Barbara Gordon doesn’t get any respect
You can’t help but notice the timing.
About a week and a half ago Marvel Studios unveiled their cinematic plans through 2025, announcing the next entries in what is now being referred to as “The Multiverse Saga” with interconnected movies and streaming series culminating in another two-part Avengers finale. Directors have already been hired, plans made and more, even as the studio preps for the debut of “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” on Disney+ and basks in the success of the latest Thor movie.
And based on how recent Marvel Studios have gone, it’s reasonable to speculate that the embrace of the “multiverse” will allow it to bring together several disparate efforts from recent years – the Netflix Defenders, Fox Mutants and anything else that isn’t connected to Spider-Man and therefore controlled by Sony – under one roof, plucking the best from each territory to build the next decade of cultural dominance.
This approach, where everything is connected and each chapter builds toward a conclusion (that isn’t really a conclusion but simply the jumping off point for what’s next), has been refined by Marvel Studios and Disney over the last several years.
By way of answer to this latest onslaught, Warner Bros. Discovery (the name of the new post-merger company) has decided to trip over its own shoelaces and faceplant into an anti-personnel mine.
As evidence, see the decision announced earlier this week to unexpectedly shelf the nearly-complete Batgirl movie starring Leslie Grace.
The film didn’t have an official release date. And whether it was going to be released theatrically or just on HBO Max was a conversation that seemed to go back and forth, especially as Discovery exerted more control over the company and its output.
But, at least for now, it won’t be seen anywhere, reportedly because the studio has calculated it can get more from not releasing it at all and taking the tax writeoff than it could from sending it to theaters, streaming, VOD or other platforms.
Putting aside whether test screenings were lukewarm, or if there was internal disagreement about whether to invest more money in order to make it a bigger theatrical “spectacle”, this is a weird decision.
It’s hard to think of any recent precedent for a studio to remove a film entirely from release consideration. Dates have been pushed back, movies removed from calendars for a while for various reasons and plans otherwise altered, but for a title to just be spiked completely, especially when it’s this close to being finished, is just insane.
Not only that, but it’s hard to imagine WBD making the same decision if a Batman or Superman movie was getting the same early reactions. And it’s worth pointing out Batgirl’s $90 million budget is just a little more than Warner Bros. gave Zack Snyder to reclaim Justice League and turn it into an even longer and more incoherent movie, with the studio specifically using it as a lure to build HBO Max subscriptions.
This news comes just a few months after the company shut down pre-production on a planned Wonder Twins film, again citing the “it would cost too much to make it theatrical but it’s too expensive for streaming” justification.
These are just the latest examples of the lack of coherent or consistent strategy or plan around the DC cinematic franchise.
- Man of Steel 2 eventually became Batman v Superman, which was delayed a by nearly a year because Zack Snyder needed “more time”
- Suicide Squad was effectively taken out of the hands of director David Goyer, with editing turned over in part to a trailer production agency. The movie was such a disappointment with critics and fans the sequel The Suicide Squad effectively ignores it and starts over, only carrying Harley Quinn over.
- We all know what happened when the studio tried to create a Justice League team movie
- At one point there were three different Joker movies in development but only one wound up getting made
- A proposed Harley Quinn solo movie eventually became Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey, which again just doesn’t bother with much of what’s come before
- Green Lantern Corps was announced at SDCC 2015 but, aside from a few vague comments, it seems like this is dead in the water. A TV series from producer Greg Berlanti was also announced a while ago but it’s been a bit since there was any public momentum on it
- New Gods was announced in 2018 with Ava DuVernay directing and comics superstar Tom King writing, but the project was killed in 2021
- A Cyborg solo film was announced in 2014 and even given a 2020 release date, but that never happened
That’s actually just a small sampling of the projects that have been canceled, altered and otherwise taken to a farm upstate. Over the course of all this, the studio managed to burn almost all the goodwill earned by Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn by constantly shifting her character around. That goes right up to just days ago, when Lady Gaga confirmed she’ll play Harley in a sequel to Joker.
It also throws everything currently planned for the near future into doubt.
Solo movies featuring Static Shock, Blue Beetle, Zatanna and Booster Gold were expected to go to HBO Max but now it seems those films will either be shut down before production begins or have their budgets increased to make them worthy of theatrical release. Given projects with characters who aren’t white men seem to be first on the chopping block, it’s not recommended you hold your breath for these to come out.
If WBD is truly emphasizing theatrical features for its DC properties, it makes the potential for a second season of “Peacemaker” questionable, though director James Gunn has said things are still set on that front, and might even throw the various spinoffs of The Batman into the Maybe Pile.
Most notably, the question now becomes what WBD does with The Flash.
Being generous, the movie originally had a 2018 release date, but that was four directors and six screenwriters ago. It was positioned by the studio as being a new start for the DCEU that fully embraced a Multiverse encompassing both the cinematic and television iterations of characters. Big buzz surrounded announcements Michael Keaton was returning as Batman and Sasha Calle had been cast as Supergirl, the latter being setup for her own later solo outing.
Over the last several months star Ezra Miller has been arrested for harassment multiple times and has more recently faced charges he’s holding people in Vermont on a farm stocked with firearms and that he’s harassed others overseas.
So with a budget of $200 million (but likely more than that given the multiple stops and starts it’s experienced), does Warner Discovery cut its losses on this film and let it fall to the ash heap? The idea of trying to promote anything with Miller has to be extremely unattractive right now, though the studio hasn’t let past incidents with the actor stop it from including him in DC and Wizarding World projects. And if it does, what does that mean for Calle’s Supergirl or Keaton’s Batman?
There have been multiple reports over the last few years that the studio doesn’t know what to do with Superman (which is mind-boggling in and of itself) but it seems few there know what to do with any of their super hero characters.
Each time a new leadership team comes in they seem intent on burning down the projects of the previous administration and creating their own “10-year plan”. While that might be standard operating procedure in Hollywood, the impact is different when you’re trying to create a cohesive universe of characters and stories since no plan ever has enough time to get any traction. And knee-jerk decisions are made at the studio level that never make anything better.
For years WB has said it needs a figure like Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige to oversee everything, but the four or five people it’s tried to put into that role have never been given the power to make changes, nor have they lasted long enough before they’re shuffled out after their first movie doesn’t have a $500 million opening weekend.
It’s extremely disappointing to see Batgirl cast aside like this. The project seemed to have a lot going for it and likely would have worked on either the small or big screen. More than that, it’s disappointing to see there still isn’t a plan other than to keep letting Marvel/Disney+ dominate the super hero genre both in theaters and on streaming.