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Birds of Prey release date, cast and story

After the less-than-warm critical reception of 2016's Suicide Squad, serious questions arose about the viability for the DC Extended Universe going forward. Margot Robbie apparently recognized her place as one of the few shining spots in an otherwise very messy film and, undeterred by naysayers, decided to haul the entirety of a nearly-aborted franchise onto her back to pitch, produce, and star in Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). It's not quite a sequel, because the second Suicide Squad (imaginatively titled The Suicide Squad) is in development under James Gunn. (Robbie's back for that one, too, though it's unclear if it's a reboot or true sequel or whatever, because no one wants to own Suicide Squad 1.0.)

Any and all mistakes of the past aside, we not only believe in, but encourage Robbie and her incredible chutzpah. When was the last time you saw a bombastic pop-punk R-rated girl-gang antihero cape movie? Yeah, exactly. Tank Girl is about as close as we can guess. It's nice to say with no irony whatsoever that something has never really been done before (though we will absolutely accept any and all gripes about how long it took to get there).

What is the release date for Birds of Prey?

Birds of Prey is set for release on February 7th, 2020, cutting in ahead of the MCU's Phase 4 launch later in the year. It's a great soft release timeframe, traditionally speaking, for movies that executives aren't quite sure are up to snuff for the tentpole season but have potential to be sleeper hits — see the first Kingsman film for how well that strategy can work. 

Marvel Studios has released its own films this time of year before (because time is a trifling concept to the MCU for any prospective box office earnings at this point), so it appears to be mostly luck that a much smaller-budget film like Birds of Prey isn't running up against a surer thing to soak up box office cash. 

Irrespective of any individual executive's faith in Birds of Prey, this is a movie that has demanded attention be paid to it virtually from the moment its fanciful full title was announced. It clearly deserves that attention, given how many first-of-its-kind decisions have gone into its production, and we are encouraged to know its release date is mostly clear to really get that spotlight when it matters most.

The heroes (and anti-heroes) of Birds of Prey's cast

Birds of Prey is headlined by a trio of women who live on the edge between villain and antihero. Margot Robbie will be reprising her role as Harley Quinn, naturally. Jurnee Smollett-Bell joins her as Black Canary, the high-kicking, sonic-screaming vigilante. Mary Elizabeth Winstead will play Huntress, the daughter of murdered mafia royalty and a peerless archer. 

The supporting cast is equally intriguing. Rosie Perez will play Detective Renee Montoya, a hard-scrabble Gotham PD veteran who became a particular fan favorite as an icon of gay representation in comics. Ali Wong has been cast in an unnamed supporting role as "an associate" of Detective Montoya, which conjures a few eye-emojis on our part. 

Meanwhile, Ella Jay Basco will play Cassandra Cain. Comic-savvy people coming to the movie will know Cassandra Cain eventually becomes one of the several Batgirls under Batman's tutelage. It's difficult to tell at this juncture if the movie will set her on the path to a bat-career, but Birds of Prey screenwriter Christine Hodson is also in charge of the Batgirl script (which currently has no known director, plot, or release date). Her attachment to the script is a recent one, however, so it's doubtful there has ever been any original intent to link Batgirl and Birds of Prey. Cassandra Cain isn't the only Batgirl, after all — she isn't even the first one.

Notably, it does not appear that Jared Leto will be reprising his Joker in any way whatsoever.

Birds of Prey's Big Bad

Ewan McGregor will be the major antagonist of the film as Black Mask, a.k.a. Roman Sionis, a longtime Batman villain in comics canon. Like so many Batman villains, he's a kind of dark mirror to Bruce Wayne, raised in extreme wealth to industrialist parents who never loved him and also died mysteriously. He, too, took over the family business only to destroy it, allowing Wayne Enterprises to purchase the business out from under him. Consumed with rage and a thirst for revenge, he turned to growing a crime syndicate called the False Facers and rose to become one of the most prominent mob bosses in Gotham City.

Rumor has surfaced that Birds of Prey will make a major diversion in Black Mask's character to portray him as gay. "Flamboyantly" is the adverb frequently used, and some have suggested he openly flirts with the secondary villain Victor Zsasz (we'll get to him in a moment). As you might imagine, this has fostered some concern about gay-coded villains, but if Rosie Perez's Detective Montoya will be presented on-screen as the canonically gay character she is, a real balance of perspective could be achieved. We are withholding any judgment for now, but if done correctly, who doesn't want to see Ewan McGregor as a gleefully evil, flamboyant thot?

The Big Bad's probable lackeys

Chris Messina, best known for his role as Danny Castellano in The Mindy Project, has traded in his boy-next-door rom-com charm for a role so different that describing it as "polar opposite" still somewhat misses the mark: Victor Zsasz. As a frequent inmate at Gotham's iconic Arkham Asylum, Zsasz is rather the ultimate over-the-top presentation of a nihilistic serial killer: he marks scars as tallies in his skin for each of his kills, and considers his victims' murders as liberating them from the emptiness of existence. Edgy. What his direct relationship is to either the heroines or Black Mask is currently unknown, but he's certainly the kind of character that could easily be called upon for a bit of bounty hunting on Black Mask's behalf.

Additionally, Robert Catrini has been cast as a character named Stefano Galante. In reporting Catrini's addition, CBR  suggested that Catrini's character may be a combination of two characters from other mafia families prominent in Batman canon: Stefano Mandragora and Junior Galante. The Mandragora family are chiefly responsible for the murder of Huntress' mother, suggesting that a whole lot of potential character motivation is set to unfold in Birds of Prey. 

Who is directing Birds of Prey?

Cathy Yan has been brought on as director for Birds of Prey, standing out for being the first Asian woman to direct any film within the superhero genre. She began her professional life as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and The LA Times before turning her eye to film. The result was a bridge between her two careers with Dead Pigs, a fictionalized take on a news story Yan read from The Guardian in 2013 about tens of thousands of dead pigs found in the Huangpu River. The film was featured and lauded at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018. 

John Wick director Chad Stahelski is serving as a second-unit director, with the specific task of expanding action sequences. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Stahelski will apparently be uncredited. Though fans often see reshoots as a death-knell, there's nothing too unusual at play here — second unit photography is a standard process, and Stahelski's 87 Eleven studio was assisting with Birds of Prey's stunt coordination from the beginning. Heavily-stylized, in-your-face fighting sequences — often in one continuous shot — are Stahelski's bread and butter, so his stylistic touch being added to what already promises to be a bold, visually-striking film only encourages the imagination.

Who wrote the script for Birds of Prey?

Christina Hodson, coming off the surprise success of the Transformers franchise's latest offering Bumblebee, has written the screenplay for Birds of Prey. Hodson must have developed quite the kinship both with Margot Robbie and her passion project, as the two of them have been chipping away at the screenplay for three years. Meeting Robbie and working on the project took Hodson on "a deep, deep dive" of DC canon after growing up a thorough Batman fan. 

To say she's having a great couple of years would be an understatement: she has also been tapped to pen the upcoming Batgirl script in the wake of Joss Whedon's exit from the project. And while she's racking up more conventional accolades and rapidly becoming the must-have screenwriter of the industry (she had three unproduced scripts highlighted on the Black List between 2012 and '14), she represents yet another big first as a Taiwanese British woman writing cape scripts.

What is the plot of Birds of Prey?

A rumored synopsis in 2018 suggested that Birds of Prey would find Harley Quinn breaking up with the Joker and then teaming up with Black Canary, Huntress, and Renee Montoya to rescue a young Cassandra Cain from the clutches of an evil crime lord. At the time of the original reporting, Ewan McGregor had not yet been cast, and Black Mask hadn't even been publicly considered as a character; apparently the originally-intended Big Bad many drafts ago was the Penguin. Birds of Prey comics are usually pretty serialized as vigilante missions, so any story to draw from them comes largely through character backgrounds and incidental moments, as opposed to overarching plot.

There is... one bit of more specific rumor-slash-potential-spoiler content floating around the internet, though without any context, it is both difficult to believe or understand. According to a couple of alleged plot leaks, the MacGuffin of the film is rumored to be a collection of nude pictures of Black Mask that Cassandra Cain somehow gets a hold of and then eats to hide the evidence. No, that's not all — the pictures are somehow, somehow stored within the confines of a diamond. Because the only logical way any nudes could be kept safe from gastrointestinal destruction is to... put 'em in crystallized carbon. Yeah.

If we take a long, long step back and view this idea from the widest, least immediately-prejudicial view possible, the idea of a Snatch-like journey to recover a boondoggle of trivial value is actually kind of entertaining. And a maddened crime lord hunting a teenager of (we assume) relative obscurity for somehow stealing some nudes definitely tracks with a dark, violent antihero comedy. It almost makes sense, and the information is so specific, one almost must weigh the rumor as viable. Maybe.

The Birds of Prey teasers

There's plenty we still don't know about Birds of Prey, but we certainly know what it looks like: punkish, irreverent, and glitzy. The first teaser features the German house group Moderat's song "A New Error" over rapid cuts between the main characters hanging out in costume. Harley, of course, is most eclectically-dressed in something like a yellow romper or overalls and bedecked in a coat made of holographic streamer material. Her friends Black Canary and Huntress appear in slick leather looking 100% Done with everything going on around them. Victor Zsasz (sans visible scar tallies at the moment) and Black Mask smugly mug at the camera. It's more costume test than trailer, but it does just enough to hint at the movie's vibe.

A second teaser arrived in September 2019, attached to It: Chapter Two (and subsequently ripped off the internet by Warner Bros. via DMCA takedowns). This one is set to a thudding drum-and-bass remix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Heads Will Roll." That's pretty illustrative all on its own, but when it's the music set over high-kicking girl-power fight scenes, well, you can't help but be charmed. Particularly noteworthy is a look at a nightclub that serves an upsetting funhouse of garish colors, painted eyes, and giant sculptures of hands emerging from the walls and floor. Harley yeets what appears to be a mallet at masked man (presumably a member of Black Mask's followers, the False Face Society). Is it real? Is it Harley's mildly-psychotic imagination? Who knows.

The official Birds of Prey poster

The most recent Birds of Prey development is an official poster touting a look at the cast, an in-your-face rainbow of bright colors, and the cheeky tagline "Mind Over Mayhem." Harley is most prominent, with all the rest of the cast floating around her head in mimicry of cartoon birds tweeting, like when Wile E. Coyote gets smashed over the head with a mallet. It's genuinely heartwarming to see a kooky and creative cast poster that so effortlessly communicates style and tone these days.

What does all of this add up to? Quite a melange, in all honesty. Cartoonish elements. Color and comedy. Moral shades of gray. Stylized, even fun violence. Glitter. Possible elements of departing from actual reality to live somewhat within Harley's head as she sees it. That can't be anything but a fun time!

The full Birds of Prey trailer cartwheels in

The official Birds of Prey Instagram announced a surprise trailer in early October 2019, in addition to four shiny new posters featuring Harley. When the trailer went live online the next day, we were treated to a series of trailer-typical fast cuts of action mixed, with some establishing shots of all the principal characters, all dubbed over by a monologue from Harley herself. The trailer is a relative feast compared to the sneak peeks we have had before now: the movie's theme of emancipation isn't just for Harley, but for all the women on her side, united against Black Mask — "He's after all of us, now," Harley says at one point. She also alludes to the idea that both she and Black Canary are harlequins, faceless servants subject to masters. Harley may be the star, but insofar as characterization, they are equals.

Cassandra Cain is on the run from Black Mask (and Victor Zsasz, playing evil gopher), and one shot in particular shows a woman who looks very much like Cassandra ordered to die by Black Mask. It's unclear right now if Huntress is more connected to Stefano Galante (due to her parents' murder) than Black Mask, but that's somewhat irrelevant as the mobster is shown working in concert with him. Renee Montoya is introduced carrying a box, suggesting that she is either quitting or has been fired from the police force for currently-unknown reasons. In short, it's the kind of wholesome story of sisterhood we can all get behind: a group of messy women drawn together by fate to escape (and, let's be real, almost certainly murder) a monster trying to collar them.

The Birds of Prey stars open up about their characters

At New York Comic Con 2019, Margot Robbie gave an interview to DC Daily along with Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, and Ella Jay Basco. In it, characterization became center focus with questions posed to each woman about their place in the film. With emancipation being an overall theme, Perez cited Detective Montoya's need to emancipate from the patriarchal suppression she experiences in the police department, and how she would use her sometimes-overbearing sense of justice to "fulfill her agenda." It sounds like a kind of chaotic-good alignment — justice at any cost.

Smollett-Bell described Black Canary as a person needing emancipation of the self, a woman who feels uncomfortable in her own skin and specifically with her powers. Her journey is about mastering her ability and her identity in order to find purpose. Basco says Cassandra Cain is a street-smart take-no-guff girl who is eminently capable of manipulation of everyone around her, friend or foe. This is a particular turn given the fact that the plot summarizes her as needing rescue — she may be in danger, but she's clearly still determined to look out for number one. 

And Harley? According to Robbie, the story "is told from her point of view," and that means color, drama, and a wildly unreliable narrator. But at its heart, this movie is guided by the premise that women can save each other, as well as save and establish themselves securely away from the iniquities laid upon them by the world.

The final Birds of Prey trailer goes all in

With the release of the final trailer for Birds of Prey in January 2020, the fuller context of the plot came into focus. As it turns out, each leading lady in the cast has somehow in the past brought on the personal ire of Black Mask (who at last appears in the trailer actually wearing his fearsome skull-like namesake). Black Canary has betrayed him, Huntress murdered someone important to him, and Detective Montoya is looking to put him in prison. Cassandra Cain, the cog on which the entire plot turns, has stolen from him — we see in the trailer that she pickpockets a diamond from Victor Zsasz. It does indeed appear that the buckwild spoiler that has been puzzling the internet since the advance screenings back in July 2019 is at least partially true, though we still have no idea how a diamond can contain digital photos of nudes on them. Between the psychedelic set designs and eyebrow-raising plot devices, there's no doubt this film is going to be one heck of a ride.

Curiously, however, Harley does not take the time during her expositional monologue in the trailer to explain the specific reason why Black Mask wants to kill her, too, though she says he does. All she says is that after breaking up with Joker, Black Mask has actively marked her for death. What protection did the Joker provide that she no longer has, and did she cross Black Mask at some point between the events of Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey?