The 2010s are still visible in our rearview mirror, a decade that saw the already dominant superhero genre gobble up a greater share of the market. But in this post-Endgame world, it will be DC and Warner Bros. who get to kick off the next decade of comic book adapted cinema. Birds of Prey (or Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn for those psychos who wish to recite all that) opens this week, and offers an interesting litmus test for Disney and Marvel’s greatest competitor.
After the critical failing of Batman V Superman and the commercial disappointment of Justice League, DC has hit it’s stride in recent years with several big hits, critical darlings, and even an Academy Award nominated film. So will Birds of Prey continue that hot streak? Perhaps it doesn’t matter how good the film is, as long as it continues a very important trend. More on that in a moment, but now it’s important to gleam the film’s synopsis, courtesy of Batman-News.com:
You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a twisted tale told by Harley herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis, and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz, put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya’s paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.
The synopsis, combined with the trailers and ads, promises an over the top, tongue-in-cheek crime thriller. One that also plays with the form and suspension of disbelief of the medium. It’s not entirely unlike any film we’ve seen in this franchise, but it does have a flavor unique to itself. The events of the film take place after a break up between Harley and the Joker.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever see Jared Leto’s interpretation of the character again (cheers!) and Birds of Prey partially exists as a figurative cleansing of that side of the canon. Warner Bros. has opted to retain the early elements of the DC Extended Universe that worked, while auctioning off the parts that didn’t or were too complicated to continue. Along the way, the DC films accidentally stumbled upon a methodology that resembles the source material the films are based on.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe brought all of it’s characters into one concrete timeline similarly to the main timelines of the comics. However, the DC films have recently only been tangentally connected, instead focusing all of their attention on the characters present through each film. A comparison could be made to the many Elseworlds stories and Graphic Novels, many of which do not fit into the main timeline of DC comics, but the works are able to take more chances because of that fact.
This is not to say that Warner Bros. won’t eventually tie all of their on-screen characters together in a big crossover movie. But the studio’s current cavalier approach to canon is refreshing and allows each movie to breathe. As a result, DC has figured an appropriate alternative to Marvel, as both companies employ different but equally beneficial strategies.
This all leads to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn headlining a blockbuster film that feels familiar yet different from most entries in the genre. Will an energetic romp headed by an all-female heroine team lead to a home rum with critics and fans? We will find out soon enough, but it’s already a win for the genre that a unique film, free of any expanded universe burdens, gets an at-bat.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn opens in theaters, IMAX, and all large format theaters on February 7th.