The state of the DC Extended Universe in 2019 was, to put it delicately, messy. The reception of their new films has been better than batman versus superman but the DCEU was still not viewed very favorably overall. The sinister tone of early 2010s DC movies, like Steel man, did not have fun with the public as he had done with The black Knight trilogy but the attempt to correct course with the quirkiness of Joss Whedon and Zack Snyderfrankenstein style Justice League left an even worse taste in people’s mouths. It seemed like the end was near for this attempt at a DC Cinematic Universe. It was until Cathy Yan and james gunn.
When Birds of prey released in theaters in February 2020, it didn’t make much of a splash and by March everyone was worried more than whether DC’s latest feature was good or bad. But this film played the crucial role of reconstituting the character who has become one of the mainstays of the DCEU: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). 2016 suicide squad was a complete mess in almost every aspect and Birds of prey was meant to right the wrongs he had done to Harley’s character in particular. By rebuilding his character, they were able to find the particular brand of goofiness that would become the cornerstone of this new DCEU.
Rather than the lackluster characterization she received in her film debut, Birds of preyHarley was quick-witted, short-tempered, and already (somewhat) self-realized early on. She’s loud and fights in a way she finds amusing, enjoying the destruction but still showing a clear sense of conscience (even if her morals aren’t quite up to par with a normal person). ). She is trying to find her identity outside of Joker and the full title of the film expresses this: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn. DC does pretty much the same thing. It’s finding your identity out of the shadow of the Black Knight trilogy and allowing themselves to test new ideas.
Birds of prey takes a very different approach from its very first scene. With an animated intro sequence that’s both distinct from what we’d expect from a typical DC film and quickly gets us up to speed with this character’s background. It forgoes the lengthy origin story section that has become a staple of the genre. Lots of previous DC movies like Steel man spent a good part of the first act introducing us to the character before they would become the mighty superhero/villain we know and love. Instead of, Birds of prey throws us right in the middle of Harley’s breakdown, and we’re just learning more as we go. This signals something that is important to the upset Yan and Gunn achieved and picks up the pace. This new DC brand wastes no time getting in on the action with Harley blowing up a factory before the ten minutes are up. The rhythm is electric in Birds of prey and The Suicide Squadd follows suit.
What Birds of prey laid the foundations for, The Suicide Squad began to actively build. The Suicide Squad shows just how fitting that name is in its opening minutes, killing off the entire first wave of Task Force X in stark contrast to its 2016 counterpart which took until the second act to kill anyone on the team. We know from the start that this controlled madness is not like before. Jumping straight into the action creates a sense of pressure on the story, which makes everything much more urgent right from the start. It feels brash and revealing in an even more over the top way than Birds of prey. The instances of violence are countless and high energy, creating a tone of respectful chaos.
Compare the opening range scene of The Suicide Squad with Superman’s terrorist raid at the beginning of batman versus superman. The framing of the violence is totally different between these two films. Superman quickly runs through villains armed with guns. The pacing of combat is fast and strategic but the weight of the actions themselves fall flat for lack of context. We care little for the bad guys, and we don’t fear for Superman since he so obviously outclasses those he fights. But in The Suicide Squad, the mortal peril is tangible. From Weasel drowning almost immediately to Javelin dying before Harley’s eyes, there’s a sense of danger in this fight. No matter how exuberant the characters can be, the context of the violence is the one that creates far more tension and helps elevate the violence in the film as a whole.
The characters in these new DC films are constantly in danger, and it makes them feel real despite the fact that the characters themselves are wackier than down-to-earth farm boy Kal-El. The violence seems to serve a stronger narrative purpose in Birds of prey and The Suicide Squad. And it’s most noticeable in how the constant violence makes audiences more attached to the characters as a whole. By showing early on how disposable these people are, we become more attached to them. While we know Superman will undoubtedly reach the climax of the movie, we know from minute one that The Suicide Squad that no one is safe.
Another upheaval brought by these new films is in their approach to humour. Birds of prey and The Suicide Squad are both basically comedies almost as much as action movies. This emphasis on humor, in addition to being engaging for the audience, works hand in hand with violence to create a sense of grounding. Violence is used for comedy and comedy for violence which creates a sense of cohesion throughout the films. But it also works to make these characters feel real. They’re vulnerable, but they’re also human, and they joke around and make mistakes like everyone else. Harley watching her beloved sandwich fall down the street is a comedic highlight of the film, but it also serves to humanize her character and create a sense of closeness for the audience.
While the characters may be wackier than ever, these films have their characters at their heart perhaps more than any DC film before. The final showdown of the punches is basically a staple of the superhero genre at this point. In a superhero fight, the focus is usually on who is stronger. With whoever comes out on top thematically affirming that they and their motives are right. This is not the case for Birds of prey and The Suicide Squad.
Harley spends most of the third act of Birds of prey fighting goons and chasing down Black Mask, but the ultimate climax isn’t between the two of them but rather between her and Cassandra. The film moves away from making combat the emotional heart of the film and instead focuses on what has been at the heart of the film all along: Harley’s human relationships. It matters less that she defeats Black Mask than that she apologizes to Cassandra.
Likewise, it’s not the actual defeat of the giant alien starfish Starro in The Suicide Squad which serves as an emotional high point but rather the moments leading up to his defeat. Ratcatcher 2 summoning all the rats in town serves as the culmination of both its character arc and the central theme of the entire film. Everyone has a purpose, it may not be obvious to everyone. These climaxes focus more on character development than defeating the villain. The final battles have moved away from those of the ideologies which clash at the batman versus superman and instead reflect internal growth and external acceptance.
mood Birds of prey and The Suicide Squad The set for the DC Cinematic Universe is unique among all superhero universes that have come before it. They lean into the weird, pulpy stuff that makes comics fun while unafraid of the gritty violence that underpins the superhero genre as a whole. It builds on beloved characters and takes out obscure anti-heroes, gives them a fresh coat of paint, and sends them to blow up a secret American research base. They’ve managed to create something that’s both grounded in the comic book brand camp and grounded in real human emotion.
Birds of prey and The Suicide Squad were able to hold the reins of the sinister tones that dominated DC for so long and temper them with eccentricity to create something engaging and exciting in the oversaturated superhero landscape.
Ayer shared the look he wanted for two of the “Suicide Squad” characters on Twitter.
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