Since the merger between Warner Bros. and Discovery we’ve seen numerous shake-ups, including mass layoffs, changes to HBO Max and more. Undoubtedly the biggest announcement so far came in the cancellation of Batgirl.
Starring Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon – and featuring a guest appearance from Michael Keaton’s Batman – this Afro-Latina-led solo female DC film was in post-production and set for a HBO Max release, and cost $90 million to create.
After test screenings, DC announced that the film would be shelved entirely, much to the shock of many – including directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who were at a wedding at time of the announcement with no prior knowledge of the incoming news.
Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have released a statement about ‘BATGIRL’ being cancelled.
“As directors, it is critical that our work be shown to audiences… we wish that fans all over the world would have had the opportunity to see and embrace the final film themselves.” pic.twitter.com/ZDKeu1xtNl
— DiscussingFilm (@DiscussingFilm) August 3, 2022
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav defended the choice, stating: “The objective is to grow the DC brand, to grow the DC characters. But also, our job is to protect the DC brand, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Building on that, he revealed that a new 10-year plan is currently in place for the universe, not dissimilar to what we have seen with Marvel. “We have done a reset… We’ve restructured the business where we are going to focus, where there is going to be a team with a 10-year plan focusing just on DC. We believe we can build a much more sustainable business.”
And sure, that sounds all well and good… until you remember that DC has attempted this before and lost its way rather quickly.
The DCEU movies kicked off with Man of Steel, which then interconnected to Batman v Superman, Justice League, Wonder Woman, and Suicide Squad. However, after mixed reception – both critically and financially – DC spread its films and TV shows into a looser, more multiversal style project.
This opened the doors for Matt Reeve’s The Batman and Todd Phillip’s Joker. Both have been locked in for sequels, and the former even has a spin-off TV series starring Colin Farell’s Penguin. The Batman and Joker don’t exist in the same universe as one another, or with Ben Affleck’s DCEU Batman, but rather as standalone stories.
Then there are the Arrowverse shows like The Flash, Supergirl, and Arrow, which air on The CW. That self-contained universe is now winding down, but The Flash still has one more season to wrap things up.
Whilst the multiverse approach was confusing, DC did manage to pull off some decent wins in the last few years. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad was a refreshing sequel to a terrible first film, and it also captured Harley Quinn’s hilariously unhinged personality without the leering male gaze. Spin-off TV show Peacemaker also made headlines – particularly thanks to that iconic opening credits number.
Now though, this new direction puts things up in the air. How will the DC Universe operate going forward? We will be seeing films starring characters like Black Adam, Shazam, The Flash, and Aquaman over the next few years – but will their stories serve to reboot an entirely new universe (perhaps through the multiversal shenanigans already teased in trailers for The Flash), or will they still connect to the old one?
We also have The Batman 2 and Joker: Folie à Deux to think about – will these exist in their own universes like they have before? Or will DC try to weave these in with the new films going forward, considering that the first films were box office successes? Much remains unclear narratively – but it is obvious that DC lacks the patience to set up a cohesive and strong universe going forward.
DC has always been concerned about landing that one Avengers-style film that will rake in the cash. They tried it once with Justice League in 2017, but the film didn’t work, in part because viewers just didn’t have an attachment to the characters like they did with the heroes of the Avengers, who’d had multiple movies to establish their motives, powers, and backstories.
In addition, the MCU didn’t begin with its biggest comics characters. Iron Man was far from the fame of Spider-Man and the X-Men, but Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark went on to become the face of Marvel, and one of the most important characters within the Infinity Saga. DC doesn’t seem willing to take the same bets on its B-list characters.
To add injury to insult, many industry outlets suspect that the cancellation of Batgirl wasn’t down to creative reasons, but rather money (surprise, surprise). Allegedly, the film would make more dosh as a tax write-off than as a full release.
This also corroborates with the fact that Warner is continuing to plough ahead with the release of The Flash, despite multiple arrests and allegations against the lead actor, Ezra Miller, who most recently was charged with felony burglary and accused of grooming a minor. The decision is rather baffling.
Batgirl could have been an easy win for DC, and would have been a step in the right direction for Warner’s supposed commitment to telling diverse and inclusive stories. Cancelling it at the last minute – taking the directors and cast completely by surprise – doesn’t show that DC cares about protecting the brand. It demonstrates that they won’t put in the effort for any story that isn’t a ‘guaranteed’ humongous cash grab.
However, they lack the understanding of how to land a true superhero blockbuster, and they’ve set themselves back into the endless loop of confusing soft reboots once again.
What I’m watching this week
Though Arcane is a video game adaptation, you don’t need to know anything about League of Legends to enjoy it. With gorgeous visuals, high action, plenty of drama and a cracking voice cast (led by Hailee Steinfeld), this is one of the best animated shows of the year.
Arcane follows two sisters who are from the poor undercity of Zaun. When they and their friends steal something important from the rich city of Piltover, they create a series of events that change their lives for years to come.