Patty Jenkins was always going to make history. Back in 2011, the “Monster” director was picked to helm Marvel’s first “Thor” sequel, making her not only the first female filmmaker to direct one of the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe’s films, but the first to direct any studio-backed big-budget superhero franchise film. (Lexi Alexander broke similar ground when she directed “Punisher: War Zone” in 2008, though that film is not part of a wider franchise and was produced by Lionsgate.) After just two months on the project, Jenkins and Marvel parted ways – the old “creative differences” line was tossed around by both sides – and the job eventually went to Alan Taylor.
Jenkins moved on, turning her attention to prestige TV like “The Killing” and “Betrayal,” but the superhero world kept calling. Six years later, Jenkins finally got her superhero property, thanks to the DC Extended Universe and their much-anticipated (and so far extremely well-reviewed) “Wonder Woman.”
Despite so much time passing – and so many superhero films being made over the last half-decade – Jenkins is breaking down the same barrier she was poised to smash in 2011, and is now officially the first female director of a studio-backed superhero franchise film. Finally, she can beam with pride.
“I was the person who had been coming and talking to them about it for a long time and talking about doing it in a very specific way,” she said in a recent interview. “When the studio finally realized that was the way they wanted to do it, too, I was the obvious choice.” But that realization didn’t happen overnight.
The Long Road to “Wonder Woman”
A standalone “Wonder Woman” film was bandied about long before Warner Bros. and DC launched their Extended Universe, first picking up steam back in 1996, when Ivan Reitman was attached to write and direct a feature. The project languished for years, until WB announced that Joss Whedon was coming on board in 2005. That’s when Jenkins first got involved.
“Every time there was any idea that Wonder Woman might get made, I was in there talking to them about it, and then it just never culminated. It never progressed anywhere, it was just always loose conversations,” Jenkins said.
Whedon never completed his script, eventually leaving the project for good in 2007. Three years later, yet another incarnation was announced, one that would fold into the burgeoning DCEU. In 2014, the studio snagged another female director for the gig – Michelle MacLaren, a lauded Emmy winner best known for her work on “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead” – who left six months later, also for “creative differences.”
Within days, Jenkins came on board to direct the film, based on a screenplay by Allan Heinbeg and a story co-written by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Geoff Johns and Jason Fuchs. It was a project she was more than ready to take on. She’d been waiting long enough.
As Kevin Silverman, president of creative development and worldwide production for Warner Bros., recently told The Hollywood Reporter, “Patty and Michelle were really the ones who came to the forefront the first go-round, so when things didn’t work out with Michelle, we all knew we had someone great who had expressed interest before. It was never about the best female director. She has demonstrated doing amazing work with female characters.”
“My entire career trajectory headed this way, because I one day wanted to make a film like this,” Jenkins said. “I didn’t know that I would be the one who got to make ‘Wonder Woman.’ In a way, this movie is the movie I’m more prepared for than anything I’ve ever done, because it was always something I wanted. It was worth the wait.”
That doesn’t mean the wait was always easy or particularly fun. Jenkins is the first one to admit that leaving “Thor 2” was a formative experience that only pushed her to become a better filmmaker, and one prepared to take on the demands of “Wonder Woman” and the DCEU.
“The education of going through the ‘Thor’ experience was great,” Jenkins said. “Every moment ended up only helping what we’re doing now.”
But that only captures half the story, and when pressed to explain further what happened on “Thor 2,” Jenkins let loose.
Being a Real-Life Superhero
“It was painful and sad because I really loved those guys and I loved the idea of us making a ‘Thor’ together, but it’s one of those things,” Jenkins said. “You have to make sure that the movie you want to make is fully the right movie for that studio too. It was heartbreaking, but I also knew that it was good.”
She added, “I knew that it was good because I didn’t think I could make a great film out of their script.”
The director’s initial plan for her “Thor 2” was a Romeo-and-Juliet-esque space opera that hinged on the separation of Thor and Jane Foster, a tone and direction that’s very different from what emerged in Taylor’s final film.
And Jenkins wasn’t just worried that “Thor 2” wasn’t the right film for her, she was also deeply conscious of the effect it could have on other female filmmakers. “If I do it, and it’s what I think it’s gonna be, I can’t help the fact that it will represent women directors everywhere, and then that’s going to be bad for everybody,” she said.
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