Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ quest to gain equal footing with Disney and Marvel Studios’ Hollywood superheroes reached a new low with the reported cancellation of “Batgirl.”
Now that the Warner Bros./Discovery merger is complete, it seems the expectations for live-action adaptations featuring DC characters has changed drastically. When “Batgirl” was announced in 2021, it was intended to provide new superhero content for the HBO Max streaming service. Now, in the new regime of Warner Bros. Discovery, the company wants its DC superheroes starring only in blockbusters specifically made and financed for theatrical release.
Despite a budget that reportedly jumped from $75 million to $90 million, partially because of covid delays, “Batgirl” was never intended for the big screen.
The reporting on the cancellation has implied this decision has nothing to do with Grace, the Dominican singer-actress who won the role in part because of her standout performance in the film version of “In The Heights.” Her superhero debut now appears to be a casualty of war between the old and new strategies. On Wednesday she wrote on Twitter, “I am proud of the love, hard work and intention all of our incredible cast and tireless crew put into this film over 7 months in Scotland.”
Variety has reported that taxes and overall financial strategy could have been an issue as well, as their decision to shelve “Batgirl” — along with the Scooby Doo movie “Scoob!: Holiday Haunt” — could allow for a tax write-off.
The argument that it’s “not grand enough for the big screen” seems puzzling when you consider the all-star roster in front of and behind the camera.
“Batgirl” looked to be — at least from the few promotional photos — inspired by DC’s “Batgirl of Burnside” comics. It was directed by “Bad Boys For Life” directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, no strangers to directing young actresses of color in a superhero role after their work on “Ms. Marvel” with teenage star Iman Vellani for Marvel Studios and Disney Plus. On Wednesday the directors posted a statement on Instagram saying they are “saddened and shocked by the news,” and that “we wish that fans all over the world would have had the opportunity to see and embrace the final film themselves.”
One of the most dramatic aspects of the Batgirl mythos is that she is the daughter of Gotham City police commissioner Jim Gordon, who in many comic iterations is not aware his daughter is a crime-fighting vigilante. “Batgirl” starred J.K. Simmons as Gordon, continuing a role he began in Zack Snyder’s polarizing Justice League movies. Simmons is best known for giving one of the all-time great superhero movie performances in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy as Daily Bugle editor in chief J. Jonah Jameson. If Simmons is in your superhero movie, it’s a big deal.
Brendan Fraser, having already done stellar work for WB/DC in the HBO Max series “Doom Patrol,” was “Batgirl’s” villain, the pyromaniac Firefly. His attempt to add to an impressive array of DC movie villains over the years, from Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger, now goes up in smoke.
But the biggest holy cow moment of all from “Batgirl” was going to be the return of Keaton as Batman. There are few bigger deals in comic book culture than his answering a Bat-signal’s call in the 21st century. He is also set to resume the role in the upcoming “The Flash” movie starring Ezra Miller, scheduled for release in 2023, but given the recent controversies surrounding Miller, one must wonder whether we’ll ever see Keaton’s bat-comeback at all.
There were rumors back during Keaton’s initial run in “Batman” and “Batman Returns” that he’d be joined by a Black Robin the Boy Wonder. It never happened. Seeing Keaton’s Batman fight crime alongside a bat-person of color would have been a special moment. Now it’s just a special waste.
“Batgirl” making it this far only to never be seen is a new black eye for WB/DC, which continues to stumble over its own good intentions by not having a true Kevin Feige figure to come up with a master plan for its superheroes. The source material is there. If Zachary Levi’s Shazam was standing heroically over Henry Cavill’s Superman with lightning striking behind him in an ode to “Kingdom Come,” you think people wouldn’t pay money to see that? There remains no blueprint. And even the star power of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the upcoming “Black Adam” isn’t enough to offset the flood of continual bad news.
The DC Comics universe is rich with storytelling greatness — but its potential is squandered when well-known movie characters are canceled before they can be discovered.
This story has been updated.