‘Wonder Woman’ Flipping the superhero script

By Ryan Faughnder

Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Diana, princess of the Amazons, better known as Wonder Woman, has spent 75 years saving the world in DC comic books and TV shows, and has fought alongside Batman and Superman with her sword and Lasso of Truth. Still, her male counterparts have hogged the big-screen glory.

That ends this weekend when Warner Bros. finally releases its $150 million production of “Wonder Woman,” which could become the first superhero blockbuster with a woman in the lead. The film also features a female director, Patty Jenkins, a rarity in an industry often faulted for its lack of diversity.

“Wonder Woman” represents a major test for Warner Bros.’ key DC comic book movie franchise. The studio has made a massive bet on films adapted from DC’s superhero library, including last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” which together generated $1.6 billion in global ticket sales but were panned by critics and some fans.

All signs point to a strong box-office debut for Wonder Woman, a character who last commanded a mass audience when Lynda Carter played her in a 1970s TV show. Anticipation kicked into high gear last year when the bracelet-wearing warrior, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, first appeared in “Batman v Superman.”

“Wonder Woman” is on track to debut with $80 million to $90 million in ticket sales from the United States and Canada, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys.

The movie is likely to benefit from growing anticipation for Wonder Woman to reclaim her pop culture throne after past false starts. Director Joss Whedon was tapped to make a Wonder Woman film for Warner Bros. more than a decade ago, but that project fizzled. A 2011 TV pilot for NBC never aired. Before Jenkins, Michelle MacLaren was hired to direct the upcoming “Wonder Woman” film, but she left the project in 2015 because of creative differences with the studio.

And after multiple Batman and Superman reboots, Diana is a relatively fresh presence at the multiplex. So far, critics have praised “Wonder Woman” for its humor, action and performance by Gadot.

“It sounds like it’s getting DC on the right track,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst for BoxOffice.com. “It could really turn the tide for them. Buzz is ramping up in a pretty big way for it.”

A successful launch for “Wonder Woman” would help solidify Warner Bros.’ footing as it competes with Disney’s Marvel Studios. Warner Bros. has several other superhero movies underway, including “Justice League,” “Aquaman” and “Cyborg.” Expanding the DC franchise has been a crucial pillar of Chairman and Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara’s plan to grow the studio.

Beyond ticket sales, superhero movies fuel sales of toys, video games and even fashion lines. The studio is teaming with brands and retailers for clothes and accessories such as Betsey Johnson backpacks, Alex & Ani charm bracelets and Nanette Lepore watches featuring the famed double W insignia. Pieces from designers such as Louis Vuitton and Versace will be displayed and auctioned for charity at a June 7 event in Paris.

Jenkins’ new grown-up “Wonder Woman” is an original story set in 1918. Diana has trained as an unstoppable warrior in the lush, secret island paradise of Themyscira, which was given to the Amazons by Zeus. But she discovers her true calling as a hero when she meets World War I pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).

Fans have been waiting for decades for a successful female superhero movie, which would counteract outdated industry reservations about the ability of women to carry blockbusters (a notion already shattered by Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games”).

Girl power has fueled much of the “Wonder Woman” marketing campaign, estimated to total $125 million to $150 million in spending. The posters for the film feature Gadot in muscular poses on her own, largely leaving out male costars such as Pine from the recent “Star Trek” movies.

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