Skip to main content

Birds of Prey and Joker prove going weird is DC’s best move

BIRDS OF PREY (2020) Clip "You Lost Something, Right?" HD

As positive reviews for DC and WB’s Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) pour in and Joker basks in the glow of eleven Oscar nominations (and over $1 billion in box office sales), it’s impossible not to see all the facepaint, high pitch laughs, and — most importantly — standalone nature of each film and think, “dang, these weird movies are doing something right.”

The “something right” appears to be simultaneously emulating the Marvel model and rejecting it entirely.

At the time of writing this piece, Birds of Prey stood at an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 111 counted reviews. Christy Lemire of writes, “By detailing the character’s origin story and establishing her own franchise, director Cathy Yan pulls off the tricky feat of blending elaborate action sequences with compelling character development.”

Lemire, intentionally or not, describes Birds of Prey in the exact terms we tend to use to lionize movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Elaborate action sequences with compelling character development” is the backbone of every Marvel movie. However, where Birds of Prey and its latest DC contemporaries obviously differ is that they aren’t tied into two dozen other movies in a contiguous timeline. Or any cinematic timeline at all, really.

While DC introduced Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in 2016’s widely-panned Suicide SquadBirds of Prey is presented as a literal emancipation for the character (from Jared Leto’s Joker) and the movie itself from the universe Suicide Squad initially hoped to spawn. DC has already committed to rebooting Suicide Squad in 2021 with a partially overhauled cast, and it’s unclear how or if it will tie into a larger DC Expanded Universe and marquee characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and The Flash.

Following Joker‘s critical acclaim and massive worldwide box office gross, and signs of another round success for Birds of Prey, DC is having its cake and eating it too.

On the one hand, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Justice League, and the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984, Aquaman 2, and The Flash (which is apparently still coming), the DCEU is managing to tell an MCU-esque multi-film epic about this world’s heroes.

On the other, with films like JokerBirds of Prey, Shazam!, and an already renewed, upcoming version of The Batman starring Robert Pattison, DC is also telling interesting stories about off-the-cuff characters who have no tangible connection to the DCEU at all. And in fact, even those mega franchises (and their mega characters) seem to be tenuously untying themselves from the broader cinematic continuity. It’s every DC film franchise for itself these days, it seems. And it’s working.

Untying from the cinematic universe approach lets DC take greater risks (and make more movies) while still raking in the box office dough and confronting more provocative topics. Joker dealt heavily with mental illness, Birds of Prey stars an all-female supervillain troupe, Shazam! is practically a kids’ movie, and Aquaman spinoff The Trench is being billed as a deep-sea horror movie.

These are comic book movies that don’t shy away from the inherent weirdness of comics.

Until 2008’s Iron Man, there was no designated playbook on how to make comic book movies succeed longterm. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s extremely ambitious, multi-phase strategy redefined the superhero genre and entertainment itself.

But nobody ever said that was the only way to make these kinds of movies. While DC has walked the line with its heroes, creating its own Expanded Universe, its greatest critical successes to date have come from its villains, weirdos, and self-contained franchises. And that’s OK, too.

With more of those films to come, the future finally looks bright for DC.

Editors' Recommendations

Nick Perry
Nick Perry is a freelance writer who bounced from Hollywood to Silicon Beach to pajama pants. His work has been featured on…
Birds of Prey trailer puts Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in the spotlight
suicide squad harley quinn promo margot robbie still

Warner Bros. Pictures released the first trailer for Birds of Prey, also known as Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), the upcoming film that teams Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn with a group of female characters from the DC Comics universe, along with Ewan McGregor as the villainous Black Mask. You can watch the new trailer in the player above.

The trailer, which dropped Tuesday, shows Robbie's Quinn picking up the pieces in Gotham City after breaking up with her longtime beau, the Joker (previously played by Jared Leto).

Read more
Walmart says Onn 4K Pro will eventually only ship with a backlit remote
The remote control that came with our Onn 4K Pro Streaming Device.

The remote control that came with our Onn 4K Pro Streaming Device is not backlit. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

The great mystery of the Walmart remote control has been solved. Mostly. As you'll recall from our Onn 4K Pro Streaming Device review, ours came with a remote control that doesn't have backlit buttons and also lacks an unsightly "Free TV" button. But some folks who also got in early on the $50 Google TV device had a different remote control — one whose buttons do light up, and with a big blue "Free TV" button in the middle.

Read more
LG updates its Tone Free earbuds with ‘pure graphene’ drivers
LG Tone Free T90S.

LG's new Tone Free T90S are the latest wireless earbuds from the Korean juggernaut, and they pick up right where 2022's Tone Free T90Q left off. In other words, they maintain the T90Q's massive set of features and then layer on some new tricks, like hi-res Dolby audio and a new driver made from pure graphene. The T90S are set to be released later in May, however, LG hasn't announced pricing yet. Given that the T90Q debuted at $230, it's a good bet the T90S will be in the same neighborhood.

So what is "pure graphene" and why should we care if our earbuds have drivers made out of it? Most graphene drivers are simply coated in the super material, according to LG's press release. "The use of pure graphene in LG’s latest earbuds reduces vibrations and allows users to revel in well-balanced and precise sound, with powerful bass and enhanced mid- and high-range frequencies." Translation: LG feels the T90S will sound better thanks to pure graphene.

Read more