Film

A ‘gamble’ on a woman-centered blockbuster pays off in ‘Wonder Woman’

by George Hadley-Garcia

Special To The Japan Times

Director Patty Jenkins has been the talk of Tinseltown lately as the woman behind “Wonder Woman,” a Warner Bros./DC Comics blockbuster that has already broken a few records at the box office. It’s a triumphant comeback for a director whose last big film was the 2003 film “Monster,” which won lead star Charlize Theron an Oscar.

“The wait was worth it,” Jenkins tells The Japan Times. In between her films, the 46-year-old honed her skills in television, working on shows such as “The Killing” and “Entourage.” She took her time choosing a second feature film.

“I was apprehensive about doing a woman-centered film that might fail,” Jenkins says. “Like it or not, every female director is an ambassador for the gender, since there are so few of us. Fortunately with ‘Wonder Woman,’ the studio waited for a good script and I had input and we were able to deliver a picture that pleases people on various levels. In other words, we didn’t cop out.”

“Wonder Woman” has so far taken in $800 million worldwide and its opening weekend haul was the best ever for a film helmed by a female director. No doubt there will be more than a few young girls dressing up like its main character this Halloween.

“Everyone thought it was a gamble, to some extent,” says the actress who plays Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, “but it was a risk worth taking. It filled a big, obvious gap.”

Israel-born Gadot, 32, appeared briefly as Wonder Woman in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” last year. Before that she had a recurring role in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.

She feels the success of “Wonder Woman” is due primarily to Jenkins — and the director has reportedly signed on to helm the next installment — but she also credits the current zeitgeist in which women are seeking “a role model and hero who transcends nationality and politics.” The film goes into her character’s origin story, which takes place during the first World War as opposed to the second, where the original comic placed it.

Jenkins grew up in a military family; her father was a U.S. Air Force captain and fighter pilot. Gadot is no stranger to the military herself, having served for two years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat trainer, which helped her land the part.

“The producers wanted to use my ability with weapons,” she recalls. “My two years in the IDF were invaluable because it wasn’t about me or any one person. It was about the common good and it taught me discipline and respect.”

“The shoots were so intensive — six days a week for six months. What Patty cared about most was the emotional fate of a fight, because we’d do the drills and the choreography, and you can have them down technically, but if the emotion is not specific then Patty would say, ‘It’s not going to translate as well. Let’s do it again.'”

Gadot believes this is why Wonder Woman “is so relatable. There is dimensionality beneath her facade, something comic-book characters were not always known for.”

The actress adds that the blend Jenkins was able to effect, a character who is strong and compassionate, is what makes her stand out among the current crop of comic book heroes on the big screen.

“There was (studio) concern that the film not be too overtly feminist and thereby alienate some male viewers and those teenage girls who usually go to the movies and see what their boyfriend chooses,” Jenkins says. “On the other hand, I didn’t want to bring out a shallow project centered on feminine eye candy.”

The director notes that Wonder Woman’s origin story includes a male character (and romantic interest) named Steve Trevor, who is played by Chris Pine, the pilot of a downed plane who must be returned to and accompanies Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) to “the world of men.”

“He is her guide, because she has only known the idyllic all-female island colony of Themyscir,” Jenkins says. “It’s not an ideal situation — the male guide and ‘teacher’ of the unknowing female — but it was a requirement for this one time.”

She adds that Wonder Woman “doesn’t remain a babe in the woods for long. She is intuitively very intelligent, but she’s not, despite her super-powers, one to react rashly. She takes in a situation and figures out who is for good and who is out to exploit and use power for personal ends.”

The introduction to the so-called world of men provides the film with its share of comedic moments, including Wonder Woman’s experiences of things such as snow and ice cream for the first time.

“I think (those moments) are charming,” Gadot says, “but it still has plenty of time for the conflicts and derring-do.”

The film cost $150 million — “a very wise investment, in hindsight,” Jenkins notes — and the returns have made everything worth it. What you can’t put a price on is the idea of bringing in a whole new group of fans into Warner’s DC film universe, girls who are seeing themselves represented in such an awesome way. When it comes to the Wonder Woman in their lives, both Jenkins and Gadot mention their mothers — an environmental scientist and a teacher, respectively.

“Many of us who make it in this business have strong role models in our mothers,” Jenkins says. “That’s not always the case with many — perhaps most — young women worldwide. That’s why a Wonder Woman takes on far more importance than the average (comic book) super-hero.”

“Wonder Woman” opens in cinemas nationwide on Aug. 25.