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Warner Bros'. shocking decision to clip Batgirl's wings after sinking $90 million into the nearly finished film leaves more questions than a ransom note from the Riddler. Among them, what will this mean for one of the movie's most highly anticipated reveals: Michael Keaton's return as Batman?

Back in December, EW learned that the actor had joined the cast of the no-longer-upcoming DC film, which was set to star Leslie Grace (In the Heights) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, marking Keaton's first time suiting up as Batman after a 30-year hiatus. Keaton, who first played Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter-ego in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman and returned for a sequel, would have become the third actor to don the cape and cowl of late, joining Ben Affleck, whose version is rumored to appear in the upcoming film The Flash (starring the embattled Ezra Miller), and Robert Pattinson, who played the Dark Knight in Matt Reeves's standalone movie The Batman.

While Keaton will no longer be making his return in Batgirl, he was also rumored to appear in other upcoming DC films as a sort of superhero mentor and wise elder, not unlike Samuel L. Jackson's role as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Keaton's Batman was also apparently still getting his hands dirty, with The Hollywood Reporter noting that the character was "at the center" of a big action set piece in Batgirl.

But now, according to THR, Batgirl's downfall suggests that Keaton will have a lesser role in the DC movie universe going forward. The outlet reports that Keaton's Batman is central to the plot of The Flash, with multiple sources saying he also filmed a scene for the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. The sequel, starring Jason Momoa as the ocean-dwelling superhero, was originally slated to open before The Flash, which was said to be the film that would explain how Keaton's Batman ended up in a universe already occupied by Affleck's Batman (short answer: multiverse!).

Michael Keaton in 'Batman'
Michael Keaton in 'Batman'
| Credit: Everett Collection

Test audiences reportedly found Keaton's appearance in Aquaman 2 "confusing," as it was unclear how his version of Batman popped up in that world. Making matters even more complicated, Momoa all but confirmed last week that Affleck was shooting a scene for the film as Bruce Wayne. It's unclear whether that came as a replacement for Keaton or if both Batmen will appear together, but the concept of dueling Batmen isn't as strange as it might sound. For instance, The Flash is based on is based on the Flashpoint comics, which see speedster Barry Allen moving so fast that he breaks the barrier of his reality and moves into parallel dimensions, opening the door for all sorts of nostalgic high jinks.

Speaking about returning to the world of superheroes at 70, a concept Keaton earned an Oscar nomination for loosely parodying in 2014's Birdman, Keaton told Jake's Takes that putting the suit back on was like "muscle memory." He added, "It was shockingly normal. It was weird. And like I went, 'Oh! Oh yeah. That's right.' But also, then you start to play the scenes and a lot of memories, a lot of really interesting sense memories [come back]."

Now with Batgirl grounded, The Flash running on thin ice thanks to Miller's legal drama, and hints of Affleck appearing in Aquaman 2, the light from Keaton's Bat-Signal seems to grow dimmer by the day. Also lost to the cut are Brendan Fraser's anticipated turn as the villainous Firefly and J.K. Simmons reprising his role as Commissioner Gordon, which he originated in Justice League.

Batgirl directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah responded to the news that their film would be shelved Wednesday. "We are saddened and shocked by the news. We still can't believe it," the pair said in a joint statement on Instagram. "As directors, it is critical that our work be shown to audiences, and while the film was far from finished, we wish that fans all over the world would have had the opportunity to see and embrace the final film themselves. Maybe one day they will insha'Allah."

'Batgirl' Leslie Grace
'Batgirl' Leslie Grace
| Credit: Leslie Grace/Instagram

They went on to thank the cast and crew for a "tremendous job" and credited them for working "so hard to bring Batgirl to life," despite the studio's alternate plans. Though they praised supporting stars as well, they singled out the film's central performer, Grace, for her contributions to the project.

"[She] portrayed Batgirl with so much passion, dedication, and humanity," they wrote. "In any case, as huge fans of Batman since we were little kids, it was a privilege and an honor to have been a part of the DCEU, even if it was for a brief moment. Batgirl For Life."

According to the New York Post, test screenings for the film were received so poorly that Warner Bros. opted not to roll the film out in theaters or on HBO Max. It was reportedly greenlit at a $70 million budget, which grew to nearly $90 million after COVID delays.

The Associated Press indicated that Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav shifted strategy on film releases to trim costs, after previous chief executive Jason Kilar worked to implement day-and-date releases in 2021 by opening films simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, with Batgirl being produced solely for the subscription streaming service.

Representatives for Warner Bros. have not responded to EW's request for comment.

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