First came the news that the Dark Knight would be crashing Superman’s party in Batman vs. Superman, director Zack Snyder’s sequel to Man of Steel. That shock only subsided once it was revealed that Ben Affleck would be next to wear the Batman cowl. And before fans had time to process that revelation, word surfaced that Wonder Woman wouldn’t be far behind.
Now the suspense of casting has come to an end, with Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder confirming that it will be Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious) bringing the Amazonian princess to life onscreen. And right on cue, fans and online commenters made their voices heard – showing (intentionally or not) exactly why the world needs Wonder Woman more than ever.
There’s no denying the fact that this casting took many by surprise; even though Gadot’s name popped up as a rumored frontrunner in recent weeks (alongside Olga Kurylenko), the iconic nature of the character – and Snyder’s decision to cast Affleck as Batman – led many to believe that a more established actress would land the part. But we believe that a closer look at Gadot’s history proves: she may have what it takes to do Diana justice.
She Has The Experience
Since Gadot is most well-known for her role of ‘Gisele Harabo’ in the Fast & Furious series of films, audiences can’t be blamed for being somewhat unfamiliar with her full body of work. Beginning her career in front of the camera not as an actress, but a professional model, Gadot went on to claim the title of Miss Israel 2004 at the age of 19. In other words: she has the looks and presence to hold an audience’s attention – and a discriminating one at that – for more than her looks alone.
A lesser-known fact is that Gadot’s Israeli upbringing also gives her a unique advantage over many model-turned-actresses, having completed the mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) demanded of every Israeli citizen. Besides equipping her with firsthand combat training, Gadot spent her two-year term acting as a sports trainer, so her athleticism and physicality aren’t in question.
With that in mind, it was no surprise to see director Dan Trachtenberg – currently developing his adaptation of Y: The Last Man for Warner Bros., centering largely on a female IDF agent – was quick to give his nod of approval via Twitter:
I had a meeting with Gal Gadot where she explained she didn't want to just be an actress- but an ACTION STAR. Loves physicality. Good choice— Dan Trachtenberg (@DannyTRS) December 4, 2013
So that makes two directors known for their comic book geekery who seem to think that Gadot may be an unconventional, but inspired choice to bring to life a woman raised by the sword, and expected to leap into battle without hesitation. And although the title of ‘former model’ may not carry with it any serious credibility in the realm of stunt performances, Gadot endured much more than the make-up trailer in her Fast & Furious appearances.
In an interview with RealStyle, Gadot explained what drew her to the character of Fast & Furious‘ ‘Gisele':
“After we finished Fast Five I told Justin Lin, the director, that if he wants me to do Fast six, I want to be able to do more stunts. All of the stunts on Fast Five and six, I have done myself and on Fast 6 we went crazy with the action moves. The adrenaline was just incredible and I enjoyed being able to do the stuff that in real life you can’t.”
It’s obviously too early to tell how Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer’s take on Wonder Woman will differ from those previously seen on film or the comic book page, but ask any fan of the character, and they’re likely to tell you that any adaptation of the world’s top superheroine is long overdue – so long as it’s respectful.
And if Snyder proved nothing else with Man of Steel, it’s that he takes DC Comics’ most famous heroes very, very seriously. Which means that whatever take on Diana he’s after, it’s unlikely that audiences will be seeing any spandex uniforms in Gadot’s future.
She Knows What’s At Stake
It’s no secret that Wonder Woman has been difficult to adapt to film thus far; Joss Whedon attempted (and failed) to make his film before moving over to Marvel, and Diana’s track record on TV has been just as checkered. Even so, WB remains committed to adapting the character in whatever form possible, as soon as possible.
Why the hurry? Because as comic book franchises slowly take over Hollywood (first at the box office, now setting their sights on TV), entire generations are being shown a genre of superhero blockbusters that is growing by the year, with few female faces to speak of. Women appear in them, certainly, but the common assumption that superheroics are the realm of men – equaled only by other men – is being reinforced more and more.
That’s the core sentiment expressed by Warner Bros.’ leadership, and oft-mentioned by actresses like former MMA fighter Gina Carano, and Thor star (and one-time ‘Diana’ frontrunner) Jaimie Alexander. And in the same interview with RealStyle, Gadot – herself a wife and mother – couldn’t agree more:
“Today it is very rare to see tough women on screen. Usually the woman is saved and rescued by the man. Gisele is very feminine, soft, and intelligent, yet she is strong and independent. She thinks a few steps forward, takes care of herself, and she does not wait for any man to come and save the day. That’s why I love Gisele. She’s a real woman, her character reflects reality nowadays where women need to have it all, and they need to take care of themselves, the children and the man. Today women need to be strong, smart and independent.”
Normally those kind of sentiments would be thrown out by just about any actress, for any iconic role, and seen as little more than well-meaning talking points. But in a slate of superhero movies that have represented women as little more than supporting characters or over-sexualized villains, Man of Steel did try something a bit different.
Snyder didn’t unleash a groundbreaking superheroine, but he didn’t keep the status quo either; turning Superman’s mother, Lara from a bystander to a fighter, featuring a terrifying and scene-stealing villainess without an ounce of gratuitous sexuality, and ending his film’s climax with Superman brought to his knees, clinging to Lois Lane (Amy Adams) for strength.
We’re not here to argue how successful those roles or decisions were in the grand scheme of things, but it is clear Snyder gave his female characters their chances to show strength. And if that’s the case, who better to embody his vision of Wonder Woman than a wife and mother who was born and raised in Israel, and longs for the chance to surprise with her dedication to stunts?
Looks Aren’t The Point
The first thought that many had when the casting was announced – certainly addressed in the comments section of our articles – was Gadot’s physical build when compared to that of traditional depictions of Wonder Woman. The first point made: acknowledging that to fit the role, Gadot would need to put on some serious muscle.
But truly, that goes without saying at this point; when audiences have witnessed the complete physical transformations that superhero roles bring about – Henry Cavill enduring intense workouts to achieve his super-physique, or Chris Pratt going from pudgy to ripped in months – it’s assumed that whatever the role may be, superhero actors will be visiting the gym intensively.
And if the idea of an ‘Amazon’ lacking bulk is a make-or-break suggestion where suspension of disbelief is concerned, we should point out that Diana is also a demigod possessing superhuman strength, and living on a magical island of only women. In other words: there is no reference for ‘a believable Amazon’ in the context of DC’s take. After all, it’s Diana’s character, not her biceps, that give her strength.
Unfortunately, while the likes of Cavill, Affleck, Pratt, and other male actors needing to put on muscle is taken without a second thought, female actresses aren’t quite given the same pass. And since Wonder Woman is the most iconic of superheroines, Gadot’s casting triggered not just criticism of her muscles, but her measurements, as well.
Before we get to the more worrying aspects of these type of comments, a bit of a reality check: Wonder Woman is a drawing. And because of that, the selection of women who possess her nearly-non-existent waistline is fairly… slim. But for those fans who have gone so far as to use the word “curvy” to describe the ideal Diana – she’s about as curvy (read: thin) as any female comic book character, and a refresher about iconic Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter’s muscle mass is apparently needed.
Lynda Carter, Gal Gadot, and the ‘muscle-bound’ source material
We’d ignore that kind of reaction with just about any role (since it isn’t even worth dignifying with a response), but when the character in question is the superheroine that is the most cited, most respected, and most emblematic role model for young women, those comments perfectly illustrate why a Wonder Woman movie needs to be made.
Model Role Model
The reasons why female comic book fans long to see female faces in Marvel or DC’s line-up should be obvious, but many fans have no doubt found it increasingly troubling to take their wives, sisters, daughters and nieces to see superhero blockbusters where females aren’t represented as ‘powerful’ on screen. If that’s the case, we can only imagine how disheartening it is too see ‘fans’ not elated that Wonder Woman will be appearing in theaters, but that the actress selected doesn’t look ‘strong, fit, busty or beautiful enough.’
And tragically, that’s the exact kind of thinking that makes Wonder Woman view the ‘man’s world’ with cynicism and distrust. Luckily, Zack Snyder decided to cast an actress based on her talents, not her similarity to a drawing – what a novel idea!
It’s a fact that nearly every movie or comic book fan has been forced to accept at one time or another: sooner or later, a beloved character is re-imagined to appeal to a new audience, leaving some of the previous one behind. With this casting, it would seem that Snyder and co. have decided to pursue an actress based on her talents, not the size of her bust or the predictability of the choice.
If that means leaving behind or infuriating fans who feel that Wonder Woman’s beauty, ethnicity or measurements are what define her, then so be it. Because you’re clearly missing what her character is supposed to represent in the first place.
Batman vs. Superman will be in theaters on July 17, 2015.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.