‘Wonder Woman’: How Patty Jenkins Saved the DC Extended Universe

Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ten months before “Wonder Woman” was released, an open letter made headlines for claiming the movie was a “mess.” Director Patty Jenkins responded.

“Real lasso of truth, time, will reveal that letter to be false soon enough,” she wrote. “But lame something so transparent in its agenda gets traction.”

Ten months later, Jenkins got her validation. The film won over 93% of critics, and audiences responded too, giving it an A CinemaScore overall. And now, with over $100 million at the domestic box office, “Wonder Woman” has been crowned the largest opening weekend ever for a female-directed film.

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“She has a mindset and a vision and just an approach that is so smart and exciting,” Warner Bros. distribution chief Jeff Goldstein said of the director. “She is a great storyteller — fun and innovative.”

It’s a sentiment that’s tough to argue with now, but when Jenkins responded to the open letter in August of 2016, she was fighting an uphill battle; that was before she shifted the narrative of the DC Extended Universe.

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the obligatory point of comparison for all DC films, and visa versa) had found a way to appease the critical community with Joss Whedon’s witty “Marvel’s The Avengers” and James Gunn’s joke-dense “Guardians of the Galaxy,” DC Extended Universe movies had earned a reputation for being dark and dour. Earlier that month “Suicide Squad” was panned by critics, as was “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” before it. With “Wonder Woman,” Warner Bros. and DC didn’t just need another movie that made a lot of money — it needed a quality film (that also made a lot of money).

Which is what they got, but it wasn’t always a sure thing. For example, Jenkins wasn’t the studio’s first choice. In April 2015, Michelle MacLaren parted ways with the project, citing the clichéd “creative differences” that only sparked more questions. “Wonder Woman” also had the added pressure of being the first of 19 films between the Marvel and DC movies universes to be centered on a female character, let alone have a woman at the helm. That made the film inherently political, leading to events like the screening in Austin, Texas that sparked backlash (and backlash to the backlash) for hosting a screening exclusively for women.

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But in the end, Jenkins got results. In an interview with Collider, the director said she has no deleted scenes to add as bonus content for the “Wonder Woman” DVD because they don’t exist — the movie that’s in theaters is the movie she wanted to make. That’s more than can be said for “Suicide Squad.” She also knew the movie had to appeal to young girls, who would inevitably see the film. That wasn’t just a creative decision, but a business one as well. When “Suicide Squad” was released, Goldstein told Variety, “We’re resonating with a younger audience. The younger the audience, the higher the [Cinema]Score.” And then there’s that tone. “The thing I think is so important to always keep in mind about her is how positive and bright and shiny she is,” Jenkins told Rolling Stone.

Andrew Barker hit on a lot of this in his review for Variety: “It says quite a lot about the general tenor of the DC cinematic universe that a film set in the trenches of WWI, with a plot revolving around the development of chemical warfare, is nonetheless its most cheerful and kid-friendly entry,” he wrote.

For Warner Bros. and the DCEU, “Wonder Woman” represents a shift in tone that might set a precedent for the films to come. Although he emphasized that each movie is treated as an individual entity, and each director is privy to their own style, Goldstein acknowledged the crucial timing of “Wonder Woman’s” success across the board.

“We realized we had issues at the beginning of this process. We were heavily criticized. Some movies work, some movies don’t work. We all hope for movies like this. This, for us, couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said.

“Wonder Woman” — like any super hero movie with over $150 million riding on it, but with more loaded gender politics — could have been a mess. Now there’s almost sure to be a sequel. Thank goodness Jenkins held onto her lasso of truth tight.

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  1. Apres says:

    And where did I just read that the sequel is already in the works . . . without Patty Jenkins! Watch that bomb like The Mummy, Baywatch and all those boring remakes they want us to sit through.

  2. KT Chong says:

    IMO, Wonder Woman’s opening box office might have been hurt by Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. A week before Wonder Woman opened, I talked to my coworkers and friends about Wonder Woman and the upcoming summer movies. All of us had decided that we would NOT see Wonder Woman. We had seen the last two DC movies, and they sucked. We did not want to waste our money on the third movie when the last two movies from the same franchise/universe sucked. We expected Wonder Woman to suck like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad.

    When Wonder Woman’s Rotten Tomatoes score came out, (which was 97% at first,) I was intrigued. Then I got an offer of a 3D IMAX ticket for $4. So I was, what the heck, let’s give it a chance. I went see it. I enjoyed it; it did not suck like Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. None of my coworkers and friends has seen it yet. They still have the bad aftertaste of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad in their mouths. However, I recommended Wonder Woman to them. (I am still not seeing Justice League though because Zack Snyder is the director.)

  3. BMAN says:

    Zack Snyder is a talented director in my opinion. Man Of Steel is a great film and BVS is a good film despite its flaws. He doesn’t deserve all the crap he’s getting from all of his critics. With Zack Snyder, Patty Jenkins and Joss Whedon on board with the DCEU, the future looks bright.

  4. Meow meow says:

    Ww is a very good movie but its not as great as what people are making it out to be. Watch the numbers in the following weekend and see.

  5. Daniel Keller says:

    Zach Snyder is actually a great producer and director. He actually understands the character and what he is going through. Imagine just being introduced into Earth. You know nothing about it, but try to stay good and then someone like Zod and his two members attack. Zod doesn’t want to take the fight outside of the city. He’s using the world engine to turn earth into Krypton. So the main reason for the loss of life was the world engine. Then there is BvS it was alright for introducing Batman into it, but they could have kept Doomsday for another movie.

  6. SmartMFer says:

    Zack Snyder has been allowed to fail upwards at WB for far too long. His style was the problem with the DC films. Hopefully the success of Wonder Woman won’t all be pissed away when Zack Snyder’s Justice League drops later this year. Can Joss right the ship this late in the game?

    • Wanderer says:

      You could say Zack Snyder’s DC films are divisive and received mixed reviews (Man of Steel) or a critical drubbing (Batman v Superman), but they made money for WB. As long as he keeps making money for WB he will keep working with the studio. The film industry is first and foremost a business. It’s about making money first and critical praise second.

      And some of the credit for Wonder Woman’s success has to go to Zack Snyder. He is one of the producers of the movie and he co-wrote the story. And let’s not forget that it was Snyder who chose Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman. Petty Jenkins said she was a bit apprehensive when she came on board as director because the lead role had already been cast. But after meeting Gal Gadot all her fears disappeared as she realized Snyder had chosen a great Wonder Woman.

      • Jason Klawon says:

        Snyder still directed Gadot like a wet paper bag in BvS so what is your point? He’s an incredibly boring Director who makes Michael Bay seem like Stanley Kubrick.

        In BvS her costume was BROWN. Lol.

        Yeah, he’s soooo visionary. Batman running around with a spear. Lois runs around with a spear. Superman stupidly doesn’t hand it to an amazon who is running around with archaic weapons.

        Sheer genius.

  7. JJ A says:

    Except DCEU didn’t need any saving.

    • Jason Klawon says:

      I love how Batman is inspired by Superman’s complete stupidity to form Wanker Patrol. Snyder really knows how to throw shit at a green screen doesn’t he?

      • Screen Name says:

        The point to be taken here is that you are talking about what Zack Snyder is doing. But Snyder isn’t talking about what you are doing. And he never will.

  8. liquidmuse says:

    Vasquez…there’s a 40 point difference between MOS and WW in terms of critics’ aggregate. Maybe your opinion is the outlier? And since that seems to be the case, we can surmise that you’re probably wrong about the box office, since SO MANY females are seeing it and freaking out about it (as opposed to plain ol Superman), and the word of mouth is truly special for this thing, as opposed to the dour Man of Steel.

  9. JayB says:

    Really enjoyed “Wonder Woman,” in fact saw it twice opening weekend. Didn’t care for MOS or BvS, but WW was exciting, funny, great characters and lots of heart. Hope DC gets the message and make more movies like this one.

  10. Vasquez1992 says:

    First of all MOS is better than WW, and WW will make the least amount of money of all the DCEU movies.

    • um... says:

      i’m going to assume you mean domestic, because ww will crush mos worldwide but that’s more due to mos being released before studios really mastered releasing in foreign territories in the past couple years. right now, wonder woman made $16 million less than man of steel opening weekend, but man of steel plummeted 64.6% to $41 million in weekend two. if ww holds like guardians of the galaxy 2 did (which ww is tracking very close to), ww should have a bigger second weekend than mos and be on pace to potentially outearn mos domestically (all on about half the budget of mos).

    • Jason Klawon says:

      Man of Steel was pure trash. Clark was a coward with bad taste in clothing. Wandering around with a vinnie Barbarino mullet as a homeless emo lumberjack with Daddy and Christ issues.

      I didn’t know Clark went to Catholic school before Zod staged a coup de tat while it was blowing up. Lol!!!!

      Pa Kent “Clark, what the fuck are you doing trying to SAVE people…you should let those kids drown and sit on tractors like a manic depressed asshole. It’s ok to use your abilties to make out with Women on top of screaming civilians …plus you can use them to threaten the military. Saving people? Hell no. Now get to churchin you little brat!”

      • civilwarsux says:

        They didn’t make out on top of screaming civilians. MOS is a great movie. The extended cut of batman vs superman is a pretty good movie. Have you watched comic book movies? They all have really stupid things in them. Good god.

        The irony here is you probably thought the dark knight trilogy was the greatest set of movies of all time, even though they were dark, drab, full of plot holes and with the exception of the joker, very boring.

  11. Sam says:

    Jenkins probably made it clean to Warner Brothers that she (and other directors both male and female)will not do a dull and boring female version of Man of Steel and Superman vs. Batman. If want to continue with that, get Zack Synder.

  12. Bas says:

    All these great development coupled with AT&T paying $109 Billion primarily for Warner Brothers and it sister company HBO with the former becoming the division that houses the latter and the Turner networks [If Aporoved]. Wonderful Article.

  13. Joey Davis says:

    “Thank goodness Jenkins held onto her lasso of truth tight.” No, thank GODDESS she did.

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