Patty Jenkins Talks About How Superman Led To Her Take On Wonder Woman
With the success (such-as-it-is) of Wonder Woman 1984, Patty Jenkins is having a great 2021 so far. Not only was she revealed as the director of the next Star Wars feature on Disney Investor’s Day, but she will also helm a third Wonder Woman film for Warner Bros. Yet, in a new interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Patty Jenkins reveals that we wouldn’t have (her) Wonder Woman without Richard Donner’s Superman movies.
In her video announcing Rogue Squadron, Jenkins talks about her love of fighter pilots stemming from her father. A fighter pilot himself, his plane crashed during a simulated combat exercise when she was just seven years old.
Two months after her father died, Jenkins’ mother took her to see Richard Donner’s Superman. She watched the film in which Christopher Reeves’ Kal-El loses his father not once but twice (Jor-El and Jonathan Kent). Yet, she then talks about how ultimately hopeful Superman is and this sense of wonder and lightness is on display in her Wonder Woman movies.
Image via Warner Bros.
“I sobbed. Like, I was like just profoundly rocked by that movie. And then the release when he goes on to become a superhero and save the world and do these things. It just had this deep impactful effect on me as a kid.”
She made Marc Maron understand how people who aren’t all “grown male nerd-childs,” but can make an almost religious impact on artists into adulthood. She said that she always wanted to direct a superheroic figure not for success or money, but because she wanted “a shot at the big emotions.”
After making her Oscar-winning film Monster, Jenkins was flat broke and needed to work. She directed a slew of TV projects while working on her next film. It ended up being Wonder Woman but was a long road to get there. She first started talking with Warner Bros. in 2004. However, the studio executives were unsure about who the character would be. And even though Jenkins would be the first woman director to helm a major superhero tentpole feature, the powers-that-be were all-but disinterested in her input.
Image via Warner Bros.
“Even when I first joined Wonder Woman it was like, ‘Uhh, yeah, okay, but let’s do it this other way.’ But I was like, ‘Women don’t want to see that…. Her being harsh and tough and cutting people’s heads off…. I;m a Wonder Woman fan, that’s not what we’re looking for.”
She added that there was “an internal war” at the studio for “what Wonder Woman would be.” At the time, Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight trilogy was actively redefining what superhero films were. This added to executives’ worries because Jenkins wanted to make a Donner-esque film, which had just failed for them with Superman Returns. She already tried to make her version of the movie in film school. She made a student film starring a woman superhero because she “always loved the metaphor” in these films. When WB finally offered her the opportunity to write and direct the movie, she had to turn them down because she was pregnant.
There would be one more false start for Jenkins. When WB’s attempts to get a viable Wonder Woman project failed, Jenkins told them the kind of movie she wanted to make. They ended up hiring someone else, but finally a year later they came back and said, “actually do you want to do it your way?” And Jenkins signed on, making history and one of the best DCEU films to date.
Though she didn’t win all the battles. In Wonder Woman she wanted the confrontation between Gal Gadot’s Diana and David Thewlis’ Ares to not be a big CGI battle. However, the studio insisted on it. And she noted that the only consistent criticism of that film was the end-battle “pyrotechnics.” (Yet, this is a quibbling criticism and as those fights go it was dynamic and fun.)
You can listen to Patty Jenkins’ full discussion on WTF’s website or wherever you get podcasts.
What do you think? Can you tell how much Superman influence Patty Jenkins and her work with Wonder Woman? Share your thoughts, own reactions to iconic movies, or reactions in the comments below.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.