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Gotham City’s newest protectors have arrived. Tuesday morning, following an Instagram post by Margot Robbie teasing her return as Harley Quinn, Warner Bros. released the first official behind-the scenes look at Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The first look teases viewers with quick glimpses of the main characters, who, alongside Robbie’s Harley Quinn, are comprised of Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) and Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Birds of Prey follows the events of Suicide Squad and finds Gotham City in a very different place following an apparent disappearance of Batman, and Quinn’s separation from the Joker. Harley finds herself on a continued path of redemption when she seeks to help a young girl, Cassandra Cain, escape the wrath of Black Mask by recruiting a force of Gotham heroines.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Birds of Prey footage is the aesthetic. The first look at Birds of Prey presents these characters not as superheroes and supervillains, but as rock stars. While David Ayer’s Suicide Squad received a sizable amount of criticism for its grungy, Hot Topic look, Yan’s Birds of Prey isn’t entirely divorced from that look while simultaneously creating its own ’80s music video sensibilities and what appears to be a range of costume changes. Regardless of the criticism Suicide Squad faced in regards to its aesthetic, it’s a look that gave the film a strong visual identity, and highlighted both the comic book source material along with punk and contemporary hip-hop fashion. Yan, while seemingly employing a bit more subtlety in some of the costume choices, looks to have employed a fashion identity for these characters that doesn’t remove them from the world of Suicide Squad. While we’re still a while away from seeing how these actors will inhabit these comic book icons, the looks shown off in this footage give us some indication of what we can expect from their characterizations.
There were rumors that Birds of Prey would jettison Harley’s tattoos and look from Suicide Squad in an attempt to distance itself from that film’s poor critical reception, but Yan and Robbie appear to have found a balance in incorporating what worked in Ayer’s film and making it their own. The Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad was very much inspired by Debbie Harry, and Birds of Prey’s Harley appears to be drawing inspiration from another ’80s pop star: Cyndi Lauper. Sporting shorter hair and frilled sleeves that appear to be made in part from caution tape, Harley Quinn isn’t sporting a comic book costume but one that still speaks directly to the character’s wild sensibilities and newfound freedom following her breakup with the Joker. We also see her sporting her mallet and bat from Suicide Squad. Harley Quinn definitely looks to be the most flashy character in the Birds of Prey crew.
In the comics, Birds of Prey began with Huntress and Black Canary, and those two characters may be the most anticipated of the film’s introductions. Winstead’s Huntress is rocking combat boots and black military attire with a cut-off midriff that evokes her purple, white and black comic book costume. She’s also wearing a chain as a shoulder belt, which is as great a sign of a tough exterior as anything. There’s a homemade vigilante aspect to Huntress’ look, one that suggests she’s not yet part of the Bat-family and has only recently begun her work as a crossbow-wielding hero. In the comics, Batman often found himself in contention with Huntress due to her penchant for ultraviolence, drive for revenge and unfocused anger. If her look is any indication, we expect Huntress to be the most deadly member of the Birds of Prey, and perhaps even more unpredictable than Harley Quinn when it comes to how far she’ll go.
Smollet-Bell’s Black Canary looks is directly inspired by her redesign by writer Brendan Fletcher and artist Annie Wu, who reimagined the character as a crime-fighting rock star. We see several shots in the first look footage of Black Canary holding a microphone, suggesting a similar angle. One thing that’s not clear yet is whether or not Black Canary will be a metahuman. In the comics, Laurel Lance has a sonic “canary cry,” but other iterations of the character have removed this power and focused solely on her martial arts skills or given her a canary cry by way of a technological enhancement. Superpowered or not, Black Canary is sure to kick as much ass as her comic book counterpart.
The final member of the Birds of Prey is Rene Montoya, a character who, like Harley Quinn, made her first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series. Perez’s Rene Montoya becomes costumed detective The Question in the comics, but here it seems she’ll begin as a police detective like she started out as in the comics. One of the interesting things to note is that the footage shows us a silhouette of Montoya downing a bottle, and another shot of her holding a gun with the barrel pointed towards her head. In the comics Montoya struggled with alcoholism before finding renewed purpose as The Question. The Montoya in Birds of Prey will likely be a suicidal alcoholic who finds her calling with the Birds of Prey, and as the silhouette shot suggests, perhaps a new identity as the faceless Question.
And finally we have the villains, McGregor’s Roman Sionis aka Black Mask, and Messina’s Zsasz. The footage doesn’t reveal their most iconic attributes, namely Sionis’ mask and Zsasz’s tally mark scars. There’s no doubt that we’ll see both in the film, but we don’t expect this footage to give all of the film’s surprises away. Sionis, who owns a cosmetics empire in the comics, looks like a music producer complete with aviator shades, keeping in line with the film’s ’80s pop-rock aesthetic. It will be interesting to see how he acquires the name Black Mask, whether it’s a mask he dawns, or as the result of a disfigurement. If we had to place our bets, it seems pretty likely that the Birds of Prey are going to burn his face right down to the bone in their efforts to save Basco’s Cassandra Cain, who despite a broken arm, is likely to be much more of a threat than she appears.
There’s a lot more to learn about Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) before its release in February next year, but this behind-the-scenes footage, though brief, is strong evidence that Gotham City and these beloved characters are in great hands with Cathy Yan. While Aquaman and Shazam! are offering lighter fare for the DC film universe, the R-rated Birds of Prey stands to once again prove just how varied this universe has the potential to be, both in terms of tone and its offering of heroes with flaws that have the potential to be as equally interesting as their attributes.
Birds of Prey opens on Feb. 7, 2020
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