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Will DC’s Tone Problem Affect WONDER WOMAN?

Will DC’s Tone Problem Affect WONDER WOMAN?

There was an elephant in the edit bay that no one was talking about. It was hinted at and motioned towards—its lumbering presence a thrust for many inquiries—but no one was willing to look it directly in the face and call it by name. And yet there it was, peeking out of the corner of many of the questions asked by the journalists attending the edit bay visit for the upcoming cinematic version of Wonder Woman. Of course we are talking about the DC Comics‘ movie universe’s dark and gritty, self-serious tone. And with a film as arguably important as Wonder Woman—the first female superhero film—we had to ask: would that same tone, look, and feel be lofted upon Patty Jenkins and Diana of Themyscira? So we confronted the elephant directly.

“That was my obsession, was tone,” explained Jenkins. “Coming in I was like, ‘OK, we have to be careful it doesn’t look like a BBC documentary so it looks silly when someone in a superhero costume comes on’—we have to hit exactly that pocket. You’ve got to hit that little pocket of comic superhero, and then you bring it into a comic version of that period of time, and then they start culminating right here.”


For DC, that pocket has generally been pretty grim. Since the early aughts, DC has, knowingly or otherwise, selected directors and writers that prefer dark and gritty realism marked with hyper-violence and bleak color schemes to make their films. It’s the polar opposite of Marvel’s slate, filled with upbeat dialogue, colorful visuals, and a witty, at-times-meta tone. A smart move in theory: let fans of one way of comic book movie-ing have their fun, and the others can play in this sandbox. The point of view is less about the action-y fantastical, and more about the serious gravity of these heroes’ obligations.

But that didn’t work out so well for them. Catwoman, Constantine (the Keanu iteration), Superman Returns, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad—all dark and brooding, the lot of them (don’t let Suicide Squad‘s vibrant Joker or Harley fool you)—weren’t hugely beloved, among fans and critics alike. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy of Batman fare, DC Comics’ dark and gritty seriousness has simply not worked for one reason or another. How Wonder Woman would continue or buck the trend, however, has been a constant question.


For Jenkins, Wonder Woman is an idealist and that’s what sets her apart and defines her. “She has a very strong point of view, she believes in truth. … All the superheroes have [their reasons, but], she’s one of the only ones I can think of that has a belief system that’s almost religious—’I believe in the betterment of you and I believe in love and truth and I believe that you can all be better and I will fight to protect you, but I also believe in better than that’ and outing that? That’s wonderful to work with, wonderful.”

To hold such idealist beliefs while still being a superhero of tremendous power is exactly the sort of cognitive dissonance that can be hard to balance, but Jenkins believes can be achieved in the film’s tone—even in a film about a war as complicated as World War I. Because that’s reality.

“I believe that the truth has both. I’ve had tragedy in my life and it doesn’t stop comedy, you know? I think it’s important to do both, particularly in a superhero movie but even in any movie that accesses all people—nobody wants to be abused for 2 hours. I think entertainment is ebb and flow.”


While that is true, there’s no denying the fact that comic book films, with shared universes, ultimately have to fall in line with what the executives paying for—and distributing—the movie want. So we asked Jenkins point blank: is there a particular tone or guideline DC Comics has passed down to its directors? No, insists Jenkins.

“From my point of view, there is no mandate on tone that I experienced. … I think Chris Nolan had a serious tone and then Zack [Snyder] has a different tone that’s also serious in a different way, so I think it became a perception there was one tone, but that’s not what I’ve heard encouraged.”

She went on to add: “I think every filmmaker is making their own movie in the tone they see right for that movie, and I had no pressure on me to not do the same. […] I think that will be true with Aquaman and Flash and all of these movies—I don’t think there is one tone. I heard there were different superheroes and I was coming in to make one, and I was supported in making it the tone I wanted.”


In the footage that was screened for critics and journalists at the event, Wonder Woman certainly seemed different in dialogue and point of view: the conversations felt less cumbersome, more earnest and vulnerable (thanks in part to the actors in the roles) than chockablock with grandstanding braggadocious Serious Superhero-ness, but there’s also a vibrancy to the colors on-screen. Blues and reds were lush, you didn’t have to squint to see what was happening (compared to the dark reality of this new world Gotham), and jewel tones brought the world of Themyscira to fantastical life, a visual setting so different from previous DC work you couldn’t help but feel a difference (even if the island was still only in mock-ups). It felt grounded in reality the way that most DC films do, but in a much different way from the rest.

Make no mistake: Wonder Woman is serious. There’s a darkness to the story that’s inescapable in a wartime tale. But Wonder Woman will be different. For DC, Wonder Woman marks a refreshingly new point of view in what it means to be one of their serious comic book folks—even if they end up putting some sorta Kelvin filter on the final cut like a bad Instagrammer. Will it show the comic book house a new way to confront their elephant? Only time will tell.

Are you looking forward to Wonder Woman? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Warner Brothers

Alicia Lutes is the managing editor of Nerdist & creator/host of Fangirling. Find her on Twitter if you want!

And if you’re looking for more Wonder Woman scoopage from our time talking to Patty, watch this!

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