Birds of Prey: And the Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020): ‘Why Not Harley Quinn’ – A Film Review


When the mess that is Suicide Squad came out, I don’t think anyone could have expected what it’d become. The best efforts just meant that it became a torn apart mess, but it managed to offer up one of the better cosplays throughout society since The Dark Knight’s Joker or The Crow‘s Eric Draven before it. Harley Quinn was grabbing people’s attention almost instantly. Really giving people a reason to dress up and be inspired by a character – though this may have only been a wardrobe success – Suicide Squad is still a complete mess. Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is Margot Robbie and possibly other filmmakers realising that they had a bankable character on their hands and the chance to offer a wonderful female character. Problem is, Harley Quinn was always the Joker’s side kick – so how do we push for that strong female character within Harley Quinn?


A Question of Power

The answer is perhaps too complex. Birds of Prey bears a significant and perhaps unfortunate stamp. It is dependent on Suicide Squad and in much the same way the character of Harley Quinn is dependent on the Joker. For all the strength that Harley Quinn has and for all that director Cathy Yan and Margot Robbie push into the character, they manage to struggle with these ropes too much. Birds of Prey, or as the film should be, (and) The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, is rooting for Harley Quinn as a strong female icon, but is held back, as it should be its own film and rightfully about Harley Quinn – which it is anyway, but the title suggests otherwise. It is, however, a sequel. Style isn’t so much original, as it is a part of Suicide Squad. Style and flash colours would have been much more interesting if it wasn’t that Suicide Squad did it all and messed it up already. The bizarre fantasies, whims and colours are thematic and interesting to the character of Harley Quinn, and her bizarre take on the world – but it is following the style down to the introductions of Suicide Squad.


A Question of Interest

Now, as the title suggests, Bird of Prey (again, full title is more telling), is trying to emancipate Harley Quinn into being her own character. As a female icon that is powerful and flawed, this has a lot of potential. Her character is inspiring and interesting. But, her independence is completely flawed and her power and strength suffer. Not only is the film trying to follow Suicide Squad but, for a film about Harley Quinn’s independence, she sure hammers in the point that she is Joker’s girl, being “fine without him”. This works as a joke and is true to the characters unfortunate focus and broken worldview, but it gives a character that isn’t in the film so much presence. It leaves Harley Quinn in a strange place, especially for a character in a film that is making so much of a point of female empowerment. So many other characters and actions are on the point of males are horrible, oppressive figures and female characters can easily outsmart and overpower them. It leaves the message a little confused, unfortunately. Not to mention the difficulty in having a film meaning to be a powerful standalone film for Harley Quinn, like Deadpool was for Deadpool, but having it secretly be an origin story for the Birds of Prey (not so much a secret, seeing as its in the title).



It’s a confusing film. Birds of Prey doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Or, if it does, it is scared about fully embracing it. If it had made stylistic choices which were a bit more bold, with a lot less dialogue positioning Harley Quinn as the weak underdog to the Joker (maybe think of Deadpool and his fascination with Wolverine), with less characters taking her spotlight, then Birds of Prey (or as it should just be The Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) would be a lot stronger. As it stands it is a stylistic and exciting action film with characters to cosplay again and again, but again, with one character really standing out – Harley Quinn. A shame she couldn’t be the all powerful star of her own film.



Harley Quinn has broken up with the Joker and after letting that fact be known, has to go on the run. She gets entangled with a lost diamond and helping other characters so that she can rise to a power with them to fight off their oppressors.




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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (d. Cathy Yan USA 2020)

Deadpool (d. Tim Miller USA 2016)

Suicide Squad (d. David Ayer USA 2016)

The Crow (d. Alex Proyas USA 1994)

The Dark Knight (d. Christopher Nolan USA/UK 2008)


Further Reading

Official Site

Cathy Yan Interview

Margot Robbie Interview

Cinematographer Interview

Behind the Scenes


Easter Eggs


If you liked this

Suicide Squad (2016) – A Film Review

Deadpool (2016) – A Film Review

Wonder Woman (2017) – A Film Review

This was an analytical review of….


Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (d. Cathy Yan USA 2020)

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