Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) has been something of a question mark since filming first began. Would it continue ideas from 2017’s Suicide Squad? Would it be the quiet reboot of DC’s film universe that began in Wonder Woman? And, perhaps the most important question to fans of the Birds of Prey comic, would Harley take Barbara Gordon’s place as the founder of the team?
Many of these questions are answered in the first proper trailer for the upcoming film, in which Harley (Margot Robbie) returns to Gotham City and finds a group of women also in search of a new direction. And since Robbie used Harley to get the Birds of Prey film out of development hell, the trailer is definitely more skewed toward her character. Nevertheless, we may have picked up a few things about the other Birds of Prey. Let’s take a look at what we uncovered from the trailer.
While we’ve always known the film would focus on the end of their relationship, the trailer seems to confirm the split will take place off screen. It makes a certain amount of sense, as Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is about to supplant Jared Leto’s take on the clown in moviegoers’ memories. At one time, their break-up was planned to span the Suicide Squad sequel, a Harley and Joker film, and separate films of their own. Bird of Prey moves all of that to a nice, nebulous past. Which, honestly, is for the best.
For readers of DC’s main comics universe, the pair have not been together for a good long time. But as the pop culture perception of these characters is always a reboot or two behind, a movie entirely about Harley discovering she can stand on her own is a genuinely compelling idea, even if it is taking place inside a Birds of Prey film. It also echoes the character’s ascent from Joker’s gun moll on Batman: The Animated Series to a strong presence in her own right with a long-standing comic book series and a dedicated legion of fans.
Hopefully, those fans will want to see the story of Harley’s emancipation told this way.
But as the break-up is clearly still fresh, Harley will be going through the stages of grief as the film begins. Her explanation to Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) of what it means to be a harlequin reflects a sense of loss – even if Harley is better off without the Joker – suggesting she may want to find some sort of salve or rebound. Enter Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a Gotham City mobster also known as Black Mask.
From the trailer, it is clear he becomes fascinated with her right quick. Whether that’s because she’s already inadvertently foiled one of his schemes or because he spots her in that nightclub with Canary remains to be scene. Harley’s interest in Sionis also remains to be seen, but we imagine if it happens at all, it will be short lived and it will irk Sionis’s vanity.
It makes him a rather well-suited adversary for Harley. A would-be claimant to Harley’s heart is, in a screwed up way, a claimant to Joker’s place in the Gotham City underworld. And for her part, Harley would have no interest in being property in this twisted (even for her standards) game of Catan. The trailer even features her declaring that she’s the one the city should fear. But it’s easy to see Sionis not taking no for an answer and escalating things to a street war in Gotham.
What that means for the other Birds – as they are announced as targets by the trailer’s end – will no doubt become the focus of another trailer.
Earlier photos and posters – and that costume test video from last year – suggested the film would continue many of the visual elements of Suicide Squad’s more striking color palette. But the trailer declares, rather boldly, that the more extreme (and Harley-inspired) tones will form the core look in Birds of Prey. And, frankly, it looks fantastic.
The bursts of color in Suicide Squad were centered around Harley anyway, so the neon bright purples and intense golds totally have a place in her solo adventure. At the same time, it makes Gotham City look totally different as theme parks, night clubs, and even the Gotham City Police precinct glimpsed in trailer live in that bolder, brighter world. Additionally, we couldn’t help but notice several shots in the trailer were filmed in and around Los Angeles. Other than a handful of brief shots in The Dark Knight Rises, LA has not properly played Gotham City since the 1960s, and its immediately identifiable sprawl makes for a markedly different Gotham, one that coalesces with Harley’s poppier look quite nicely. It may not square with Gotham’s traditional East Coast vibe, but it reflects her new outlook.
We also imagine that aesthetic will be quite a contrast for characters like Sionis and the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – characters known for being a little more monochrome. You can just about see Sionis’s aesthetic in the white suit glimpsed during the shots where he has Harley and some of the other Birds strung up. Huntress, for her part, is the only person dressed predominately in black throughout the trailer.
Okay, Huntress isn’t the only person in dark clothes. At various points in the trailer – most notably at the end – Harley appears to have a sidekick. The character is Cassandra Cain, an established DC Comics entity with storied ties to the Batman Family – she’s a Batgirl.
Introduced during the 1999 “No Man’s Land” storyline, the character was the mute daughter of one of Batman’s mentors. After Huntress took over and subsequently gave up the Batgirl identity (for reasons too long to discuss here), Cassandra took it for herself, impressing every member of Batman’s team along the way. She eventually found her voice and continued to be Batgirl for a few years before handing the persona off to fan favorite Stephanie Brown. But that’s a story for another day.
In the context of Birds of Prey, Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco) will seemingly serve as a sidekick to Harley, which sort of honors her past in the comics. But we also imagine the sidekick thing will not last long, as Cassandra finds her own identity among these would-be heroes, even if it is tempting to say concepts like heroes and villains may be too simplistic for Birds of Prey. Cassandra’s history in the comics supports the possibility Harley’s inadvertent tutelage may lead Cassandra in a new direction.
At the same time, it is important a Batgirl be part of the Birds of Prey film in some way because, after all, it was originally a Batgirl idea.
About half-way through the trailer, Harley announces the only way to defeat Sionis is for her, Cassandra, Black Canary, Huntress, and GCPD Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to team up. This may end up being the biggest point of contention for fans of the Birds of Prey comic, as the person who originally suggested the team-up to these characters was Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl.
In DC Comics continuity at the time, Barbara never recovered the use of her legs after being shot by the Joker in The Killing Joke. She retired as Batgirl, but soon found a new identity as the information broker known as Oracle. With her real identity known only to Batman, she eventually formed an informal strike team comprised of Huntress and Black Canary. As the group became more solidified – and the three shared their secret identities – other females heroes like Lady Blackhawk and Dove began working with the group.
But as Batgirl does not yet exist – in any form – in the DC film universe, she cannot serve as the unifying spark for the Birds of Prey. Harley replaces her here, and while it works within the context of the film, some fans may be left wondering where Barbara is and what she is doing.
And since Birds of Prey screenwriter Christina Hodson is also developing a Batgirl film for Warner Bros, it is possible Birds of Prey will tease her existence in some way.
Also, while we’re talking about these characters and the comic book links, we couldn’t help but notice the first shot of Montoya featured her walking out of a squad room with what appeared to be a “last day” box of personal effects (or it could just be full of evidence). A reboot or two ago, the character infamously quit the force in disgust and began a journey which saw her becoming a vigilante known as The Question. Will the film Montoya also find herself behind a mask? As it happens, she is wearing The Question’s colors throughout the trailer.
Hopefully, the next trailer will tell us more about the other Birds of Prey.
Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) opens on February 7, 2020.