Harley Quinn is a terrible role model,” jokes director Cathy Yan. She pauses. She mulls over the idea. “Although, in some ways, she’s a great role model because she just is who she is.” The wildcard of DC’s cinematic universe is an acid vat of contradictions: she’s a party girl, a criminal, and a maniac with a PhD and a fixation on clowns. She lives inside her own head, but is sociable by nature. She likes to kick back in cat onesies, but could break a man’s shins in an instant. In her own words: “No one is like me.”
In Birds of Prey, she finally gets the film she deserves. With Margot Robbie reprising the role she played in 2016’s disastrous Suicide Squad, Harley escapes from under the shadow of her big-screen debut (although she’ll appear in its reboot, directed by James Gunn). “We wanted to show a different version of femininity and feminism,” Yan says. “These women are flawed, they make poor decisions.” In a post-Wonder Woman world, it feels right for comic book movies to look beyond pure aspirational womanhood – to loosen up and relinquish the burden of having to serve as ambassadors for an entire gender.
In that sense, it’s quietly radical. With a reported budget of £57.1m ($75m), it’s a passion project for Robbie, who pitched the film, oversaw its development, and produced it under her own LuckyChap Entertainment banner. It was the actor who pushed for the studio to hand the reins over to Yan, who had just come off her debut film Dead Pigs. And it was the actor who stood by the film’s unexpected tone: unflinchingly violent in places, with as many F-bombs as Tarantino but none of the broodiness of Joker. It’s funny and unpredictable, too, with Harley serving as its narrator. It may have taken years but Warner Bros, the studio behind the film, came to trust Robbie’s vision. “She definitely puts her money where her mouth is,” says Yan.
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