comScore Jenkins' Wonder Woman to Be "Character-Driven" | The Mary Sue
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Jenkins’ Wonder Woman to Be “Character-Driven”; But Aren’t All Good Films?

Is "character-driven" code for "women's movie?"


We were thrilled that despite the sudden departure of Michelle MacLaren from Warner Bros’s Wonder Woman, that they quickly filled the director slot with another talented female director, Patty Jenkins. However, as word of what was actually behind the “creative differences” between Warner Bros and MacLaren has been released by industry insiders, I was left with mixed feelings about the project.

According to Variety:

MacLaren envisioned the DC Comics-based Wonder Woman movie as an epic origin tale in the vein of Braveheart, whereas Warner wanted a more character-driven story that was less heavy on action.

Warner executives, these insiders said, became increasingly concerned about MacLaren directing a large-scale, action-packed production when her experience was limited to the small screen, where she made her name directing episodes of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.

The studio is expected to stick with a more character-driven movie with Jenkins on board. Also an experienced TV director of shows including The Killing, she cut her teeth on the indie feature Monster.

They also report this:

MacLaren was also unaccustomed to the laborious development process associated with making movies. One source described that process as “tortuous” when it came to the pre-production of Wonder Woman. After Jason Fuchs delivered his script, the studio put as many as five other writers on the project to work up various scripts while executives simultaneously tested story concepts. “They didn’t like MacLaren’s test,” said one studio executive.

Now, Jenkins is a more experienced feature film director, so the second reason for MacLaren’s departure makes sense. If she wasn’t ready for the professional development process, she wasn’t ready. However, it’s the first reason for her leaving that left me with some pretty mixed feelings.

A female director wanted to make the Wonder Woman an action film – much like all the other superhero movies are action films. What’s more, she’s directed Game of Thrones, which has both character development and plenty of action (and is arguably film-like in its scope). Yet the reason for hiring Jenkins seems to be that Warner Bros. wants Wonder Woman to be more “character-driven.” This, to me, seems like code for “women’s movie,” and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Because to me, all good, quality films and television shows are “character-driven.”

The Avengers, despite all its action, is a character-driven film, because Joss Whedon is really good at combining the two. Hell, Braveheart is character-driven, too! “Character-driven” and “action” are not mutually exclusive – so why does it seem like they’re making a choice between the two? And what’s more – why are they making this particular choice? Is it because it’s Wonder Woman, and they figure that women will be going to see this film, and women like character stuff more than action stuff, so this is going to be character heavy? Have they not gotten the memo that women go see action movies all the time – particularly women who are into superhero movies, of which this will be one?

I worry that the Wonder Woman film will go heavy on the Diana but light on the Amazon, which would be a shame. It’s so rare that women even get “Braveheart moments” on screen. For example, one of the reasons why I love the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age (starring Cate Blanchett as the titular monarch), which is arguably an “indie,” “character-driven” film, is that Elizabeth gets to have that inspiring “Braveheart moment” on horseback while leading troops into battle:

I don’t know how Jenkins will handle Wonder Woman, and won’t know until the film comes out. However, I really hope that this isn’t an early indicator of problems. Because the best action films – hell, the best films period – are all character driven. And if that’s the case, women shouldn’t be denied a full-on action film with a female protagonist at its core.

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