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How That Epic Wonder Woman Vs. Cheetah Scene Came Together

It's a scene comic book fans have been dying to see on screen for years: Barbara Ann Minerva, having fully completed her transformation into her villainous alter-ego Cheetah, goes toe-to-toe with Diana Prince, an Amazonian princess and the hero better known as Wonder Woman. No matter what you think of Wonder Woman 1984 itself, there's no denying that the movie's climactic brawl is unlike any other action scene ever filmed — and not just because of Wonder Woman's breathtaking gold armor.

For director Patty Jenkins and the rest of the Wonder Woman 1984 crew, that meant that they had to get creative from the very beginning. "We had to build that entire space," Jenkins said during a press conference devoted to the movie, which Looper attended. "There was no stage big enough in the world. We had to build the stage."

Producer Charles Roven elaborated, sharing, "We had originally planned to shoot that in the summer outside, and by the time we got to it, it was winter. And so, we had to build this facility for it in order to be able to do it." That meant constructing a large and very expensive structure that basically had one purpose: making the Wonder-Woman-versus-Cheetah showdown as epic as it could be.

Of course, there were other obstacles. Jenkins wanted to use as little CGI in the sequence as possible, meaning that lots of the super-powered action was done with complex wire work. The problem? As Roven explained, "When we found out that we had this facility and it was all inside, we had to put all these lights there that further compounded [the issues] because the lights interfered with the wires."

The only reason that the scene worked at all is because everyone involved did lots and lots of prep. "Everything was super planned ahead. Sets and locations and costumes and fight coordination and the acting — everything was very ... laborious," star Gal Gadot said. "But at the end of the day, that's why now, watching the movie, you can tell [that a lot of work went into it]. It shows."

Roven agreed: "I've been doing this for a while, that it was one of the most complex, if not the most complex, film I've ever had to produce."

Why the Cheetah versus Wonder Woman fight used as little CGI as possible

Finding a place to film Wonder Woman 1984's big fight scene was only part of the challenge. Once everything was in place, Jenkins, Gadot, and Kristen Wiig, the SNL alum who plays Cheetah, still had to film the thing.

"Patty really made a point about wanting to have a minimum amount of CGI in our movies," Gadot shared. "So, most of the stuff that you're going to see is real people doing the real thing." 

With digital stunt-people largely a no-go, Jenkins and her team enlisted Cirque du Soleil performers to help block out the scene, and to show the performers how some of the more elaborate stunts would work. Then, Gadot, Wiig, and their stunt doubles had to get in shape, suit up, and perform the scene themselves.

"Whether it's us or the stunt people, it's real people. So, it took much longer. You have to prep and rehearse much longer," Gadot admitted, although she shared that she believes the effort paid off. "When you see it in the movie, you can just tell that it's the real deal. You can see by the facial expressions that it's real. You can see the weight and the movement and the speed," she noted.

Still, all the physical stunts don't mean anything if the emotional core of the fight doesn't resonate. "However they would fight, it would be completely different. They're friends, right? Or, at least they have this friendship in the past," Jenkins said. "It's not about punching in the face. They're both trying to literally get the other one under control."

Figuring out how all the pieces fit together was extremely difficult, but Jenkins sounds like she enjoyed the challenge. "Narratively, it was fascinating, and then how it would work spatially was fascinating, and then executing it was long and laborious and wild, but also exciting because you would see the moves and [think], 'Whoa, that's so awesome,'" she said. Gadot shared similar thoughts: "It's the hardest movie I've ever shot by far, but it was worth it.

Wonder Woman 1984 is out now in select theaters, and will be available to stream on HBO Max through January 24, 2021.