Is Joss Whedon the right person to helm Warner Bros.’ and DC Films’ “Batgirl” movie? In the second of two columns (the first is available to read here), we examine why the writer/director/producer is the right choice for the project.
When news broke that Joss Whedon is poised to write, produce and direct a “Batgirl” solo film, so did the Internet. Several questions were prominent in everyone’s minds, but the most pertinent is a basic one: Is Whedon the person for the job? Given what he’s done with female characters in pop culture over the last 20 years, the answer is a resounding yes!
Whedon has a knack for carving out cult classic hits, starting with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which ran from 1997 to 2003, after having previously written in her 1992 movie. Here, he gave us strong female characters outside of the titular lead, such as Cordelia, Faith and Fred. Whedon is a creator who, when dedicated to something, refines its essence and carves diamond from coal. He brought “The Avengers” to us when we thought such an ambitious comic book film couldn’t be done properly, using the momentum thought lost when he wanted to bring Wonder Woman to life.
In Whedon, you have someone who can simultaneously turn out Hollywood blockbusters and go full-creative. His resume speaks for itself — “Angel,” “Firefly” and its movie “Serenity,” as well as “Cabin in the Woods.” “Serenity” in particular showed his strength in presenting a female lead in how he depicted the emotionally stunted River Tam (Summer Glau) as a badass killing machine. He tried the same with “Dollhouse” (starring frequent Whedon collaborator Eliza Dushku) but it was cancelled after 26 episodes, before it could fully realize its potential, and Whedon’s vision.
When he wants something badly and he gets full creative control, Whedon delivers, and Warner Bros. would be insane not to let him do so. Frankly, WB needs him more than he needs them, and after vowing off mainstream superhero movies for original content, you’ve got to wonder what reeled him back in. DC movies are known for directorial conflict, Zack Snyder’s situation excluded. Patty Jenkins was the second woman to sit in “Wonder Woman’s” hot-seat, David Ayer has displayed some discontent with the final cut of “Suicide Squad,” and “The Flash” has lost two directors already. Why would Whedon return to this sort of atmosphere after Marvel Studios and the Disney machine messed with his “Ultron” theatrical cut? It has to be because he’s going to be given free rein.
People are going to question a white man writing such a character, and definitely a female director should have been considered, but that’s a deep-rooted problem that not just comic book movies, but Hollywood on the whole needs to address in terms of diversity and equality. These are two touchpoints that Whedon has always fought for, though, as seen in his stance on the last US elections, and also in how he brought Black Widow, Maria Hill and Scarlet Witch to prominence in the MCU. He is prepared to champion the cause. Reports claim that Gail Simone’s run on “Batgirl,” where she was recovering from the Joker attack that left her paralyzed, is where the film will look for inspiration.
Whedon has matured since tackling the world of Buffy and the Scoobies, and so has his writing, making him the perfect fit for this iteration of Batgirl. He’s shown is not afraid to take his female characters down darker paths, placing them in emotional trauma and having them overcome, as with the Widow arc in “AOU” where her induction as an assassin left her unable to have kids (which feels like the solo movie he wanted to explore). This particular storyline was met with controversy, in part due to it being part of a romance with Bruce Banner a.k.a. Hulk that felt inorganic and forced, and in part due to an interpretation that said he was equating infertility with being less than a whole person, much less woman. But Whedon ultimately showed Natasha, all human and with no superpowers, was unstoppable, be it against aliens or killer robots. That character development carried through to “Captain America: Civil War.” Whedon made her more than the gratuitous crutch she was in “Iron Man 2” and gave her depth in story.
He’s not afraid to tackle serious issues, and in the aftermath of Joker’s attack, he’s a solid choice to helm a story arc that would fit right in with the defaced Robin suit in “Batman vs. Superman,” which hinted Joker killed Jason Todd. Think of how Buffy mentored other slayers, and then picture Whedon writing Batgirl as someone recovering, overcoming, and possibly training other heroes (Birds of Prey?) while still fighting crime. If it’s anyone who can address Babs’ Bat-family drama with Nightwing (her former lover), her stubbornness with Batman, her frustrating dynamic with her father (Commissioner Gordon), and possibly, Barb overseeing the training of new Batgirls such as Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown, it’s Whedon. And that may well be the case, placing Barb at the center of an ensemble film instead of a purely solo flick.
We also need to remember marketability, and poaching one of Marvel Studios’ big brains is a huge coup. Whedon could have easily turned this job down opining that the movie should go to a female director, but the thing is, what’s to say the studio wouldn’t have passed it along to another male, perhaps less suited than Whedon, who would have taken it? At worst, Whedon taking on the film may not be a cure, but it’s a tonic. In a perfect world, Whedon would bring Gail Simone on board to co-write, because no one has a handle on the character like she does.
He may not the answer to DC’s movie problems, but he is, however, an established geek who knows about character development, group films and has learned from his past ordeals with big studios. Geoff Johns and the other DC bigwigs helping to engineer this movie should let him roam fee and find that balance we spoke of, because once given the chance, I believe Whedon will balance the film’s tone to the other movies Warner Bros. are doing, while doing the character, and her fans, justice.