WHEN PATTY JENKINS signed on two years ago to direct “Wonder Woman,” industry observers wondered what type of superhero the film would present, especially given the character’s many iterations over 75 years. Would we get the hardened Wonder Woman of the ’90s “Kingdom Come” comics, or the sometimes deferential “secretary” Diana Prince of her ’40s team-up stories, or perhaps even the highly sexualized Amazon of the past few years who became a super-couple with Superman?
For Jenkins, fortunately, there was no wavering. She was determined to bring to the big screen the fierce-but-compassionate type of Wonder Woman she first saw on the ’70s small screen.
“All these years, there’s been talk about Wonder Woman, and the thing I was very firm and steadfast about was: I only wanted to be involved in this if I can have a chance to bring back the Wonder Woman that I love,” Jenkins tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “I’m not interested in an alt-Wonder Woman; I’m not interested a new Wonder Woman. I’m interested in the Wonder Woman that I grew up with.
What Jenkins saw in TV’s bicentennial Wonder Woman was something close to the initial ideal of creator William Moulton Marston.
“It’s been interesting that she was created as such an idealized woman who is incredibly powerful who yet has everything about being a woman at her side,” Jenkins continues. “And it’s been funny: Lynda [Carter] was so that in the ’70s with her Wonder Woman.”
Jenkins entered her film fully aware that because Wonder Woman is the most iconic female superhero, she is freighted with more than her fair share of fan expectations.
“It’s been fascinating to follow the journey through the different chapters of [the public’s] relationship to her,” the director says, “to see what people want to take away from her and not realize that that’s what they were doing — by saying she should be tougher, that she should be harder, that she should be meaner or something different. What I was always saying was: Is that not us stripping away — why are we doing this to her?
As “Wonder Woman” opens, Jenkins laughs warmly at the early feedback to her take on the character.
“It was the irony of the movie that the assumption is: How did I make her tough and cool?” Jenkins says. “But it was the opposite.”
“The thing that was the more important struggle was to make sure that everybody understood that she should have vulnerabilities: weakness, kindness, accessibility, love and a journey,” the filmmaker adds. “Because that’s Wonder Woman. That’s what a universal character needs — they need every dimension fleshed out.”
In Jenkins’s film, Wonder Woman enters the world with a certain naivete about the depths of man’s inhumanity to man. As she adapts to these wartime conditions as a warrior, she never surrenders her compassion for human frailty and pain.
Also notable in the film are the moments when Wonder Woman must break free from physical restraint — scenes that carry much symbolism given that the character, from her very creation, broke chains to show her sense of emancipation.
“All the subtleties of [bondage] play into the nuances of it: How does this one superhero try to defeat [that], and the imagery and the familiarity of it is so powerful,” Jenkins says. “What will hold this person down? How do they break out of it? It takes the emotion of love to break that.”
Although Wonder Woman is the physical equal to Superman, Jenkins also believes it was important to show that her version of the character finds her deepest strength in such positive emotions as love.
“I love that she’s a complicated character in that way,” Jenkins says. “I also love that she’s unbelievably powerful when she uses her emotions for the right things.”