“Birds of Prey”: A comic book movie made by and for women


Courtesy of Warner Bros

“Birds of Prey” rejuvenates the tired tropes of the comic book movie genre by blowing viewers away with stunning visuals and relatable moments that excite the common feminist movie goer.

Alex Fuller, Staff Writer

“Birds of Prey” is a visually stunning thrill ride that revitalizes the comic book genre with kinetic and captivating fight scenes, inclusive and innovative political views and a killer soundtrack featuring mostly female artists. 

Cathy Yan’s second feature length film, “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” is one hour and 45 minutes of pure character development for Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie.

The film tells the story of Quinn’s breakup with the Joker and the loss of the immunity and protection that he provided. She has to learn to survive on her own in a city where basically everyone is out to get her, including the most powerful man in Gotham, Roman Sionis, played by Ewan McGregor. 

“Birds of Prey” is extremely rewatchable due to Margot Robbie’s dynamic performance as Harley Quinn, not to mention Ewan McGregor’s disgustingly accurate depiction of an extremely powerful and misogynistic man. This is the second time Robbie has lived in and embodied the role of the insane, violent and fun-loving ex-psychiatrist; the first was the widely disliked “Suicide Squad” in 2016. 

Robbie was vocal about the fact that she identified much more with Cathy Yan’s version of the character. Robbie felt she actually understood the break-up and thought it was more relatable than the relationship director David Ayer created between Harley Quinn and the Joker. This is apparent in the film as Quinn comes out of the shadows and develops her own identity separate from the Joker.

In an interview, Cathy Yan said, “The story’s about her emancipation and she’s out on her own, she’s not gonna [deal with the] Joker, and with ‘Suicide Squad,’ she’s so connected to the Joker.”

Yan made it blatantly obvious that the “Suicide Squad” spin-off is definitely not about the Joker. In fact, Joker is hardly mentioned in the film and only comes up in the context of his relationship with Quinn; his existence is tied only to his relationship with Quinn in an effective gender swap of a tired trope.

The hero of Gotham, Batman, is also absent but is referenced in the humorous naming of Quinn’s newly acquired pet hyena, Bruce. 

Hiring a woman to direct Harley’s story brings a female gaze to a franchise dominated by the male gaze. Had the film been directed by a man, the Joker may have shown up at some point to mess with Harley’s emotions. Batman might have swept in to help in the final fight scene. Roman Sionis might have been more likeable, and his misogynistic acts may have unintentionally been justified. 

There is also no denying that Harley herself would have been oversexualized as she was in “Suicide Squad.” By deprioritizing the male gaze, Yan presents us with a more realistic look into how women see men and other women in society; it’s hard to find movies outside the gross-out genre that feature women openly talking about defecating.

Yan also injects real life moments for women into the film, like when Quinn offers Black Canary a hair tie during a funhouse fight scene that pits the all-girl Birds of Prey against an army of men as Heart’s hit song “Barracuda” plays.

Quinn is doing what any real life girl with a hair tie to give would do, and once Canary ties up her hair, she resumes kicking ass. 

At the end of the film, Officer Renee Montoya apologizes to Quinn for underestimating her. It is unlikely this would have happened had they been male characters written by a male director. 

From a psychological standpoint, women are more likely to apologize to each other because they have a lower threshold for what they consider wrong, according to a study published by Pubmed. Men in this situation are less likely to apologize or admit to being victims of wrongdoing.

Not only does “Birds of Prey” have serious feminist vibes, it also has subtle and meaningful LGBTQ representation. 

The film references at least one of Quinn’s past female relationships, and the homoerotic tension between Sionis and his henchman, Mister Zsasz, is clear. Whether they are honest about it with each other is debatable, but the looks of longing cannot be ignored. 

This point is made stronger by the jealousy Zsasz exhibits when Sionis is undoubtedly lusting after Black Canary.

Unfortunately, with a weak opening weekend, many critics and fans have written off “Birds of Prey.” In some markets, the title is being changed to “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” in an effort to increase ticket sales.

Despite the weak box office, “Birds of Prey” is one of the best modern comic book movies. Unlike the wide majority of films in the genre, “Birds of Prey” is a film made by women and for women. Cathy Yan has brought back excitement into the world of DC Comics and the world of comic book movies at large.