Patty Jenkins: Wonder Woman

March 7, 2017
We meet the first woman to helm a superhero movie fronted by a woman on the eve of International Women’s Day.

In the De Lane Lea post-production facility in London’s Soho, the final touches are being put to Wonder Woman. Booming sounds of thunder are reverberating through the walls, hinting that somewhere close by the sound-mixing is taking place. It’s March 1, 2017 exactly three months before release, and director Patty Jenkins is now deep into the closing stages of bringing this latest DC Comics adaptation to the big screen.

Fans will already be familiar with this latest incarnation of Wonder Woman, thanks to Gal Gadot’s appearance as the character in Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. But Jenkins’ film takes us back to the character’s beginnings. “When I joined this film, I cared a ton about telling this as a classic origin story and having a great love story at the core,” she says, joining us in the facility’s private screening room.

Set in the early 20th Century, long before the modern-day setting of Batman V Superman, the origin story takes us to Wonder Woman’s home, the secluded island of Themyscira, where Gadot’s Diana has been raised amongst her Amazonian sisters. This paradise-like island, however, is not immune to the outside world, as seen when WWI spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is washed up ashore. No prizes for guessing where the romance springs from.

The first clip Jenkins rolls shows Diana and Steve heading back to the frontline of the war in a sailboat. While he is desperate to return because he holds vital information about a deadly weapon being developed by a rogue German named General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), she is keen to face her race’s enemy, Ares, the God of War, under the belief that if she stops him, she will stop the war.

A playful scene, as Diana and Steve discuss the concept of marriage (he believes in it, she’s confused by it), it’s the perfect example of why Gadot is ideally cast. “She’s a great actress and she did a great acting job, but she also is exuding love, kindness, bravery and thoughtfulness, all of those things,” says Jenkins. “Even on the boat scene, she’s able to be strong and naïve. She can do that. Not everybody can.”

With Steve the true gentleman, too polite to assume he can lie next to her and sleep, the chemistry between the two is charming. “Mark my words, they are a classic love story for the time, and I don’t say that because I did it. I say that because I saw it happen in front of my eyes; I haven’t seen that in a long time!” Jenkins adds that the balance between the actors was perfect. “Nobody is dominating or obliterating the other.”

Famed for her 2003 movie Monster, which won Charlize Theron an Oscar for playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos, the 45 year-old Jenkins has spent the intervening years working in television, directing episodes of Entourage, The Killing and Arrested Development. But her love of the comic book universe saw her hired as the original director on Marvel’s sequel Thor: The Dark World, until she and the company parted ways, allowing Alan Taylor to step in.

“I just wasn’t the right person for ultimately what they needed to do, and in this case I was,” Jenkins explains, diplomatically. “For me, it was like night and day. That movie, it was much more complicated but I don’t think it was because of them or me. I think it was much more like trying to match something up; I thought about making this movie for a long time – ‘If they want to make an origin story of Wonder Woman, so do I.’ So we had a common language.”

While Thor: The Dark World would’ve made Jenkins the first female director to helm a superhero movie, that still stands with Wonder Woman. In particular, she pays tribute to Geoff Johns, the president and Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics and co-writer on Wonder Woman with Allan Heinberg. “When I came on board to this movie, he was one of my strong allies,” says Jenkins. “He loves her and the comics the same way I do, so he and I had an easy rapport right away.”

As Jenkins reveals, both she and Johns had a love for Richard Donner’s 1978 superhero classic Superman. Jenkins recalls watching the film with her 6-year-old son, just as she came onto Wonder Woman, an experience that galvanised her. “Literally, when the little boy picks up the car, my son stood up on the couch and I was like, ‘Oh my God, all these years later, look at that!’ That’s how pure that is! That’s what it did to me when I was seven. That’s the movie I wanted to make: for everybody, but little girls too.”

Jenkins unveils further footage: Diana and Steve arriving in London in 1917, the city a grimy counterpoint to the lush Themyscira, and her transformation into Diana Prince, the identity with which she will go under when she walks amongst mortals. But perhaps the final scene is the most impressive, as Diana, Steve and several companions (Eugene Brave Rock, Ewen Bremner and Saïd Taghmaoui) make their way to the trenches.

Diana decides to face the might of the German forces, blocking machine gun fire with her shields in no man’s land. It’s a towering moment, destined to be an iconic part of Wonder Woman’s screen evolution. “I want to make a superhero movie, but I want to make a more emotional one than usual,” notes Jenkins, when the lights come back up. “It’s a very emotional journey, as you can see from that scene.”

It won’t be the only time we see Wonder Woman in 2017; in November, Zack Snyder’s ensemble Justice League will see Gadot reprise the character. In the meantime, Jenkins is “bracing” herself for the release of her film. “I remember this from Monster. The day the movie came out is a little sad because you’re having a personal relationship with the movie and it’s not in the world yet.” By June, her take on Diana Prince will walk among us.

Wonder Woman opens on June 1, 2017.

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