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Arts & Entertainment #BoxOfficeMAR 31, 2017 @ 07:31 PM1,014
Top 10 Best Casting Picks For Joss Whedon’s ‘Batgirl’ Movie
Mark Hughes , CONTRIBUTOR
I write about films, especially superhero films, & Hollywood.
Warner Bros.’ plans to expand the bat-corner of their DC Comics shared cinematic universe got another boost this week, as word broke that writer-director-producer Joss Whedon is in negotiations to bring his immense talents to a Batgirl movie project.
Source: DC Comics
Batgirl Issue #1, New 52, art by Adam Hughes
Whedon, who has also written (great) comics and created some (great) iconic TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, was one of the key creative forces behind much of the early development of Marvel Studio’s cinematic universe, including writing and directing the two highest-grossing superhero movies in history — The Avengers ($1.5 billion) and Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1.4 billion). That makes Whedon responsible for nearly one-quarter of all of the MCU’s global box office, and the only filmmaker besides James Cameron to have multiple films in the top-10 grossing movies of all time.
Having Whedon in the DCU is a huge coup for Warner, and seems a perfect pairing in light of the combo of Geoff Johns’ own writing and desire for a wider variety of tonal approaches in the DCU, plus Whedon’s own strong comic book sensibilities and brilliant knack for translating those sensibilities to live-action.
I’ve mentioned Batgirl’s inevitable appearance in the DCU many times over the months, as she and Nightwing were two superheroes who consistently came up in studio plans for the future eventual development of the DCU. Whether she would appear (as originally discussed) in some other film to establish her existence in the DCU — including a possible team-up with Nightwing, Cyborg, and the Flash for some semblance of a Teen Titans movie (the title of which seems likely to be either Titans or Young Justice, although the latter is obviously lifted from a largely different ensemble of heroic sidekick characters) — or actually get a solo movie first, Batgirl is one of the DC heroes most deserving of big-screen attention. So it’s excellent news that Warner’s long-simmering desire to adapt her on film has finally found a filmmaker with an idea and pitch to make it happen.
Source: Warner Bros.
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I realize some fans will once again complain that Warner is focusing too much on Batman and his corner of the DCU, to which I have this to say: we’re about to see Wonder Woman’s movie this year; we’re seeing the Justice League later this year; we’re getting Aquaman next year; there’s a Green Lantern film in the works for 2019 or 2020; there’s a Man of Steel sequel finally starting to see a bit of movement; there are Shazam! and Black Adam films in active development; there is some sort of Flash film and Cyborg film in development, possibly a team-up of the two or maybe still a commitment to two solo movies; there’s a Justice League Dark film at least on the table; there’s a Booster Gold film at some stage of development and with a chance to go into production.
Meaning nearly a dozen DCU movies are either about to release, about to go into production, or are on the drawing board that are not Batman movies, only one of which has a heavy Batman presence. Yes, there’s also The Batman, Nightwing, Gotham City Sirens, Suicide Squad 2, plus potentially one or two other bat-centric projects that could come up, but the point is the existence of a corner of the DCU heavily committed to the bat-family is no different than the reality within the comics as well, where most titles are in fact not bat-family tie-ins, but where the bat-family just have a large space to occupy. Be happy, in other words, because this means we’re getting a whole lot of DCU movies both including and excluding the bat-world influences, okay? Meanwhile, the truth is that Batman is the most popular and thus far most successful brand in the DCU, so by leaning on it for a plurality (but not majority) of films helps provide a cushion to reduce the perceived risk in making the other films. Batman’s corner makes it more likely the studio feels like they can gamble on other projects, so we get more DCU stuff.
Whedon previously attempted to adapt Wonder Woman on film for Warner, with a period piece screenplay that got much attention but never got a green light. Eventually, of course, the studio went in a different direction for the character and the DCU in general, and we’ll see the Amazon hero grace the big screen in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman film this summer.
Which means, by the way, that we’ll get a female superhero movie this year (Wonder Woman), another likely one next year if Gotham City Sirens plans pan out, and probably one in 2019 if Whedon can have Batgirl ready in time. Marvel’s Captain Marvel releases in 2019 as well, so we’re looking at probably four female superhero movies in the next three years — still not equitable compared to the number of male-led superhero movies during the same period of time, and we need to see women of color on the big screen in vastly better representation, but this is a significant and welcome step toward increasing diversity in the genre. When we also consider the better mix of gender representation in the superhero team-up films as well, where women of color are also getting increasing (albeit still too limited) visibility, I’m hopeful that the future is looking up in these regards.
Source: Warner Bros.
“Justice League” team poster featuring Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Batman, Aquaman, and Flash
That said, there’s the obvious fact Joss Whedon is a white male, and that diversity in front of the cameras doesn’t change the terrible lack of adequate diversity behind the cameras — not just in genre entertainment, but in filmmaking as a whole. While I love Whedon’s work and feel he’s among the relatively few male filmmakers who strives to present good female characterizations in his work, and while I think he can create an amazing Batgirl movie and I’m so happy to see him joining the superhero film genre again (I actually started banging the drum for WB to hire him into the DCU a couple of months ago, via social media), I cannot ignore the validity of complaints about Hollywood handing so many projects to white male filmmakers. Studios are even willing to give blockbuster tentpole franchises to white men who’ve never even directed feature films before, while men and women of color and female filmmakers overall are woefully unrepresented and rarely even considered or spoken to about such branded series. This has to change.
So I suggest Warner specifically look for and speak to female filmmakers about helming Flash, Cyborg, Man of Steel 2, Green Lantern, Suicide Squad 2, and other upcoming projects. It’s valid to say “women aren’t limited to just making movies staring female leads” or to say “women and men of color aren’t limited to just making movies about people of color,” and to therefore suggest that Joss Whedon directing Batgirl can be widely embraced and hailed while (for hypothetical examples) F. Gary Gray or Gina Prince-Bythewood directs Suicide Squad 2, Elizabeth Banks directs Green Lantern, Ava DuVernay or Mimi Leder directs Man of Steel 2, and so on.
There are just some what-ifs, but I think it makes the point that there are wonderful filmmakers who would be every bit as great at bringing these superhero films to life as the white male filmmakers typically offered the directors chairs, and doing this would go a long way toward expanding diversity and moving toward a situation where the claim “just pick the best person for the job” isn’t offensively suggesting that the “best person” just always happens to be white dudes. And for folks who say they’re tired of these conversations and don’t want race and gender issues to keep coming up, the best way to stop having to see these conversations is to support the calls for more diversity so that it’s not a problem anymore. Help change things, if you don’t want to listen to people always having to demand the need for change.
Source: Warner Bros.
Gal Gadot stars in “Wonder Woman” in the official film poster
So, moving on to the question of what sort of Batgirl we’re likely to see, Anthony Breznican at Entertainment Weekly reported he’s heard the cinematic adaptation of the character will be influenced by DC Comics’ “New 52” incarnation, specifically the exceptional stories written by Gail Simone. That still leaves a lot of questions, since first and foremost we don’t know how much of an influence a Batgirl film would take from those comics — keep in mind Batman v Superman was influenced heavily by The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman comic book stories, but wasn’t a literal adaptation of either and was in most ways quite different from them.
Besides how much the film might lean on the “New 52,” there’s also the question of which particular elements it will involve. In those comics, Barbara Gordon is Batgirl, and she’s recovered from paralysis brought about by the Joker shooting her in the famous/infamous comic book story The Killing Joke. For a time after that story, Barbara became Oracle, a mentor and computer/information expert who assisted the other members of the bat-family of heroes. In the “New 52,” though, that past exists but she’s regained her ability to walk and fight crime, and is back in the Batgirl costume.
So, will Whedon want to start his film with a Batgirl who already suffered some sort of severe physical injury and spent time as Oracle, but is returning to her prior role as a costumed vigilante? Or will the film actually involve the story arc of her being injured and temporarily serving in the capacity as Oracle and mentoring some new Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) before taking back the cowl for herself? Or will it simply be a version of Barbara Gordon heavily inspired by the personality and style of the stories from the New 52, including certain plot points, while lacking the specific background about her injury and time as Oracle?
All of those are valid options and could be excellent approaches for a film, if done right. I’m personally not a big fan of the way The Killing Joke injured her and then used it as a plot device to motivate Batman and Jim Gordon (Barbara’s father, the police commissioner of Gotham who is usually Batman’s ally). But it was great that other writers rallied around the character and developed a new future for her, to overcome the misuse of her arc in the past and to empower her as not just a new type of hero but to in fact turn her into a mentor of other heroes — a role typically reserved for Batman within the bat-world. This does create a great, rich history and background to mine for her cinematic portrayal, if the injury portion can omit Batman and avoid being done in a way that treats her as a victim (and to definitely avoid the sexualized aspects of it from The Killing Joke, which were among the more offensive elements in that story to a lot of readers and fans of Batgirl, myself included).
Source: Warner Bros.
Blu-ray box for Warner Bros. animated film “The Killing Joke”
Since so much of this DCU is pre-existing, with Batman already having had several Robins (including a sidekick killed by the Joker, presumably Jason Todd if they’re basing the film world on the comics in that regard) and Dick Grayson already being an adult Nightwing, I am guessing we won’t get a younger Batgirl with an origin story and in the early days of her career. That’s the approach I’d prefer, though, since we’re not otherwise getting all that many origin tales in this DCU and Batgirl deserves the full treatment on screen.
I think a film trilogy for her could start with her origin as a new bat-inspired hero in Gotham in the aftermath of Justice League. Then, have a middle film where she’s injured by one of her opponents early in the film so she has to recover and becomes Oracle while training a new young woman — Stephanie Brown — as Batgirl, but Stephanie winds up needing Barbara’s help and so she has to don the cowl again to save Stephanie. Then the third film could be Barbara as Batgirl again, as usual.
So, who should play Batgirl in a Joss Whedon movie? Here are my top casting picks, starting with younger options and going to older options! (And yes, there are actually 11 instead of 10, so you get a bonus pick…)
For a younger Barbara Gordon in high school or perhaps early college, I recommend:
For a college-age or about-30 version of Barbara, I recommend:
Emma Stone (my personal favorite choice for the role since it seems to be such a perfect fit, although I realize she is constantly recommended for roles in fan casting)
Jane Levy (frequently mentioned by fans as a top choice for this role, and I agree)
Zoë Kravitz (some fans will offer the inevitable “Batgirl is white!” angry reactions, but I don’t care, we’re way beyond needing to engage in this silly sort of debating about whether to keep everybody forever white in comic book movies — if you can accept all of the changes to origins, stories, costumes, etc then having different skin pigment shouldn’t be an issue here; Jim Gordon could be married to a woman of color, or Barbara could be adopted, so that line of objection is out the window, too)
And lastly, if Whedon wants a Barbara further into her 30s, two names come to mind not just because they’d be solid choices, but also because of their history of working with Joss Whedon:
In any scenario where Barbara is in her late-20s or early-30s, if Whedon uses a story where Barbara is at any point injured and mentoring a younger woman to take over (temporarily or longterm) as Batgirl, then I’d suggest paring Emma Stone, Kristen Connolly, or Jane Levy with Mackenzie Foy or Angourie Rice. Those paring seems to me to maximize the potential for strong chemistry and comradery on screen.
One final note: I really, really hope Warner doesn’t fall into the huge mistake of trying to make Batgirl into a love interest for Batman. That happened in the animated adaption of The Killing Joke, and it not only was a big mistake but also set off a lot of fan complaints and negative reviews, for good reason. And my one complaint about The LEGO Batman Movie as I was watching it was when Batman kept looking at Batgirl as a potential romantic interest — luckily, though, that film smartly played it for laughs and had them wind up as only platonic friends, seemingly actually to turn it around as a joke that was sort of softly mocking The Killing Joke’s stumble in that regard.
So that’s my list of the top choices for Batgirl casting in a Joss Whedon film, dear readers. What are your thoughts on these suggestions, and who do you recommend? Sound off in the comments below!
Box office figures and tallies based on data via Box Office Mojo, Rentrak, and TheNumbers.
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