Birds of Prey (2020 film)

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Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCathy Yan
Produced by
Written byChristina Hodson
Based onCharacters
by DC
Starring
Music byDaniel Pemberton
CinematographyMatthew Libatique
Edited by
Production
company
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • January 25, 2020 (2020-01-25) (Mexico City)
  • February 7, 2020 (2020-02-07) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$82–100 million[2]
Box office$201.9 million[3][4]

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)[a] is a 2020 American superhero film, the eighth installment in the DC Extended Universe and a follow-up to Suicide Squad (2016). It was directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, and it stars Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, and Ewan McGregor. The film follows Harley Quinn, after breaking up with the Joker, joining forces with Helena Bertinelli, Dinah Lance, and Renee Montoya to save Cassandra Cain from Gotham City crime lord Roman Sionis, forming the Birds of Prey altogether.

Robbie, who also served as producer, pitched the idea for Birds of Prey to Warner Bros. in 2015. The film was announced in May 2016, with Hodson being hired to write the script that November, followed by Yan signing on to direct in April 2018. The majority of the cast and crew were confirmed by December 2018. Principal photography lasted from January to April 2019 in Downtown Los Angeles, parts of the Arts District, Los Angeles, and soundstages at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. Additional filming took place in September 2019.

Birds of Prey is the first DCEU film and the second DC Films production to be rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America. The film had its world premiere in Mexico City on January 25, 2020, and was theatrically released in the United States in IMAX, Dolby Cinema, and 4DX on February 7, 2020. It grossed $201 million worldwide, making it the eighth highest-grossing film of 2020 but falling short of its widely reported break even point of $250–300 million.[2][7][8] The film received praise from critics for its visual style, Yan's direction, and Robbie's performance, but criticism towards Hodson's screenplay.

Plot[edit]

Four years after the defeat of the Enchantress,[b] the Joker breaks up with Harley Quinn, throwing her out on the Gotham City streets. She is taken in by Doc, the owner of a Taiwanese restaurant, and recovers from her relationship by cutting her hair, adopting a spotted hyena (whom she names after Bruce Wayne), and taking up roller derby.

Harley gets drunk at a nightclub owned by Roman Sionis, a ruthless crime lord, and cripples his driver after said driver insults her. She meets burlesque singer Dinah Lance, who later rescues an intoxicated Harley from an attempted abduction. Sionis is impressed by Dinah's skills and appoints her as his new driver. The next night, Harley blows up the Ace Chemicals plant as a way to publicly announce her and Joker's breakup. Meanwhile, GCPD Detective Renee Montoya investigates a series of mob killings carried out by a crossbow-wielding vigilante. Finding Harley's necklace at the scene of the Ace Chemicals explosion, Montoya notes that Harley is in danger without the Joker's protection. She approaches Dinah about being an informant on Sionis for them, but Dinah rejects the offer.

Sionis sends Dinah and his sadistic right-hand-man Victor Zsasz to retrieve a diamond embedded with the account numbers to the fortune of the Bertinelli crime family, who were massacred years ago. Young pickpocket Cassandra "Cass" Cain steals the diamond from Zsasz and swallows it after she is arrested. Harley, fleeing from Montoya and several other people she had wronged, is captured by Sionis's men. Zsasz informs Sionis that Cassandra has the diamond, and Dinah warns Montoya. As Sionis prepares to have Harley killed, she offers to recover the diamond for him. Sionis agrees but also places a bounty on Cassandra. Breaking into the GCPD with a variety of firework-inspired non-lethal grenade launcher rounds, Harley frees Cassandra and the pair escape.

After escaping, Harley and Cassandra bond while hiding out at the former's apartment. Doc is approached for information by the "crossbow killer", who is revealed to be Helena Bertinelli. Having survived her family's massacre and becoming trained as an assassin, Helena has been targeting each of the gangsters responsible for her family's murders, preferring the moniker of "The Huntress". Harley's apartment is later bombed by criminals looking for Cassandra, and Doc sorrowfully reveals that he sold Harley out. Harley calls Sionis and offers to turn Cassandra over in exchange for his protection, agreeing to meet at an abandoned amusement park. Dinah notifies Montoya of the rendezvous, but her betrayal is noticed by Zsasz, who informs Sionis. A devastated Sionis dons his ritualistic mask from which he gets his villainous nickname, "Black Mask".

At the park, Montoya confronts Harley, but Harley knocks her out of a window. Zsasz arrives and tranquilizes Harley before holding Dinah at gunpoint, but he is killed by Helena, who reveals Zsasz was the last of her family's killers. Montoya returns and a stand-off ensues until they realize Sionis has arrived with a small army of masked criminals, known collectively as the False Face Society. Using Harley's old gear, the makeshift team successfully withstand and repel their attack. During the battle, Cassandra is captured by Sionis, while Dinah reveals her metahuman ability of supersonic-level screaming, defeating an additional number of mobsters aligned with Sionis. Harley gives chase on roller skates, and with assistance from Helena, the pair pursue Sionis. At a nearby pier, the final confrontation occurs. Sionis prepares to kill Cassandra, but she pulls the ring from a grenade that she slipped in his jacket after taking it from Harley's weapons chest earlier. Harley throws Sionis off the pier just before the grenade detonates and kills him.

In the aftermath of destroying Sionis's criminal empire, Montoya quits the GCPD. With the money within the accounts hidden inside the diamond, she joins Dinah and Helena in establishing a team of vigilantes called the Birds of Prey. Harley and Cassandra escape, selling the diamond itself to a pawnshop and starting their own contract killing business.

In a post-credits audio sequence, Harley is about to reveal a secret about Batman,[c] but the film ends mid-sentence.

Cast[edit]

Additionally, Steven Williams portrays Captain Patrick Erickson, Montoya's superior at the GCPD; Dana Lee portrays Doc, Quinn's friend who owns a Taiwanese restaurant; François Chau portrays Mr. Keo, a rival crime boss of Sionis; Derek Wilson portrays Tim Munroe, a GCPD detective; Matt Willig portrays Happy, previously a henchman who worked for the Joker and Stefano Galante; and whose face was tattooed by Quinn and the Joker; and Bojana Novakovic portrays Erika, a night club patron who gets harassed by Sionis. Charlene Amoia and Paul Lasa respectively portray Maria and Franco Bertinelli, the mother and father of Helena; Robert Catrini portrays Stefano Galante, the mob boss who killed the Bertinelli family.[16][32]

The Joker appears in the film, through animated-special effects during a flashback sequence, as well as through the combined use of archive footage of Jared Leto from Suicide Squad and body-double Johnny Goth on set. These techniques were used because Leto was not available during filming.[33] A still photograph of Jai Courtney as George "Digger" Harkness / Captain Boomerang also appears on a wall in the Gotham City Police Department.[34]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

In May 2016, ahead of the release of Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. Pictures announced a spin-off film focusing on Harley Quinn and several other female DC Comics heroes and villains, such as Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. Margot Robbie was attached to reprise her role as Harley Quinn, and would also serve as producer.[11][35] British screenwriter Christina Hodson was announced to be writing the film in November.[36] Robbie had pitched the film to Warner Bros. in 2015 as "an R-rated girl gang film including Harley, because I was like, 'Harley needs friends.' Harley loves interacting with people, so don't ever make her do a standalone film." Robbie felt it was important for the film to have a female director. While Warner Bros. and DC Films had various other Harley Quinn-oriented films in development, Birds of Prey was the only one with whose development Robbie was directly involved.[37]

Robbie spent three years working on Birds of Prey and continued to present it to Warner Bros. until the studio felt the project was at the point it could be made.[37] By April 2018, Warner Bros. and DC Films had finalized a deal with Cathy Yan to direct, making her the first female Asian director to direct a superhero film.[38] Yan pitched for the job as "wanting to smash the patriarchy."[39] Robbie was confirmed to be producing the film under her LuckyChap Entertainment banner, as part of a first-look deal she has with the studio; Sue Kroll and Bryan Unkless were also announced to serve as producers through their companies Kroll & Co. Entertainment and Clubhouse Pictures, respectively. Production was scheduled to begin by late 2018 or early 2019.[40] The Penguin was intended to appear in the script at one point but was dropped to preserve his DC Extended Universe debut in The Batman.[41] Barbara Gordon / Batgirl, a founding member of the team in the comics, was removed from Birds of Prey due to her upcoming standalone film, which is also being written by Christina Hodson.[42]

Pre-production[edit]

Margot Robbie in 2019.

By July 2018, the film was entering pre-production.[43] Robbie confirmed the film would be titled Birds of Prey, describing it as "different" from the other DC films featuring Harley Quinn, and said it would be produced on a relatively small budget compared to other superhero films.[44][45] She also stated Harley Quinn would receive a new costume, and teased the casting of diverse actors.[46] The line-up for the Birds of Prey team was revealed to include Black Canary, Huntress, Cassandra Cain, and Renee Montoya, with the villain set to be a Batman adversary who had not yet been seen in film.[24] Casting began in August,[47] with Warner Bros. considering several actresses for Huntress and Black Canary. Alexandra Daddario, Jodie Comer, Blake Lively, and Vanessa Kirby expressed interest.[48][49] In August, Roman Sionis / Black Mask was revealed to be the film's antagonist.[50] Janelle Monáe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell were under consideration for Black Canary by September, while Sofia Boutella, Margaret Qualley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Cristin Milioti were being considered to play Huntress.[51] Justina Machado and Roberta Colindrez tested for Renee Montoya, while Warner Bros. began seeking a 12-year-old Asian actress to play Cassandra Cain.[52]

In late September, Smollett-Bell and Winstead were respectively cast as Black Canary and Huntress,[14] Warner Bros. scheduled a February 7, 2020 release date,[53] and Ewan McGregor and Sharlto Copley were under consideration for the role of Black Mask.[54] During the U.S.-China Entertainment Summit in October, Yan confirmed the cast and that the film would be R-rated. She said, "[I] could not put the script down, it had so much dark humor to it which a lot of my work does, and there are themes of female empowerment which are so strong and relatable."[55] Cinematographer Matthew Libatique joined the film that month,[56] as did Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya.[25] Stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio and fight coordinator Jon Valera joined in November,[57] along with McGregor as Black Mask[29] and Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain.[27] Robbie revealed the full title,[58] and said the subtitle reflects the humorous tone of the film.[59] Production designer K. K. Barrett joined in December,[60] as did Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz.[26] Steven Williams, Derek Wilson, Dana Lee, François Chau, Matthew Willig, Robert Catrini, and Ali Wong were also cast.[26][28]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began in Los Angeles, California in January 2019 under the working title Fox Force Five.[61][62][63] Although filming had been expected to also take place in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia,[64] the entire shoot took place in Los Angeles after the production received a tax credit from the state of California.[65][43] Filming was expected to be completed by mid-April 2019.[66] In February, Charlene Amoia joined the cast.[16] Filming wrapped on April 15, 2019.[67]

Post-production[edit]

Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff served as editors, while Method Studios, Weta Digital, Luma Pictures, Image Engine, and Crafty Apes provided the visual effects for the film.[68][69][70][71] In August 2019, Chad Stahelski served as a second unit director for reshoots, his company 87eleven having been already involved in the development of the action scenes.[72] Photography for the additional footage began on September 3, 2019.[73][74]

Costume concept artist Greg Hopwood released an exclusive look at Costume production art at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2019 [75]

Music[edit]

In September 2019, Daniel Pemberton was announced to serve as the composer for the film's score.[76] The Original Motion Picture Score album was released by WaterTower Music on February 14, 2020.[77]

A soundtrack album for the film, titled Birds of Prey: The Album, was announced in January 2020 and was released on February 7 by Atlantic Records, to coincides with the film's release. To promote the album, a single was released every Friday before the film's release.[78] "Diamonds" by Megan Thee Stallion and Normani was released on January 10,[79] "Joke's On You" by Charlotte Lawrence was released on January 17,[80] "Boss Bitch" by Doja Cat was released on January 24, "Sway with Me" by Saweetie and GALXARA was released on January 31[81] and "Experiment on Me" by Halsey, was released the same day as the album.[82] A solo version of "Sway with Me" by GALXARA was released as a standalone single on May 1, 2020.[83]

The movie also includes songs which are not featured on the album, such as Spiderbait's "Black Betty", which plays during the fight scene at the police impound, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' "I Hate Myself For Loving You", which plays during the montage of Harley trying to move on from the Joker, Heart's "Barracuda", which plays for the first part of the fight against the False Face Society, and Kesha's "Woman", which plays during the final scene. The film also features a rendition of Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" sung by Robbie.[84]

Marketing[edit]

Marketing began on January 21, 2019, when a first-look production video of the characters and costumes titled "See You Soon" was released by Warner Bros. via YouTube.[85] DC Comics published a promotional trade paperback anthology featuring stories based on the film on November 12, 2019.[86] The first teaser debuted exclusively in theatres on September 5, 2019, in front of screenings for It: Chapter Two, with Quinn stating that she is "over clowns" while popping a red balloon, in a collective reference to It / Pennywise the Dancing Clown and the Joker.[87]

A short teaser was released on the film's social media pages, announcing the first official trailer would be released on October 1, 2019. A series of posters, which also announced the trailer debut, was released the same day.[88] On December 5, 2019, Birds of Prey held a panel at the annual CCXP in Brazil, showing the first five minutes of the film, and the second official trailer, which was released online on January 9, 2020.

A three-day pop-up event named Harleywood was also organized at the Hollywood and Highland Center with the presence of the cast on the launch day. Artists who contributed to the soundtrack were also present to promote it, with Charlotte Lawrence and Doja Cat performing.[89]

Release[edit]

Birds of Prey was theatrically released by Warner Bros. Pictures in the United States on February 7, 2020, in standard, IMAX, IMAX 3D, Dolby Cinema, 4DX, and ScreenX formats.[53][90][91] The film had its world premiere on January 25, 2020, at the Proyecto Publico Prim in Mexico City.[92] It also screened at the BFI IMAX in London on January 29, and at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes on January 30, during a special event named Le Festival de Quinn (The Quinn Festival) in reference to the Cannes Film Festival.[93][94] On February 10, 2020, it was reported that the film was being displayed under the title Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey on the websites for AMC Theatres, Cinemark Theatres, and Regal Cinemas.[5][6] According to Screen Rant, the name change was mandated by Warner Bros.[5][95] However, TheWrap subsequently reported that "an individual with knowledge at the studio" denied that Warner Bros. had revised the title, and quoted Atom Tickets' Alisha Grauso's explanation that the new listing was "apparently for display/search purposes only for vendors and theaters, not an official title change."[96]

Home media[edit]

On March 19, Warner Bros. Pictures announced the film would be available digitally in the United States and Canada through Premium VOD on March 24 due to movie theaters closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. This was just over one month after the film's theatrical debut and before the end of the usual 90-day theatrical run.[97] Another film distributed by the studio, The Way Back, was also released earlier than expected for the same reason.[98] In the United Kingdom, it was released digitally and on video on demand on April 24, 2020.[99] The Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, and DVD were released in North America on May 12, 2020.[100][101] The film debuted on HBO Max on August 15, 2020.

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Birds of Prey grossed $84.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $117.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $201.9 million.[3][4] According to Variety, the film needed to gross $250–300 million worldwide to break even.[2]

In the United States and Canada, Birds of Prey was initially projected to gross $50–55 million from 4,236 theaters in its opening weekend.[102] However, after making $13 million in its first day, including $4 million from Thursday night previews, estimates were lowered and it went on to debut to $33 million. The film finished first at the box office but marked the lowest opening for a DC film since Jonah Hex in 2010 ($5.3 million), and was 75% smaller than Suicide Squad's $133.4 million opening in 2016. The low start was blamed on the possible lack of demand for a solo film surrounding the character of Harley Quinn, as well as the confusing title and the R rating limiting the appeal and demographics for ticket sales.[103] In its second weekend, the film fell 48% to $17.1 million, finishing second, behind newcomer Sonic the Hedgehog, and then made $7 million in its third, dropping another 59%.[104][105][106]

In other territories, the film was expected to debut to $60–70 million from 76 countries, for a worldwide total of $110–125 million.[102] It made $7.8 million after two days of overseas release in 51 countries and $18.1 million from the full 76 after three. The film went on to make $46 million from international play in its opening weekend, and $79 million worldwide. Its highest-grossing territories were Mexico ($4.6 million), Russia ($4 million), the United Kingdom ($3.9 million), Brazil ($2.8 million) and France ($2.7 million). The low opening was blamed on similar audience hesitation as in the United States, as well as the coronavirus pandemic in Asia closing some theaters.[107]

Yan acknowledged the film's unsatisfactory box office performance and stated, "There were also [undue] expectations on a female-led movie, and what I was most disappointed in was this idea that perhaps it proved that we weren't ready for this yet. That was an extra burden that, as a woman-of-color director, I already had on me anyway. So, yes, I think there were certainly different ways you could interpret the success or lack of success of the movie, and everyone has a right to do that. But, I definitely do feel that everyone was pretty quick to jump on a certain angle."[108]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 78% based on 409 reviews, with an average rating of 6.75/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "With a fresh perspective, some new friends, and loads of fast-paced action, Birds of Prey captures the colorfully anarchic spirit of Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn."[109] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 59 critic reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[110] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, and PostTrak reported it received an average 3.5 out of 5 stars, with 61% of people surveyed saying they would definitely recommend it.[103][104]

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, and said that "Robbie turns in a much richer and funnier and layered performance as Harley this time around, thanks in large part to the stiletto-sharp screenplay by Christina Hodson."[111] Joe Morgenstern, writing for The Wall Street Journal, stated, "Much of this R-rated movie is chaotic, yet it’s a richly hued, madly inventive, gleefully violent and happily slapdash contraption with a formidable female at its center."[112] Matthew Monagle of The Austin Chronicle gave it 4 out of 5 stars and said that "Yan and Robbie lean into both sides of Quinn’s personality throughout the film. This allows Birds of Prey to earn every bit of its R-rating while still feeling like a Looney Tunes cartoon."[113] The Arizona Republic's Nicole Ludden praised Yan's direction, saying that it "carries a visually distinct style throughout the film that makes the layering of several chaotic scenes feel cohesive."[114]

John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "action-packed, but more rule-following than its bonkers protagonist," and wrote, "Yan finds plenty of opportunities for exciting set pieces: Extravagant action choreography makes the most of colorful set design, unlikely gimmicks and wrasslin'-style brutality. But Hodson's script offers far less diverting banter than it might've between the fight scenes."[115] Writing for Variety, Owen Gleiberman said the film was "thin but lively" and praised the performance of Robbie, as well as Yan's direction, although noted the script as having "attitude to spare, but in a rather bare-bones way."[116] Calling it "DC's first good action movie," Joshua Rivera of The Verge offered a mixed review while praising the film's relation to breakups, writing, "That manic energy is all that’s holding Birds of Prey together at times, and the fact that all of its characters seem to thrive in it makes it all the more disappointing that the movie doesn’t really take any time to get to know them better."[117]

In a scathing review, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote "Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is more than horrible. It should not exist. Money should never have been raised for it. The screenplay should never have been filmed. Margot Robbie shouldn't have produced it. She certainly shouldn't have starred in it."[118]

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient Result Ref.
Hollywood Critics Association Midseason Awards July 2, 2020 Best Picture Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn Nominated [119][120]
Best Actress Margot Robbie Runner-up
Best Supporting Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Ewan McGregor Won
Best Female Director Cathy Yan Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Christina Hodson Nominated
People's Choice Awards November 15, 2020 The Movie of 2020 Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn Pending [121]
The Action Movie of 2020 Pending
The Female Movie Star of 2020 Margot Robbie Pending
The Action Movie Star of 2020 Pending
The Soundtrack Song of 2020 Boss Bitch - Doja Cat Pending

Future[edit]

Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn will appear in The Suicide Squad.[122] Cathy Yan said that she would be interested in directing a sequel that would explore Harley Quinn's relationship with Poison Ivy.[123][124]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Also known as Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey or simply Birds of Prey[5][6]
  2. ^ Depicted in the 2016 film Suicide Squad.
  3. ^ In-reference to the upcoming Batman film, which was then planned to be set in the DC Extended Universe.[9][10]

References[edit]

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