Director Patty Jenkins On Why ‘Wonder Woman’ Is The New Superman

Getty Image / Warner Bros.

When superheroes gets reimagined, they’re usually accompanied by a cool, hip, totally corporate way of branding this reincarnation as fresh, new, and edgier, something along the lines of, “This ain’t your parents’ superhero.” What’s interesting in this case is director Patty Jenkins kind of has given us “your parents’ superhero” with her vision of Wonder Woman. This isn’t a dark and gritty Wonder Woman. Instead she’s a hero brimming with truth and justice, a vision inspired by what Richard Donner did with Superman in 1978. She may be a version of “our parents’ superhero,” but in the world we live in, she’s desperately needed again.

It’s now strange to think of anyone but Patty Jenkins directing Wonder Woman, as she’s become the perfect ambassador during this press tour that started way back in July during San Diego Comic-Con. While talking to Jenkins, her enthusiasm is inescapable. This is the Wonder Woman she has desperately wanted to make for years and she is blown away by the early reaction on Twitter. (I, too, joined in with the almost unanimous praise.)

No one can questions Jenkins’ integrity: Here’s a director who backed out of Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World because Marvel wasn’t interested in her idea and she realized she couldn’t make a good version of what they wanted to do. Instead of making a mediocre product (which many, many directors would have just gone ahead and done just for a chance at a making a Marvel movie), Jenkins walked away. And she admits today that her Thor 2 would have been bad and there’s no way she’d be here today with her dream project, Wonder Woman. And six years after walking away from Thor: The Dark World, here she is with her Wonder Woman. And it’s the non-cynical, true north version of Wonder Woman she’s always wanted to make.

Wonder Woman is an origin story, but it’s not one we’ve seen before. Set during World War I, it follows Diana (Gal Gadot) as she decides to fight alongside Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) against the brutal backdrop of World War I. Diana, innocent and earnest, wants the war to end and will do everything in her power to end the bloodshed, which eventually leads to an encounter with an ancient foe.

Ahead, Jenkins (who, and I can’t stress this enough, is a delight to talk to because her energy is radiating) takes us through why this version of Wonder Woman, like the 1978 version of Superman that inspired her, is so important today, explains how she wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t passed on Thor 2, and talks about the uniqueness of a superhero movie set during World War I and the liberties of working with an event that’s not immediately known to most viewers. She is determined we will see the Invisible Jet someday. And she gives us her ideas of where Wonder Woman’s future solo movies will take us, and she’s adamant the next one, like this one, won’t be set in present day.

Wonder Woman reminded me of 1978’s Superman, and this is before I knew you were saying that was an inspiration.

I think that’s the greatest thing about it. You know, there are tiny homages, but the fact the spirit of it showed up to somebody who didn’t know that’s what I was trying to do, it makes me beside myself. That is what I wanted for her the most – for Diana to be that epic.

1978 wasn’t the happiest time in American history and the same could be said today. In times like this there’s an appetite for a hero who represents pure good.

That’s amazing, I never thought about the parallel of the time periods. That’s so true. That it so true. And it’s interesting because I can’t believe this film is landing when it is, in that way. But I’m been craving and missing exactly that in entertainment for a long time myself. I was like, “Where’s the sincerity?” I felt like so much of the emotion that I was seeing was condescending on some level. I could feel so much, “Oh, this is what the kids will like.” Instead of, “No, I fucking mean it.” I’m going to talk about love totally sincerely. And try. And hopefully it’s not embarrassing. And that’s exactly why I was like, “We have to go for it.”

I think people might be looking for hope and optimism right now and that’s what I found appealing about Wonder Woman.

I’m so psyched I got to make Wonder Woman. I am so thrilled I got to be the one who did it. But what was sitting in the palm of our hands? The chance to make something beautiful and say something beautiful about being a hero in the times we are in. It was just too important not to try for exactly what we hopefully gave and what you’re reflecting back to me – that thrills me.

How do you think kids will react, because they aren’t totally used to seeing a non-cynical superhero on screen?

I have felt the generation behind us is more sincere. Because it has been cyclical. I was seven when Superman came out so I was the target age for understanding it and registering it completely. And I felt this void getting bigger and bigger with “What were these movies about?” What is it about? I don’t understand what this is even about. It’s a joke referencing something else. But I started to notice that because of that dominating the industry, the audience starting to make authenticity on YouTube and different places. Because that’s what we’ve been like for thousands of years! We’ve craving the universal life experience and entertainment wasn’t giving it to us more and more. So I think that generation behind us is already primed. They are already more sincere to me.

Did spending a good portion of your childhood in Kansas help inform how you reacted to the Richard Donner Superman film? There’s an element of that in the first act of that film.

I think it does. I’m sure it does in far as, even though Diana is a god and Clark Kent is an alien, that’s not the story those movies tell. They tell the story of an everyman. And a good everyman – an everyman with all the intentions that we have, anywhere we live. And definitely being not in the cities and not being in the most advanced places, I definitely am familiar with that everyman feeling of like, “I’m just a girl in Kansas. How can I change the world?” And that’s an important element of this kind of story’s universality to people and definitely something I’m grateful for.

Wonder Woman is set during World War I, which is interesting because audiences probably don’t know as much about that war as they do others and it was a particularly brutal war.

It’s the worst, most brutal period of mankind. But it’s also one we are not familiar with. We don’t have a dog in the fight as far as the play by play of it. Which means we could use both things. We can use the depth and the weight of what mankind is really capable of during war beneath feeling of what we are encountering. But, we are not distracted by, “Wait a minute, Ludendorff wouldn’t have done that.” You just don’t know too much. And frankly, we play into the pocket of the truth of the end of the war, because Ludendorff was trying to bomb the front lines…

It’s fascinating that a villain in this movie is a real life historical figure.

And he’s a real life character who really is Ares incarnate on Earth. He lived in a state of total war. That was the norm and any time between war was the abnormality and wasn’t good for us. He believed in all kinds of stuff that ultimately gave birth to the Nazi movement in the next generation. So, what a perfect guy to be the Ares representative in our world. So, I loved that about being in World War I. You can get the little details and the flavor and the question of seriously guys, bombing people from afar? Which has now set the tone for the rest of the future. But what we started in World War I is now how we engage in warfare and it’s fucking awful.

Wonder Woman doesn’t end like Captain America: The First Avenger with her waking up in modern day. She has 100 years left.


In the next solo movie would you want it to be set in modern day or somewhere in the 100 years prior? Like it could be set in the 1930s?

It is for sure – I’m definitely planning something more interesting using that period of time. Definitely, it’s the plan. I can’t say what it is! But it’s definitely right in the pocket of what you’re talking about.

There’s so much to work with there.

Exactly! That thrills me.

If you had directed Thor: The Dark World, could you have still done Wonder Woman?

No. I don’t think I could have made a good movie out of Thor 2 because I wasn’t the right director. And I don’t think I would have been in the running for Wonder Woman as a result. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m glad I didn’t do it. Because I could have made a great Thor if I could have done the story that I was wanting to do. But I don’t think I was the right person to make a great Thor out of the story they wanted to do.

I was bummed out when you didn’t do it, but I’m now glad it worked out the way it did.

I was, too. I was heartbroken. I was like, oh, what a bummer. But in retrospect it all makes sense.

Are you going to do the invisible jet? That seems like a difficult thing to pull off in a movie.

[Laughs.] I’m gonna do it! I’m going to find a way!

On Superfriends it’s just her sitting down as she flies through the air. It’s a weird visual.

Totally. Yeah, I turn that question in my mind all the time, but I will figure it out. I approach it with this belief system: When we first talked about doing Wonder Woman, somebody said to me – nobody involved with the film, “How are you going to make her cool? All these things are so cheesy.” And I said, “Describe to me any superhero who has ever had a movie made out of them and they are all ridiculous until somebody makes it cool.” We will find a way to make a cool.

The lasso is a perfect example. It’s very cool in this movie.

Exactly. That is the one we tackled in this movie.

Superman is a different Superman in the DCEU than what he’s been before. Do you feel Wonder Woman is filling the “true north” role that Superman used to?

Maybe so. Maybe so. And what a great thing. I think that’s true. I think she’s the true north superhero of this posse.

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