The creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer says that he failed to find a story with Batgirl.
Holy Faithless Sidekick, Robin! In a rather shocking turn of events, The Hollywood Reporter announced today that Joss Whedon would be leaving the Warner Brothers’ Batgirl project. Whedon has been attached to the film since last year, and due to his past success with not only Marvel’s The Avengers but his historic run on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, fandom thought this reboot was a sure thing. Obviously, the DCEU has had its peaks and valleys since its inception, but the lukewarm response to Justice League might have been the breaking point for the director.
Whedon took over directing duties on Justice League when Zack Snyder had to depart after his family tragedy (although conflicting reports have stated otherwise). Rumors swirl saying that Whedon shot anywhere from 20%-90% of the film, and the final result was a flailing mess. That was probably not the boost of confidence Whedon was looking for going into production on Batgirl.
Whedon told The Hollywood Reporter that, after a year with the character, he simply doesn’t have any place to go with Barbara Gordon:
“Batgirl is such an exciting project, and Warners/DC are such collaborative and supporting partners, that it took me months to realize I really didn’t have a story.”
No story? As a longtime Whedon obsessive, I find this very hard to believe. This is the man who refused to see his Buffy creation parish on the cinematic vine, rebooting the character to astounding success for the WB. Pulling a reverse, when Fox painfully mishandled his Firefly series, Whedon convinced the studio to continue their adventures in Serenity. Jumping into the comic book medium, Whedon followed one of the most successful X-Men runs in history with his own mini-masterpiece, “The Astonishing X-Men.”
Is it possible that he just couldn’t crack this nut? Sure. Pulling Batgirl out of the Batman mythos that’s already been established/bungled in the eyes of some, and solidifying her as her own mighty mortal could cause some serious mental strain. Especially if Warner Brothers has plans for the character that don’t jive with Whedon’s concept.
He seems to have no ill will towards DC President Geoff Johns and Warner Brothers Picture Group President Toby Emmerich:
“I’m grateful to Geoff and Toby and everyone who was so welcoming when I arrived, and so understanding when I…uh, is there a sexier word for ‘failed?'”
Failed? Oof. That hurts. Whedon has never shied away from self-depreciation. When Avengers: Age of Ultron seemed to disappoint critics and fans alike, Whedon took to the San Diego Comic Con Hall H stage the following year to painfully discuss his own misgivings. I was there. It was a brutally honest, and a somewhat harsh condemnation of his sequel.
He told Variety in 2016 that after the release of Ultron he was emotionally beaten down by the process of making such a gargantuan blockbuster. He blamed himself then too. Talking about the exhaustion of taking on such a beast he said:
“I think that did a disservice to the movie and the studio and to myself. It was not the right way to be, because I am very proud of it. The things about it that are wrong frustrate me enormously, and I had probably more of those than I had on the other movies I made.”
After dipping his toe back into the superhero waters with Justice League, maybe Whedon just wasn’t prepared to get that tired again. Batgirl had already eaten up a year of his life, and that’s time he wasn’t devoting to the other projects percolating in his brain. Superhero cinema is a hungry monster.
It’s also possible that Joss Whedon just wasn’t the man for the job. We’ve had our fill of white-male led heroics, and if Wonder Woman and Black Panther proved anything, it’s that there is a desire to see authenticity of experience behind the camera.
The Hollywood Reporter cites sources as saying:
“Whedon faced story issues, in today’s cultural entertainment environment, a male filmmaker may have faced greater public scrutiny if he were to have tackled a movie with such feminist importance such as Batgirl or Wonder Woman.”
Last year, Whedon did face criticism when his ex-wife posted a lengthy blog post chastising him as a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals” while engaged in multiple extramarital affairs. This is exactly the conversation Whedon would want to avoid while out promoting the second-most popular DC Comics heroine. At the time, Whedon did not comment on the accusation citing “concern for his children” and “respect for his ex-wife.”
Whedon exiting Batgirl could be a simple case of “creative differences.” They’re pesky and frequent. They’ve plagued multiple DC director potentials and it seems to be the primary conversation circling Star Wars films these days. It happens. Your mind certainly wanders into the fringe universe where Whedon got his shot at Gotham, but placing Batgirl in the hands of a female perspective would be the ideal choice. May I nominate The Punisher: War Zone’s Lexi Alexander?