embarrassed, and wanting to avoid attention (after all, he already had to tell a couple guys not to stare at her), quickly covers her back up and suggests they buy her clothes to fit in.
"What do these women wear into battle?" she asks. And with a beat, she notices a crying infant and rushes towards it: "Baby!"
The moment combines Diana's fish-out-of-water status with her curiosity and self-assuredness – she's not letting Steve off the hook from his deal, and he's kind of annoying her – and adds a sweet, honest moment of affection with the baby. There is a lot happening in these brief moments, and it works to give these characters personality.
No Man's Land
An Act Two scene is a big set piece that establishes our hero. Diana's been gradually learning the extent of her powers, and it's "the first time she's testing her mettle against a big, next level situation," said Jenkins.
For this scene, the director said, "For a good period of time she just ends up confronting problems, and explanations why these problems exist." She's told why things are complicated, or why things cannot be fixed. "All of that kind of culminates when she first reaches her destination" at No Man's Land.
The tone is darker now as they see wounded soldiers, horses stuck in mud, villagers starving and dying. Again, Diana, new to the world questions the "why" of man's war, and demands to stop and provide assistance. Trevor resists, telling her there's no time.
Diana: "These animals, why are they hurting them? This is not the way. I could help them."
Steve: "There's no time."
Diana: "That man, he's wounded."
Sammy: "There's nothing you can do about it, Diana. We must keep moving."
They find themselves in the trenches, shelled by Germans a couple hundred yards across the battlefield. She speaks to a villager in another language (as the Amazons speak almost every language) , and learns they need help, and implores Steve to pause. Again, she is told there is no time.
Diana: We cannot leave without helping them; these people are dying with nothing to eat. The village is enslaved, she said. Women, children …
Steve: This is No Man's Land, Diana. It means no man can cross it. The battalion has been here nearly a year, and barely gained an inch. On the other side are Germans pointing machine guns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It is not possible.
Steve tells her they cannot save everyone in the war, and that's not what they came to the front lines to do.
Already she had a goal of reaching the front lines to find Ares, but with the knowledge of soldiers and villagers stuck in these foxholes, unable to gain ground, she's determined to take a stand.
"No, but it is what I am going to do," the Amazon says, defiantly.
She sheds her cloak, donning her hero costume of Wonder Woman for the first time, and slowly ascends the ladder from the relative safety of the trench and entering into battle [shown above in this new publicity still from the film] wearing a slight grin as if she almost relishes the fight awaiting her.
As Trevor, and other soldiers, look on, she marches into No Man's Land as a slow-motion bullet fired from the German encampment zoom towards her. Wonder Woman deflects it with her gauntlet. Then another, and another.
German forces unleash hell, but she continues to gain ground. Enemy troops launch a grenade towards her, which she swats away with her shield. Even as a machine gun spits fire at her, Wonder Woman shields herself from the assault. Trevor and company join the fray, taking out the troops focused on attacking the female interloper. She launches from the ground in a super-leap right into the enemy encampment as her allies push forward. And the human soldiers, who didn't even want a woman in their battle, look upon Diana with newfound respect.
Jenkins said it isn't how many bullets Diana can block in the scene, and isn't precisely about action or fighting. "It's about her saying, 'I'm going to do this thing,' and getting her way across."
"It is a very dramatic scene," she added. "It is what I've loved about doing this movie: Having a strong dramatic point-of-view of where she's coming from … I'm with her going across that battlefield."
The scene is a classic superhero reveal. It reminded me of a Richard Donner Superman scene, where the protagonist's powers are finally on display. And the banter between Diana and Steve on the boat actually had a romantically retro Superman/Lois Lane vibe to it.
The other comic book movie that comes to mind when watching this battle scene -- both scenes, actually -- is Captain America: The First Avenger. This isn't incredibly surprising since Wonder Woman and Cap (as well as Superman) are contemporaries, and the World War II-set Marvel Cinematic Universe flick likewise sought to tell an origin story for a hero who would inevitably end up in modern times. And this comparison is a complimentary one as The First Avenger took a difficult character from the past and introduced him to modern audiences with a story that had heart and personality.
The villain stuff
As I previously mentioned, we do get a look at the baddies of the film, played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya. Huston's General Ludendorff arrives on a German base with villainous bluster, demanding to know "how long until we're operational" of a subordinate, and is none too pleased they're still two days away.
"You have until tonight, Captain!" Ludendorff replies.
"Sir, the men have had no food, no sleep …" says the captain.
"Do you think I have had any food or rest, Captain?" demands the general. "Do you hear me making excuses? Hmm? … Your men are weak, complacent. You let them forget an attack could happen at any time. From any quarter! Let you and I remind them, shall we?"
Bang! The general shoots his soldier, causing a scramble of the troops. This is classic Bad Guy Management Training 101. It is generic, but not distractingly bad.
From here, Ludendorff heads inside a lab to encounter Dr. Maru, clad in science-y garb, and wearing her creepy-looking tin face plate. She informs the general the Germans are giving up, and they are too late. He assures her that once the Kaiser sees her weapon, there will be no surrender. Of course, she needs her book back (the one Steve has), but the general is a softy for Maru, and emphasizes his faith in her.
"I know you can, and will succeed. It is what you were put on this Earth to do," he says creepily and knowingly.
Apparently the pep talk cheers her up, because the mad doctor reveals a vial of "a different type of gas" to restore strength, and she presents him with a vial, which he promptly huffs. The super gas makes Ludendorff all evil veiny, and briefly inhuman, and grants him the strength to crush a gun into shards.
His little display of power inspires Maru even more, and gives her a eureka moment of mass destruction: "I've got it! And if it's what I think, it's going to be … terrible."
While the back and forth between the bad guys isn't the most exciting, it serves a purpose, and it's not enough of a clip to pass judgment on them as characters.
Still, if the tone from this footage carries through the rest of the film, then I hope to see a Wonder Woman movie that can touch on the grim reality of war, without becoming grim. Similarly, I hope the footage points the way to characterization that's organic and not forced on audiences, with a supporting character love interest who is fully realized. And more than anything, I hope the heroic, take-charge – but ultimately human – character of Wonder Woman I saw charging into No Man's Land is as bad-ass throughout the movie as she appears to be here.
If these showcased scenes are an accurate indication of the movie Patty Jenkins has made, then it will be a wonderful release this June 2.
Read on for dialogue from the boat and London scenes described above.
Queen Hippolyta [Connie Nielsen] and Antiope [Robin Wright] look on from the coast of Themyscira as a boar departs its shores.
Antiope: Should you have told her?
Hippolyta: The more she knows, the sooner he'll find her.
It is nighttime, as Steve Trevor and Diana move about their boat on the way to London. They begin to bed down, with Steve awkwardly positioning himself against the side of the small sailboat.
Diana: How long until we reach the war?
Steve: War? Which part? The Eastern Front in France is 400 miles long from the Alps to the Atlantic.
Diana: Where the fighting is the most intense, then. If you take me there, I'm sure I'll find Ares.
Steve: Ares, as in the God of War?
Diana: The God of War is our responsibility. Only an Amazon can defeat him. With this [brandishes the Godkiller sword]. Once I do, the war will end.
Steve: [clears throat] Look, I appreciate your spirit. But this war is a great big mess. There is not a lot you or I can do about that. We can get back to London and try to get to the men who can.
Diana: I'm the man who can. And once I find and destroy Ares, the German armies will be freed from his influence. And they will be good men again, and the world will be better.
Diana: You'll see … what are you doing?
Steve: Oh, I thought maybe you'd want to get some sleep.
Diana: What about you? Are you not sleeping? Does the average man not sleep?
Steve: No, no … I … Yes, we sleep. We just don't sleep with …
Diana: You don't sleep with women?
Steve: No, I mean, I do sleep with women. I sleep with … yes, I do. But out of the confines of marriage, it's just … it's not polite to assume, you know?
Steve: Marriage. You don't have that? You go before a judge, and swear to love, honor, and cherish each other until death do you part?
Diana: And do they? Love each other until death?
Steve: Not very often, no.
Diana: Then why do they do it?
Steve: I … have no idea.
Diana: So you cannot sleep with me unless we're married …
Steve: [interjects] I, look, I will sleep with you, if you want. I will sleep with you.
Diana: [matter of factly] There's plenty of room.
Steve: Then, fine. If you don't mind …
Diana: No … it's up to you. It's just …
Steve: All right, yeah, I'll make the choice, I'll come sleep with you.
Steve lays down next to Diana in on the deck of the boat and settles in, uncomfortably. Each of them shifts around, making room for one another.
Steve: Yeah. Okay … You know, where I come from, I'm not … considered average. You know? To be a spy, you have to show a certain, um, vigor. [sniffs deeply]. Have you never met a man before? What about your father?
Diana: I have no father. My mother sculpted me from clay, and I was brought to life by Zeus.
Steve: Well, that's neat.
Diana: [shifts around some more] Sorry.
Steve: Where I come from, babies are made differently.
Diana: You refer to reproductive biology.
Diana: Yeah, I know. I know all about that.
Steve: I refer to that … and other things.
Diana: The pleasures of the flesh?
Steve: Do you know about … that?
Diana: I've read all 12 volumes of Cleo's treatises on pleasure.
Steve: All 12, huh?
Steve: Did you bring any of those with you?
Diana: You would not enjoy them.
Steve: I don't know ... maybe.
Diana: No, you wouldn't.
Steve: Why not?
Diana: They came to the conclusion that men are essential for procreation but, when it comes to pleasure [sigh] … unnecessary.
Steve: No. No.
Diana: Good night.
Cut to the scene briefly summarized above with Ludendorff and Maru on the German base. Following that, we cut back to Steve and Diana. She is waking up in the boat, to find they are being towed into London.
Steve: Good morning. We got lucky, caught a ride. Made some good time. Welcome to jolly ol' London.
Diana: It's hideous.
Steve: Yeah, it's not for everybody.
Walking through the mud and grime of the London streets, Diana is cover in her cloak, gazing around at the new world of man. A car passes and honks. Men take note of Diana and make comments as Steve pulls her along.
Steve: [To the men] Keep your eyes to yourself, thank you so much. Come on.
Diana: [Diana takes note of a couple on the street, holding hands] Why are they holding hands?
Steve: Uh, probably because they're together.
Diana takes Steve's hand, and begins to walk.
Steve: No, no, no. We're not together, I mean, in that way. [Steve points Diana in a direction] This way.
Diana: To the war?
Steve: Technically the war is that way, but we have to go this way first.
Diana: And where are we going?
Steve: We've got to get this notebook to my superiors.
Diana: Hey, hey, hey, no, no, no. I let you go, you take me to Ares. We made a deal, Steve Trevor. And a deal is a promise. And a promise is unbreakable.
Steve: Oh, boy. Okay, all right. Will you come with me first, to deliver this? And then we'll get you, then I'll take you, uh, to the war. Deal?
Diana readies herself for battle, about to shed her cloak, which Steve promptly puts back on her
Diana: What are you doing?
Steve: You’re not wearing any … you're not wearing any clothes. Let's go, let's go buy you some clothes.
Diana: What do these women wear into battle?
Steve: They don't … uh …
A baby in the arms of a homeless woman begins to cry, and Diana takes notice, and runs to it.
Diana: A baby!
Steve: No, no, no, no babies. That one's not made out of clay. Come on. Diana, please.
This was part 2 of our three part report from our visit to the Wonder Woman edit studios. Read Part 1 -an all around info dump about the movie as a whole and its villains or Part 3 - an interview with Patty Jenkins, the director.
Or if you like moving pictures, watch below.