Wonder Woman 1984 starts with a moment from Diana’s past, as we’re once again transported to the hidden island of Themyscira. Within a golden colosseum, dozens of the island’s greatest champions—as well as a young Diana—gather and compete in a series of breathtaking games and competitions that pay tribute to one of their most legendary Amazonian warriors. It’s a thrilling sequence, demonstrating the unrivaled abilities of the Amazons, as well as their devotion to the virtuous ideals of honesty, integrity and fair play. It’s unlike anything seen in Wonder Woman’s 2017 theatrical debut, infused with a lightness and joy that the earlier WWI-set movie eschewed, and a much larger scale that screams to be seen on as big a screen as possible.

And best of all, it’s only the beginning. Wonder Woman 1984 boasts several edge-of-your-seat action sequences that up the ante from the previous film. From its Amazonian opening to a high-spirited mall showdown to a tense road chase that channels Indiana Jones to an elaborate battle with Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah, the highly anticipated sequel certainly has no shortage of thrills.

“After the end of the first movie, I was craving that Spider-Man-like moment when you’re just delighting in your superhero at their best,” reveals director Patty Jenkins. “A lot of these superhero movies have those moments at the three-quarter point because they don’t have big emotional stakes, so how they beat the villain tends to be when you get that. You weren’t going to get that in this movie. So, I was like, ‘We have to open up with this scene so that you could just enjoy how amazing she is and how easy this is for her.’”

The opening, much like the Themyscira-set sequences in the first film, offers excitement and a glimpse of an idyllic world, but it also has an emotional undercurrent that some viewers may not be prepared for. But if you find yourself being caught off-guard by it, don’t worry. You’re in good company.

“I’d read all the drafts, and I thought that I was ready to see anything,” shares the movie’s star, Gal Gadot. “But then when I saw the opening sequence, the reaction I had, I just didn't expect to have. I got so emotional and 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 otherworldly and being so good at it. She's doing it in her way. It's her own.”

She’s not the only one. Lilly Aspell, who plays young Diana in both Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman 1984, is joined by legions of her fellow Amazons, all engaging in feats of skill that would put most competitive athletes to shame.

“I don't think I've ever seen anything like this before,” Gadot says. “The girls, they do it like a girl would do it. They do it like women would do it. It's not like when you see women try to fight like men. No, we're females, our bodies are different, the way we move is different, and this is how we do it. Just to see it, it was so great.”

The opening flashback is followed almost immediately by an equally exciting sequence in the movie’s present day, this one giving us a glimpse of a fully grown Wonder Woman in action in a crowded mall…and of Jenkins’ brightly-colored take on 1984.

“We were headed towards a lot of problems two years ago when we were making it,” says Jenkins. “So, I think picking the time of prosperity, where we were so naïve to what the price was going to be. America could just be opulent, and there was no price, even though it was super unfair in all these ways. I feel like it was fun to go back to that time.”

In the sequence, Diana takes down a gang of thieves stealing valuable historical artifacts from a jewelry store’s secret back room. It gives us our first glimpse of Diana in pure, lasso-wielding crimefighting mode in either of Jenkins’ two films. It’s also a throwback to the sort of lighthearted, all-ages action we saw in blockbusters of the era (think Christopher Reeves’ Superman). It’s joyful, fun and even a little silly.

“This is what she lives for,” suggests Gadot. “This is fun for her. Okay, people are trying to rob a store and take over a mall, no problem! Even the girl that I save’s going to have a great experience being saved. The scene was like an immediate continuation from the intro to the movie’s ‘80s setting, so we felt like saying, ‘There she is. This is Wonder Woman. We left her in 1917 in the last movie, and now she’s dancing. She’s not even fighting.’”

However, the movie’s most elaborate action sequence was the climactic battle between Diana and the Cheetah, a scene which required careful fight choreography, extensive wirework and a facility built from the ground up just to accommodate it.

“We designed what we wanted it to feel like and look like, and what the moves were, and then we had to build,” explains Jenkins. “There was no stage big enough in the world, so we had to build the stage. We have Cirque du Soleil performers practicing the moves and showing us what things were going to look like, and then (Gal and Kristen) have to end up doing it.”

“Everything was very planned out, like with the set,” says Wiig. “It was like, ‘Oh, this is where that happens, and this is here because someone's going up there.’ It was all completely intentional, and everything was so choreographed.”

While there was some CGI enhancement to the sequence, Jenkins wanted as much of it done practically, which meant the facility that was built had to accommodate the rigs for the elaborate wirework the sequence includes.

“We had originally planned to shoot that in the summer, outside, and by the time we got to it, it was winter,” explains producer Charles Roven. “So, we had to build this facility for it in order to be able to do it and it had to be a very expansive place. It was a single-purpose facility that was built for this amazing fight that we had, with the wires and everything. Of course, when we found out that we had this facility and it was all inside, we had to put all these lights there and that further compounded things because the lights interfered with the wires and everything.”

“Everything was very laborious,” admits Gadot. “Patty really made a point about wanting to have a minimum amount of CGI, so most of the stuff that you're going to see is real people doing the real thing. Whether it's us or the stunt people, it's real people.”

“It took much longer,” she continues. “You have to prep and to rehearse much longer. But 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. It's the hardest movie I've ever had to shoot by far, but it was worth it, especially because the first movie was received in such an amazing way. There was just no way we were going to take any shortcuts. We're just going to raise the bar and give everything we have, because we knew people were so invested in the character and cared so much about her.”

That’s really what it gets down to—people love Wonder Woman. The character means so much to so many people worldwide that it’s worth the time, effort and money it takes to bring her exploits to the screen as believably as possible. After all, Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t just a simple superhero movie because Wonder Woman is no ordinary superhero.

“I'm a big believer that when you see it, you think you can be it and then you become it,” Gadot asserts. “I didn't have the opportunity to see all of these strong female characters as a child, and now seeing it and seeing the way that it affects my daughters—and by the way, also boys, men and all different types of people. It's so powerful and it's so strong. I just feel very, very grateful that I have the opportunity to be a part of this.”

Wonder Woman 1984 opens in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday, December 25th. For all the latest news, trailers and features on Diana’s return to the screen, visit our official Wonder Woman 1984 movie page.