‘Wonder Woman’ director Patty Jenkins talked to us about her blockbuster
'Wonder Woman 1984' has seen its release date postponed repeatedly because of COVID-19. It's finally opening on Christmas Day, simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters. where that's possible.
Thor and Wonder Woman. Now there’s a power couple. Gorgeous, strong, immortal — people talk about love lasting forever, but those two would mean it.
“He’d be a perfect love interest for her down the road. I love it,” said Patty Jenkins, writer and director of this year’s big Christmas release Wonder Woman 1984.
And as it happens, she’s already had the two of them over to her house, back in 2018 when the new Wonder Woman movie was being filmed. Chris Hemsworth and Gal Gadot, that is. They played games and had quite a good time.
“We’re friends with those guys,” said Jenkins. (She had once been briefly attached to Thor: The Dark World.)
“Tessa Thompson and Chris were shooting Men in Black on the stage across from where we were shooting Wonder Woman, so we had raging games of Mafia at my house, where we all played each other. And I wanted so badly for somebody to take a photo. But we didn’t, because none of us wanted to do that to each other. But there were great Thor versus Wonder Woman playoffs that were happening.”
Jenkins suppressed any visual evidence, anticipating the social media cataclysm that would occur if the matter/anti-matter of the DC and Marvel movie universes were carelessly mixed — if Valkyrie, Thor, Diana, and an A-list director were seen in the same rumpus room, fraternizing.
Wonder Woman 1984 has now been finished for a full year, but its release was delayed repeatedly because of COVID-19. It’s coming for sure on Christmas Day, streaming on HBO Max and playing in theaters where public health considerations allow.
Warner Bros.’ decision to release the movie and most of its 2021 blockbusters this way has slammed shut the industry’s traditional “theatrical window” and drawn the wrath of actors and directors whose compensation from the studio is tied to a percentage of theatrical box office.
Jenkins had the foresight to insist that her people were paid so that any money lost from the box office would be made up elsewhere — a shrewd move that already has other Warner Bros. talent on the 2021 slate demanding “Wonder Woman money.”
‘A very strange moment’
Throughout, Jenkins said, she was also thinking of the exhibitors — she made the deal in part because she knew theater owners had clamored for a major release.
“We looked at all the options, and under the circumstances there weren’t any good ones. The theaters owners actually asked us to do this. They said this is not a model we believe in going forward, but we’re dying if we don’t work out some way to release movies right now. You have to give us something. It was a very strange moment.”
I asked Jenkins what she’d say about the future of traditional moviegoing if ensnared in Diana’s famous lasso of truth.
“I’m nervous. The Wild West is about to happen,” she said, referring to the new rules being scribbled down as Amazon, Netflix, Comcast, Disney, and now Warner Bros. fight each other for streaming shelf space.
“But I also think that the movie industry is doing the same thing that they’ve always done, which is they all chase the same horse at exactly the same time. Which makes no sense to me. And I don’t think the [consumer] money exists for everybody to subscribe to five or six or seven different streaming channels. So I think there are going to be a lot of losers in the pursuit.”
At the same time, she said, streaming is here to stay, and that’s to the benefit of voices and films that have a harder time finding a channel to theaters.
“I have a Netflix deal and I love television streaming, and I know there are movies that can’t go to theaters that are getting made because of Netflix. Still, I’m sad to watch the process, so many people going after the exact same thing while this massive theatrical industry and all of the revenue available there is being disrespected.”
Diana in love, Diana ‘80s-style
The first Wonder Woman pulled in a non-disrespectable $800 million, cementing a new bankable franchise for Warner Bros., in part because Jenkins departed so brazenly from the “dark” DC brand.
Her forthright, World War I-era Diana had a refreshingly resolute commitment to truth and compassion and love in all of its forms.
“We dealt with a little bit of controversy in the beginning. People were asking, ‘Why does she have to be in love?’ To me, Diana is all about truth, and love is the truth in our lives,” Jenkins said.
Her Wonder Woman 1984 brings Diana closer to the modern world. Though set in the Reagan era (aerobics and leg warmers, thriving shopping malls, some New Wave dance music), the plot is pitched to modern audiences.
A huckster (Pedro Pascal) has gotten hold of a relic that grants wishes, allowing Jenkins to take a sidelong look at our culture of instant gratification and wish fulfillment.
We see this through the character of Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who is agog at her tall, attention-getting colleague, Diana, and decides she wants to be like her. She uses her wish to be as pretty and cool and popular as she believes Diana to be.
There is an aspect of this that seems clearly pitched to a generation raised on Instagram influencers. I asked Jenkins, parent to a tween, if that was on her mind.
“The generation raised on Instagram is on my mind a lot. I find the illusion of what people think they need to be in this world to be super depressing and really scary. ... Our role models are really lost right now,” Jenkins said.
Enter Wonder Woman, who tries to get her friend to see that she is already cool. “Minerva, when you meet her, she’s pretty great. She’s a scientist, she knows so many things, but she can’t see it.”
Of course, Diana is beautiful and perpetually young and nine feet tall, and she does have that handsome pilot boyfriend, Steve Trevor.
The pilot and the pilot’s daughter
Wait, though, didn’t he die in Wonder Woman, in a spectacular zeppelin fire? With love, and comic books, all things are possible. So here he is, alive and well in WW84 and again played by Chris Pine taking Diana up into the clouds in a jet. He gives a nice speech about why he loves to fly.
I suggest to Jenkins that his elegant words could only have been written by someone who knew someone who loved to fly.
“Yeah, I definitely wrote that little speech. There were three of us writing, and we all wrote different things, but that one was mine,” said Jenkins, who was born on an Air Force base to a father who flew in Vietnam and later trained pilots for the RAF, where he was killed during an exercise.
“There’s a ton of him in Steve. A ton. He passed away when I was a kid, but he’s been a great inspiration for me throughout my life.” In Steve’s speech, he talks about how the complexities of flying really are composed of simple elements, wind and air. Jenkins uses that as a template for both Steve and Diana.
“It’s about the simplicity of things that you thought were so spectacular. What it takes to be a fighter pilot and what it takes to be a superhero come down to these basic things,” she said.
I spoke to Jenkins on the day that famed fighter jock and test pilot Chuck Yeager died. Turns out Jenkins had worked for a couple years on a prospective film about the noted ace, the first man to break the sound barrier. They spent a good deal of time together.
Yeager’s life experience further reinforced her belief — evident in her vision of Diana — that true strength comes in admitting how vulnerable you are, then fighting on regardless.
“He was never not scared. When he flew and broke the sound barrier, he was terrified. One reason why no one had ever done it is they were too scared to push through. He said, theoretically we’ve proved we should be able to do it, so I’m just going to push through,” Jenkins said.
“I’ve always loved the idea that for the real heroes, it’s not about invulnerability. It’s about strength of mind. I’ve always loved that aspect of the superhero.”