Night has fallen on Gotham City. Criminals and ne’er-do-wells are preparing to commit their devious acts. And now, there may be no one to stop them.
Batgirl, an apparently ‘woke’, big-budget film featuring a female version of the Caped Crusader, has been ignominiously scrapped — shocking the film world.
Condemned as ‘irredeemable’ by studio executives at Warner Bros, it seems that not even a lengthy spell in the editing room could rescue it. Nor was it good enough to send ‘straight to video’, as used to be said of films too bad for the cinema.
Despite being completely finished and reportedly having cost $90 million (£75 million), Batgirl will never be released in any format — not even on one of the internet streaming services that often seem willing to broadcast any old tat.
It may even be the most expensive film ever made that will never see the light of day.
The film had got as far as test screenings and was being slated for release in cinemas and on the U.S. streaming service HBO Max by the end of this year.
However, the audience feedback was so awful that — in an almost unprecedented move — Warner Bros has decided the reputational damage of releasing this turkey would be even worse than losing the tens of millions of dollars it has already spent on it.
The Batgirl film has been ‘canned’ by Warner Bros. after spending more than $90m on the movie because studio executives want to move away from made-for-streaming projects
‘It just didn’t work,’ said an insider. The decision is also a blow for Glasgow, which had stood in for Gotham City in the movie.
Given the low standard of so much of the content on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services, and the fact that superhero films have a fanatically loyal audience, it all represents a jaw-dropping failure.
But why was it cancelled so late in the day, and after so much time, money and resources had been spent on it?
Some have alleged the film may have been scrapped for tax reasons; Warner Bros can now claim Batgirl as a tax write-off — helping it recoup some of its costs elsewhere. However, that doesn’t account for why the film was considered to be so bad.
And here there are certainly strong clues to suggest that Batgirl was only the latest in a long and disastrous line of Hollywood films that have prioritised politically correct values over entertainment. As Robin might say, Holy Woke, Batman!
Fans will remember that in the original comics, Batgirl is the night-time alter ego of Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Gotham City’s red-headed police commissioner Jim Gordon.
The star of the film was a little-known Afro-Latina singer-actress named Leslie Grace. This alone was a big risk as 27-year-old Grace’s only previous major acting role was in the box-office flop In The Heights, a ‘musical drama’ made by woke hero Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man behind the musical Hamilton.
Hollywood icon Michael Keaton was reprising his role as Batman, while Commissioner Gordon — Batgirl’s father — was played by the actor J.K. Simmons, who starred in 2002’s Spider-Man.
The film had been directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, young Moroccan-Belgians best known for the TV series Ms Marvel, about a Muslim Pakistani-American teenage girl who is bullied at school until she develops superpowers.
Batgirl being filmed in Glasgow after parts of the Scottish city were turned into ‘Gotham’
When Ms Marvel was released in June, it received a tsunami of abuse from comic book fans complaining about its unbearable wokeness.
(The series was made by Disney, so progressive nowadays that it applies racism warnings to the crows in Dumbo and offers a children’s show — called ‘Baymax!’ — which features a scene in which a robot asks a transgender man what sort of sanitary product he should buy for a 12-year-old girl.)
Batgirl’s screenplay was by Christina Hodson, the British writer of ultra-feminist film Birds Of Prey, accused by one critic of ‘hating on men — all men . . . [and] dull to the point of numbing’.
Batgirl also featured a transgender character, Alysia Yeoh, played by the trans actor Ivory Aquino.
The appearance, critics say, is of a film putting its ‘progressive’ values ahead of all other concerns.
And not for the first time. Superhero films — normally somewhere audiences might go to escape our era’s endless culture wars — have increasingly become major repositories of wokery.
In 2021, Marvel’s mega-budget movie Eternals — starring Angelina Jolie, Kit Harington and Richard Madden — was panned by fans and critics alike as dull and preachy. It included Marvel’s first gay superhero and its first deaf one.
Lightyear, a spin-off from Pixar’s celebrated Toy Story film series, was expected to be one of the biggest movies of this summer. Instead, it bombed.
Critics complained that it substituted liberal virtue-signalling — Buzz Lightyear’s commanding officer is a black lesbian and the film features the first same-sex kiss in a Pixar production — for the simple, unpoliticised joys of the original movies.
By contrast, this summer also saw the release of Top Gun: Maverick, a barnstorming reboot of the wildly popular 1986 film Top Gun, an action film about gung-ho American fighter pilots. It has been a sharp rejoinder to Hollywood bosses who insist their increasingly right-on output is just a reaction to changing audience tastes and social mores.
The Batgirl film would have featured Latina actress Leslie Grace in the titular role as she battled Brendan Fraser’s Firefly who turned to a life of crime after he is fired from his job, loses his health insurance and could no longer care for his sick wife
Tom Cruise’s new film proudly re-treads much the same ground as the original Boy’s Own-style adventure, featuring virtually no women, no let-up in the shameless machismo and no scenes in which pilots question their sexuality or their patriotic devotion to U.S. firepower.
In short, it’s almost joyfully off-message with 2020s Hollywood.
Perhaps as a result, it’s been a monster hit with critics and at the box office — so far it’s the highest-grossing film of the year and, remarkably, given his long history of making blockbusters, even of Cruise’s career.
With one recent exception — 2017’s entertaining romp Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot — films with female superheroes as the main attraction have generally not been commercial and critical triumphs, whatever their diligent support for girl power. Many have been simply dismal.
The trend began as far back as 1984, with Supergirl, a feminist remake of Superman starring Helen Slater and with supporting actors including Peter O’Toole and Faye Dunaway.
This has notched up an execrable 8 per cent approval rating on the critics’ aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.
The decision on the film — which was to be released later this year — came after test screenings were panned by audiences, and studio execs thought it would hurt the future of the brand as they seek to rebrand the DC Extended Universe
Catwoman, which arrived in 2004, scores only 9 per cent and regularly features in critics’ ‘worst movies ever’ lists. The film starred former Bond girl Halle Berry as Batman’s anti- heroine love interest (with superhuman feline abilities and a black leather catsuit).
The following year, Jennifer Garner squeezed into a similarly revealing outfit to star as Elektra, a supernatural assassin who has to protect an innocent man and his daughter. Nice switch of traditional gender roles there — except it, too, was a clunker, earning a dire 11 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.
When will Hollywood get the message that audiences should be offered what they want to watch, instead of being spoon-fed sour-tasting woke medicine?
No time soon, it seems. Looming on the horizon are two big-budget TV series — House Of The Dragon (a prequel to Game Of Thrones) and The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power. Both have gone through the wokeness wringer.
Game Of Thrones became a huge hit a decade or so ago precisely because it was so politically incorrect — endless, graphic violence broken up with plenty of gratuitous nudity.
House Of The Dragon will reportedly feature ‘gender fluidity’, a non-binary actor and barely any sex.
As for Amazon’s £400 million Rings Of Power series (a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings), it has been accused of veering sharply from J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision to feature black dwarves and hobbits, female orcs and powerful women characters that were never in his much-loved books.
Will they be as thrillingly popular as the original characters — or will they, too, slink into the shadows like Batgirl?