"We're f---ed," Renee Montoya declares in the middle of the night. The Gotham City Scags, the Essex Brothers, the Lords of the Avenues, the Back Bay Beaters, and every other intimidating gang from Gotham City is closing in. Harley Quinn, who only stopped stabbing a dead body on repeat to take a look out the window, is surrounded by her girl gang: Black Canary, Huntress, and Cass. While Montoya is here to make sure justice is served, Harley Quinn -- who realizes the law only protects privileged rich people -- is not ready to abide because she only believes in one thing: "cole slaw."
This is the scene in a dimly lit rooftop room above a villain's fun house (known as the "Booby Trap") on the set of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The film (which seems to be obviously embracing a full-on R-rating given the 16 F-words which were used in a single take of the sequence which saw the women being cornered by Gotham's gangs) is going back to Harley Quinn's roots. This certainly means there will be homage to the comics and the Suicide Squad movie before this but it seems Birds of Prey is going back further. This movie is so wacky and wild, its roots seem to truly be Harley Quinn's animated first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series and other cartoons.
The film is so wild that Harley will have a pet hyena by the name of Bruce and toss around piñata bombs which, on set, are actually dodgeballs wrapped in yarn and candy. The character's dialogue has even been spruced up with extra touches of insanity, joking about a being "dipped in a chemical vat to make [her] silky smooth," before being called a "ball sack" by Rosie Perez's Renee Montoya.
The film itself perfectly has "Emancipation" in its title. While Margot Robbie has portrayed Harley in the past, this movie is both an emancipation from ties to a film which was not very well received and a canon departure from her relationship with the Joker. "I think something I explored a lot in Suicide Squad, the first film, was Harley's co-dependence with the Joker," Robbie said in March. "And obviously, he has a huge influence on her. But, obviously, she was very much in a relationship with him when we first saw Harley onscreen in Suicide Squad. And I did want to explore what is the version of Harley out of a relationship, and whether she's out of a relationship on her own accord or he's kind of kicked her to the curb."
While the producers promise only "crumbs" of ties to the larger DC world which has already been established on the big screen, there is plenty of DC Comics lure to keep the hardcore fans interested. Subtle lines like references to a "Bertinelli massacre" tease a larger past for Jurnee Smollett-Bell's Black Canary (a character referred to a "the f---ing crossbow killer" at one point in the scene) seem to tease room for expansion which Robbie hopes to see down the line.
Given the language used in the scene paired with the incessant stabbing of a corpse, it looks like Birds of Prey has no choice but to embrace an R-rating when it gears up for release. The F-word is literally written on a prop and used 16 times in a single take of the scene being shot during ComicBook.com's time on set. The number of uses of the infamous "bad word" varied as cast members ran through the scene several times over but the success of previous R-rated comic book movies may have paved the way for the Birds to push their limits.
"I did feel like I had to censor myself a lot, obviously, to suit a PG rating," Robbie said, comparing her experience to that of the PG-13 Suicide Squad's production. By the way, this film is so distanced from that one, people on set often joked and simply referred to it as "the other movie," without naming it.
"A lot of the characters that exist in the DC world, to be honest, are quite dark. And a lot of them, Huntress for example, have serious childhood trauma, have serious mental illnesses, like Harley, whatever, but I felt like we never... Sometimes you can't really go as deep with those things if you have to censor yourself," Robbie says. "And I thought, wouldn't it be liberating if we didn't have to worry about that and really go for it, and then later, in the edit, kind of find where the tone of movie lies."
All things considered, the movie does offer up vibes of an R-rated Guardians of the Galaxy, which seemed to be an inevitable comparison. The first Guardians movie brought together a band of unlikely heroes, each drastically different from one another and reluctant to work together. Birds of Prey is piecing together something in that vein, though when its final cut is revealed it likely won't have much more in common with the Marvel title. There's no doubt that Birds of Prey will march to the beat of its own drum in its own interesting ways.
"There's a lot of influences on the film. I mean, the way that it's sort of talked about, the structure of the film was a bit like Pulp Fiction meets Rashomon," Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan says. The Professional, for example, will have reflections seen in the relationship between Harley and Ella Jay Basco's Cassandra Cain. "Then also just we also visually I think very much influenced by Clockwork Orange, as well."
Ultimately, Birds of Prey seems to be in good hands, as Robbie has invested herself fully in the part of Harley Quinn and the DC world as a whole. The actress is dripping with knowledge about her character's origin and, serving as a producer, refuses to see this movie be anything other than what fans of the character, like herself, would want to see.
"I first actually pitched the notion when we were actually still shooting Suicide Squad, because I kept saying Harley does so much better when she has people to play with," Robbie says. "And I had kept thinking that in real life I have such a girl gang, like my group of girlfriends, and I was like, I just want Harley to have a girl gang. I just want there to be a girl gang for Harley to be a part of. And then, obviously, I'd been reading a ton of the comics, anything involving Harley. And one of the separate line of comics is The Birds of Prey, which I started reading. And Harley's not a traditional member of the Birds of Prey, but it was a fun kind of girl gang to kind of dip in and out of, I suppose."
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Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) hits theaters on February 7, 2020.