Both Brendan Fraser and Darren Aronofsky have had some high-profile setbacks when it comes to the comic book genre. The two men, who are collaborating on the acclaimed indie drama “The Whale,” opened up about their struggles during recent interviews with Variety.
Fraser spent months in Glasgow, Scotland portraying Firefly, a pyromaniac who faces off against Leslie Grace’s costumed heroine in “Batgirl.” That film was supposed to debut on HBO Max, but it was scrapped, a victim of the merger between Discovery and WarnerMedia, the streaming service’s parent company.
“It’s tragic,” Fraser told Variety as part of a cover story on “The Whale.” “It doesn’t engender trust among filmmakers and the studio. Leslie Grace was fantastic. She’s a dynamo, just a spot-on performer. Everything that we shot was real and exciting and just the antithesis of doing a straightforward digital all green screen thing. They ran firetrucks around downtown Glasgow at 3 in the morning and they had flamethrowers. It was a big-budget movie, but one that was just stripped down to the essentials.”
The new leadership of the company, which has been rechristened Warner Bros. Discovery, decided it didn’t want to spend $90 million on a film that intended to premiere on streaming. It also felt that “Batgirl” wasn’t commercial enough to retrofit as a theatrical release and it was easier to take a tax write-off and shelve it permanently. Fraser said that directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah put a rough cut together, but were still tinkering with the movie. He has yet to see what they created.
“I don’t eat half baked cake,” Fraser said. He did praise the filmmakers for what he witnessed during the production. “Everything that Adil and Bilall shot felt real and exciting,” he said.
Aronofksy agreed that “Batgirl’s” cancellation was “a disappointment for all the fans. I’m sad when movies don’t get out there.” But he also had his own setbacks when it came to putting his imprint on comic book adventures. In the early aughts, Aronofsky was planning to make a movie version of Frank Miller’s acclaimed Dark Knight story, “Batman: Year One.”
“It was after ‘Batman & Robin,’ the Joel Schumacher one,” Aronofsky remembers. “That had been a big hiccup back then at Warner Bros., so I pitched them a rated-R, boiled down origin story of Batman. A rated-R superhero movie was probably 10 to 15 years out of whack with the reality of the business then.”
Aronofsky worked with Miller on the script, and submitted an early version to Warner Bros., which decided to go in a different direction.
“It had promise, but it was just a first draft,” he says. “The studio weren’t really interested. It was a very different take.”
Now, of course, movies like “Joker” and “Deadpool” both are R-rated and very successful. So the industry, it seems, came around to Aronofsky’s vision.
“I think it’s great,” he says. “I was always saying, ‘why can’t there be several different types of comic book movies out there.’ Now there are. It’s just our timing was off.”
Aronofsky was also supposed to make what eventually became 2013’s “The Wolverine.” However, just after he signed on to make the movie, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami occurred, delaying production. James Mangold would take over as director.
“It was really important for me to shoot in Japan,” Aronofsky says. “I think I signed up to make ‘Wolverine,’ and the earthquake happened a few months later.”
He still hasn’t closed the door on one day making a movie about superheroes.
“I wasn’t a comic book kid, but I grew up on big movies and I go see superhero films and I like them,” he says. “If the right opportunity came around, I’d do it.”
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