Wonder Woman 1984, as the title implies, is set in 1984, at the height of a golden age of greed and excess. But that doesn’t mean the entire movie is set in our near past. At least some of the highly anticipated sequel will transport us back to Diana’s island home Themyscira to show us something director Patty Jenkins actually wanted to give us in Wonder Woman’s debut.
As the first trailer for the film teased, Wonder Woman 1984 will indeed return to DC Comics’ famed Themyscira—by flashback, rather than by Diana returning there in her present. It’s an opportunity for the film to re-incorporate the Amazon imagery that dominated the opening act of 2017's Wonder Woman, as well as bring back some familiar faces from the first film: Lilly Apsell, who played the young Princess Diana; and Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright playing Queen Hippolyta and Antiope, respectively. But beyond that, the sequence will allow Jenkins to do something she unfortunately had to rework for the first movie: bring the famous championship games where, in her comic book origins, Diana competes in secret to earn her lasso of truth and the right to be Themyscira’s agent in the world of Man.
“It killed me because we originally were going to do the Amazon Olympics, which is how in the lore historically Diana always got [her gear], and it didn’t quite fit in the storyline,” Jenkins said. “The way that we did it [in Wonder Woman], I believed in much more for our story, but it was always something I wanted to do. But also, that was their only war with Man’s World and they’re not going to fight each other. So this was this great way to say, ‘Oh, there’s a lesson I really want to learn from the Amazons this time and what did we miss last time? And how can we see something totally different?’ Them in the Olympics.”
But it’s not just the theatricality of the Amazons in competition that makes these “Olympics” stand out. It’s the equally extravagant environs they compete in too, a vast arena of massive columns and track. “The main thing [designed for Wonder Woman 1984's Themyscira scenes] is a big stadium, for a contest which is a kind of [a cross] between Olympic games and a Ninja Warrior thing,” production designer Aline Bonetto—who also worked on the previous film—said of the work to bring the games to life. “And [it’s] done by the Amazons, which means it’s really difficult.”
For Bonetto and her team, the arena presented a particular challenge. It had to emulate the Amazon design aesthetic established in the first movie—but instead of reflecting the militaristic and royal corridors of Hippolyta’s rule, be a celebration of Amazon beauty, both spartan and luxurious at the same time. “I wanted to design that in a way that everything is beautiful, efficient, there is always a reason [for something] to be there, technical, but always in a beautiful [style].”
Not only was it challenging from a design standpoint, but it was also difficult from a practical one for Bonetto: the arena’s main area, including the massive poles the Amazons leap between in the trailers, was built as a practical set for stunt actors to physically compete on. “[We were] trying as much as possible, on this scale of movie, of course, trying to make the most that we can for real, directly,” Bonneto noted.
That proved a challenge when making something like the obstacle course sitting at the heart of the arena, to balance the Amazons’ design ethos with a set that would be practical and safe for stunt workers to navigate. “You see the kind of big sculpture, because you think OK, they need to climb, they need to jump, they need to jump on big poles, but I didn’t want just having a kind of scaffolding, so that became a kind of sculpture itself,” Bonetto said of her approach to designing the obstacle course. It made for a final product that was impressive for the designer to see come to life. “The poles are really high,” Bonetto said. “It was amazing to see that for real. Because it was really a 10-meter high pole!”
The games, and a return to Themyscira, also meant another interesting opportunity: a way to revisit a less militaristic approach to Amazon costume design. “We have the Amazon competitions, the games, and there’s a triathlon. They’re in their...I’m calling them triathlete suits, [a] 2,000 or however many years ago version of their Speedos, really,” returning costume designer Lindy Hemming joked of outfitting the Amazons for sports rather than war this time around. “We’re saying, design-wise, that they’re made of leather, and in honor of the goldenness of the games, [they tie into] the sort of gold theme, really, in this film.”
The gear, like the film itself, is evocative of the past and present—just in this case, the past is a fantastical ancient history, rather than simply 1984. Hemming wanted costumes that matched the leather-studded aesthetic the Amazons had in the first Wonder Woman while evoking modern athletic design materials. “[They’re made from] pounds of animal skin, which is almost like a wetsuit material, the finest wetsuit material there could be,” Hemming noted of the Amazon’s approach to athleisure. “We’ve had it printed with animal prints, so there’s snake, and there’s crocodile, and python, and what-have-you, and then some of the pounds [of skin] are gilded, so it’s a very complex process to make them.”
“The idea, of course,” Hemming said, “[is] that they’re strong and sleek, and that they’re the peak of the peak of the Amazons.”
Jenkins’ love of the championship games as part of Wonder Woman’s lore made presenting them in 1984 a simple task, but while it gives us a glimpse of the Amazons at peacetime, it also gives the director a chance to present Amazon culture in a different light.
“I’m loving [it],” she enthused. “It’s so completely different. And the work we’re doing with Cirque de Solei and stuff, it’s like, ‘How did they get to be those people who could have that battle on the beach?’ Well, this incredible practice, they go to an Olympic Games against each other—they don’t call it the ‘Olympic Games’—but when they go to the games against each other, it’s an entirely different kind of sporting event than we’ve ever seen.”
Wonder Woman 1984 is currently set to release in theaters October 2, 2020. Stay tuned to io9 for more from the set of the film later this week, before we get another glimpse of the movie at DC FanDome on August 22.
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