This won’t be a lengthy, hand-wringing article on the future of one of Warner Bros.’ inevitable characters. There have been enough of those even before Gal Gadot was cast, even before Michelle MacLaren was hired to direct. Now, according to THR, MacLaren has left the project over “creative differences.”
That’s a blanket term that could mean anything unless you were inside the room when it happened, but it boils down to a large, empty seat on a project that’s due in theaters in 2017. Keep that date in mind for later.
Normally the big question would be who they plan as a replacement, but this situation also raises a question about what kind of director the studio will seek out. When Wonder Woman was announced, the studio was responding to a public outcry for female superheroes. Sony had jumped into the fray, announcing a Spider-Woman series and a potential Aunt May prequel spin-off – both of which are probably dead after Amy Pascal’s exit – and Warners had Wonder Woman teed up perfectly as a character in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
They were gunning for a female director from the beginning, and they found a perfect candidate in MacLaren.
Now they find themselves in a position to either stick with the next name available on their short list or start the process over. If they do the former, they may find allies with Catherine Hardwicke, Mimi Leder, Karyn Kusama, Julie Taymor or others. They could even expand the search. Even if they don’t, that wish list is filled with talent capable of handling a large-scale action film. No doubt about that.
If they do the latter, they could find themselves in a position like Marvel was with Thor: The Dark World when Patty Jenkins left the project because of, no surprise, creative differences. Alan Taylor stepped in and did a strong job, but Marvel lost some footing when it came to featuring female voices in spandex stories. Warners could just as easily find a male director for the project. It would be difficult to realistically blame them for who they hire, regardless of sex, if the talent is there, but hiring a man would simply be disappointing business as usual; another pinhole of opportunity closed off.
So, what MacLaren’s departure means ultimately is that Warners is faced with a test of intentions. The THR article which reported the news also suggests that, “the fact that both MacLaren and Jenkins off their respective projects is sure to raise the question of whether women filmmakers are welcome in the world of high-stakes, superhero movies.” That may be floating near the surface, but it’s also important to remember that Edgar Wright left Ant-Man, Dexter Fletcher left London Has Fallen and Andy Muschetti left the big Mummy reboot. Men leave big projects over creative differences, too. All the time.
I get it, though. It’s a shame that 100% of women hired to direct big budget superhero movies in the past 7 years have left their projects. All two of them.
With MacLaren, Warners has to decide how committed they were to bringing a female director to the film. As a worst-case thought, her departure may also be a test for how much the studio is committed to bringing a female superhero into the fray at all. Yes, Gadot is set to play Wonder Woman for Dawn of Justice, but the movie’s also introducing an absurd amount of other Justice League dude heroes that could be moved into position. Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern are already in the mix, and it’s not like DC has a lock-step grand plan that must be adhered to the way Marvel does. Situations change. So do contracts. Hopefully Warners won’t see MacLaren’s exit as a reason to shelve the Wonder Woman concept entirely.
So that’s what it means. A test of commitment for one studio. At an even more basic level, though, it means they’ve lost a fiercely talented director.
For everyone else, MacLaren’s departure means she’s available. A smart studio won’t let her be for long.