Joss Whedon Could Make a Great Batgirl Movie, But He Shouldn’t
For years, fans have been wondering what Joss Whedon would do next. After leaving the Avengers Mansion, he kept up with his producing duties and worked on some comics, but remained non-committal about his intentions in Hollywood. Now we know: He's queueing up to write and direct a new standalone Batgirl movie. The pairing makes sense: a filmmaker who understands superheroes and female protagonists, matched with a girl in a cape. But I still have mixed feelings about Whedon doing it.
There's no question that Whedon can ace this. Even if you don't love Avengers: Age of Ultron and *Dollhouse *as much as I do, Whedon has an amazing track record of writing heroic narratives, and especially female heroes, going all the way back to the iconic Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His record also indicates he'd be more likely to include the LGBTQ characters that have shown up in recent Batgirl comics, like Alysia Yeoh, Barbara's transgender roommate, and Frankie, a disabled queer woman of color that she met in physical therapy. He is, amongst Hollywood's biggest directors, uniquely qualified to take Barbara Gordon out of Batman's shadow and turn her into a major big-screen hero.
But still, selfishly, I'd rather Whedon created something new. He is one of entertainment's great originals, able to take familiar genres like horror (Buffy) or Westerns (Firefly) and use them to tell ornate new stories full of people with rich inner lives. I miss Whedon's talent for world-building, something that an off-the-shelf character won't afford him the chance to do. Why play in someone else's sandbox?
There's also the question of how Whedon would handle Batgirl's disability. In the 30 years since the Joker shot and paralyzed Barbara (in the notorious comic The Killing Joke), that's been a major part of her story. Whedon's movie could ignore this, of course, but that would invite justifiable blowback. At the same time, tackling the issue could also be a potential nightmare—especially for Whedon, whose obsession with depicting the violation of women's bodies has occasionally been his downfall. Of course, Whedon has been known to surprise people, and he may have a clever way to finesse the issue of Barbara's wheelchair, but it's still a major challenge that will need to be addressed somehow.
Much of Whedon's success or failure with a Batgirl movie will also depend on whether he's able to break free from the heavily stylized, slo-mo Zack Snyder aesthetic that seems to be shaping all the DC Comics films. (Even the Wonder Woman trailer, in parts, looks like 300.) Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara has described the studio's comic-book movies as "edgier" than Marvel's, although the upcoming Justice League does seem to be trying for a lighter tone. Whedon has beenopen about his "unpleasant" creative clasheswith Marvel on the Avengers films, and you have to wonder how his famous sense of whimsy will fare in an "edgy" universe.
Finally, there's the point that much of Twitter was making yesterday when the news broke: A female director should have been given a crack at Batgirl. Warner Bros. did the right thing in hiring Patty Jenkins to direct Wonder Woman, because a female icon deserves a woman's creative vision behind the scenes. Now that superhero movies are eating Hollywood, they need the female gaze more than any other genre. And there are tons of incredibly talented women out there who are as experienced as James Gunn, Peyton Reed, Gavin Hood, and Tim Miller were when they were handed superhero franchises. Really, a woman should be directing Justice League—but Batgirl would be a good start.
Even with all the above misgivings, though, there's still plenty of reason to be excited about what Whedon will do with DC's brainiest superhero. Between Barbara's stints as a librarian, the super-hacker Oracle, and even a US Congresswoman, there's a lot of great material for the man who gave the world Zoe Washburne. Surely fans will love the new Batgirl—but it's hard not to wonder if we wouldn't have liked a new Buffy more.