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The Birds of Prey are cranking up the action. Last week, The Hollywood Reporter learned that Cathy Yan’s upcoming DC Comics adaptation Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) will receive some backup from John Wick trilogy director Chad Stahelski, whose stunt company, 87 Eleven, has been working on the film since production began. As additional photography gets underway, the stunt coordinator and filmmaker will be joining the crew in an uncredited role as second-unit director to craft more action scenes for the film. While fans have been waiting for the first trailer to finally see Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) in action, the long wait for footage may be because Warner Bros. wants to showcase the film’s stylish action set pieces in order to make a strong first impression. While there’s been some reservations expressed on social media, an uptick in fight scenes for an R-rated, street-level superhero movie can only be a good thing.
Of course, news of reshoots are often met with concern, despite them being a standard part of most major studio productions. The biggest movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame, had two sessions of reshoots scheduled in fall of 2018 and spring of 2019 and no one batted an eye. No doubt, some level of that reshoot concern stems from how Warner Bros. handled Suicide Squad (2016) and Justice League (2017), resulting in very different final cuts than what were initially marketed. But things have changed at Warner Bros since then, and studio restructuring has led to some transitions of power that are promising to avoid the missteps of before. While there is perhaps some amount of trust yet to be earned from the studio when it comes to its DC properties, that is, if the successful directorial visions of Aquaman (2018) and Shazam (2019) weren’t enough, Birds of Prey appears to be in safe and capable hands.
The brief teaser video announcing the start of Birds of Prey’s production earlier this year showed off Yan’s style for the film and some of the cosmetic choices for the characters. The pop-punk aesthetic, with a splash of neon, isn’t too far off from the look of the John Wick films. While it’s hard to know exactly what Yan’s style and voice is, her first feature, the Sundance-winning Dead Pigs that has yet to receive a domestic release, there’s little doubt that Stahelski’s additional photography will still result in a cohesive-looking film. What’s key to assuaging some of the fears associated with reshoots, and with this film in particular, is that a second-unit director is exactly what that title suggests, and is not a hired gun sent in to redo or reshoot Yan’s film. We don’t have another Justice League-Joss Whedon situation on our hands here, which seems to be the main concern on social media. Stahelski has a long history of working as a second unit director on films that include Captain America: Civil War (2016), The Hunger Games (2012) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). And as the most recent John Wick film, Parabellum, which arguably showcases Stahelski’s best work so far, he’s a visionary when it comes to constructing complicated, and consistently engaging action sequences that don’t spare a drop of blood.
It’s not uncommon with these superhero movies for a director who has never focused on action scenes before to need a little help punching up certain beats. Even Christopher Nolan, as extraordinary of a director as he’s proved to be, displayed some struggle with the quicker-paced fight scenes in Batman Begins (2005). But with Birds of Prey, 15 years removed from Warners’ renewed interest in DC Comics, audience expectations in terms of what they expect and want to see when it comes to comic book adaptations are loftier than ever. There’s a dearth of superhero combat, and regardless of how interesting the characters are, there’s a desire to leave audiences satisfied with seeing comic book-style action brought to life.
Stahelski’s inclusion practically guarantees Birds of Prey will showcase things we’ve never seen before. John Wick killed a man with a book this very year — I can only imagine what the Birds of Prey will accomplish when left to their own devices.
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