Back in 2016, the DCEU had a rude awakening with audience reception to both Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. The latter suffered from an atrocious edit that made it play out like a music video, and Warner Brothers’ overall desire to try too hard to be like Marvel.
What was most frustrating about its failure however, was the fact that it wasted an excellent casting and performance by Margot Robbie (along with Will Smith and Viola Davis). Robbie’s Harley Quinn was one of the few things that worked, and it would take nearly four more years before the character would get done to justice (no pun intended).
But that justice came with 2020’s Birds of Prey. So, upon its one year anniversary, we wanted to take a look back at Birds of Prey and why it worked where Suicide Squad didn’t!
Getting the Character Right
While we do see Harley as the Joker’s therapist briefly in Suicide Squad, it virtually plays no role in her character or development for the rest of the movie. In Birds of Prey however, many of Harley’s quips and comebacks involve her psychoanalyzing people, and using that to discover their weakness, or trick them.
It’s a really cool character trait that uses her background to her advantage, and demonstrates that even though she’s become a crazed criminal, she’s still the same PhD psychologist she always was.
Suicide Squad also had this questionable habit of unnecessarily objectifying Harley Quinn to the point that it almost became parody. Everything from her fishnet stockings to the scene of her undressing and catching the attention of every single soldier around her, it all just seems so forced.
Birds of Prey gives us a Harley Quinn that certainly gives off a manic and sexual energy, but it’s an energy that she’s more in control of. It treats her like a full character rather than just an object to be gazed at by the audience. Harley narrates her own story, and it’s better off for it.
We had already seen a movie where she’s hopelessly dependent on the Joker, and it’s really refreshing and compelling to see her come into her own here. She may have started out as merely a sidekick to the clown prince of crime, but she’s since grown into so much more.
Getting the Tone Right
To say that Suicide Squad was tonally inconsistent would be an understatement. The first trailer we got looked just as dark and gritty as Batman v. Superman, but later promos (as well as the movie itself) made it very clear that DC was desperately trying to make it as much like Guardians of the Galaxy as possible.
Even director David Ayer expressed frustration with how the final edit was handled by the studio. Thankfully Warner Brothers learned their lesson with Birds of Prey, and just allowed it be a small scale crime thriller similar to that of a Guy Ritchie movie.
It gives us the petty criminal underbelly of Gotham, a side rarely seen in previous films. Its production design is a vibrant blend of colorful like Tim Burton’s Gotham and gritty like Zack Snyder’s. The whole movie is a fun, manic adventure that feels like the exact kind of story that Harley Quinn should be leading.
The Future of Harley Quinn
The ending of Birds of Prey does leave things open for sequels/spinoffs about the titular vigilante group made up of Huntress, Black Canary, and (former) Det. Montoya, as well as more stories about Harley and hew pickpocketing sidekick Cassandra.
We know that Margot Robbie will be reprising the role once again in the upcoming James Gunn-helmed The Suicide Squad. While it’s unclear what the continuity will be or how she will be portrayed, it’s probably a safe bet that it will be better than the 2016 movie.
For a cinematic universe that has struggled from the start, the DCEU has finally found its footing and seems to be thriving. A large part of that is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and how much of a surprise hit Birds of Prey turn out to be!
What did you think of Birds of Prey? What’s your favorite DCEU movie? Let us know in the comments!
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2 thoughts on “How “Birds of Prey” Finally Got Harley Quinn Right”
I liked Suicide Squad, therefore I have to ask, “Did we see the same movie?”
Of course, I read the original stories when it first came out, so I may have a different view of the story.
I do agree that Margot Robbie gave an excellent performance.
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That’s a fair assessment. I think if you’re already familiar with the story and characters from the comics, it’s easier to fill in the blanks, so to speak. But as a movie, it’s a mess at the beginning. It just sort of lists statistics in place of actual character development. But I can see why if you knew those characters very well already, that wouldn’t be as big an issue.
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