Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad was wildly popular, but also attracted criticism for catering to the Male Gaze to ludicrous degrees, which many saw as prettifying mental illness. Birds of Prey's promotional material gives her an outfit that, while still revealing, is also far less sexualized, styling her character as a Cloud Cuckoo Lander instead of walking eye-candy.
Suicide Squad was criticized for going too high-stakes too fast. The fight against Enchantress at the end is considered out of place for the more lower-powered characters the film uses (outside El Diablo). It's also something that's been done to death across the comic movie genre. Robbie has stated that the film is stopping at the mob as the villains without any sort of fantastical element or bigger threat. She said that she fell in love with the Huntress character and she's the catalyst for making the film. Since it started with her, a street-level character, it didn't make sense to her for the film to go any further and so Black Mask became the villain. A lot of reviews have also pointed out how refreshing it is to have a superhero movie thats not needlessly high stakes for the sake of it.
The epilogue shows that Huntress and Black Canary did eventually get costumes (albeit, not comic-faithful ones), after some comic book fans expressed disappointment in their outfits in advertisements seemingly just being Civvie Spandex.
Common Knowledge: Fans defending the changes made to Cassandra Cain from the source material (as discussed in several tropes below), claim Christina Hodson and Cathy Yan found the comics Cassandra to be an offensive racist stereotype and felt the need to fix her. Neither of them has ever said or even suggested anything along these lines. In fact, when asked about it Hodson claimed they just needed a character that could bring others together.
Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask, is the disgraced former heir of the Janus Corporation and the most powerful crime lord in Gotham's East End. Roman is a flamboyant, misogynistic, mood-swinging sadist with a Hair-Trigger Temper, once having a woman forcibly stripped in his club because—he thinks—she's laughing at him. Roman demonstrates his love of torture via his fondness for having people's faces sliced off while they're alive, having a crime boss and his entire family tortured to death this way and having the man's young daughter killed because of a snot bubble in her nose from crying so hard. Roman, throughout the entire film, hunts for the powerful Bertinelli family diamond to make himself the most powerful man in Gotham—the Bertinelli family itself massacred down to the children, save for Helena "Huntress" Bertinelli, all according to Roman's design—and Roman attempts to kill everyone in his way to get to it, from Harley Quinn to Cassandra Cain to his own singer and driver Dinah "Black Canary" Lance.
Victor Zsasz, the right-hand man of Roman Sionis, is a vicious killer who enjoys "releasing" others from existence. Years ago, Zsasz gleefully participated in the Bertinelli family massacre and, as Roman's enforcer, Zsasz does most of the killing for him, including peeling the faces off the victims while they are still alive. Zsasz carves a tally into himself for each victims, boasting of having many, many such marks over his body, and when he finds that young Cassandra Cain has swallowed the Bertinelli diamond, his recourse is try and force Dinah Lance to slit her open before killing all the other heroines.
Crosses the Line Twice: Roman Sionis having Mr. Keo and his entire family tortured to death is a horrific and grisly scene, up until Roman orders the daughter's death because he's childishly grossed out over her snot bubble.
Designated Hero: Unlike in Suicide Squad where Harley unapologetically identifies as a "bad guy", she is supposed to be sympathetic in this film. In fact, the subtitle is her own "fantabulous emancipation". Yet, she is still selfish, and her actions are dangerous to others. She never shows any sign of regret for her past crimes (to the point she doesn't even recognize a man who was tortured by the Joker as a consequence of her dare), she often acts violently without any justification and she was ready to surrender Cassandra to Sionis to save her own skin. Quite a few fans complained about the fact she didn't face any kind of consequence for her actions at the end of the movie. Granted, this isn't the first time the character has been accused of this and the movie istold from her point of view.
Ensemble Dark Horse: The unnamed bodyguard who saved Helena during her family's massacre has become surprisingly popular with the fandom. The fact he is the only heroic male character in the whole movie and that he helped Helena become the Huntress helped quite a lot.
Epileptic Trees: Harley's unnamed ex-girlfriend looks an awful lot like Poison Ivy.
Esoteric Happy Ending: While the movie ends with Cassandra and Harley selling the diamond and driving away with Bruce, many fans have pointed out Harley is still a wanted criminal and that the two of them may end up separated forever if either the police, a superhero, or even the many criminals who wanted revenge on her decided to go after them. Harley does seem to be aware of this and doesn't really mind — after all, she did willingly back out of Black Mask's deal to sacrifice Cassandra for her personal protection, and then with the help of a few friends just took out one of Gotham's biggest crime lords and his entire personal army, signifying that she's probably capable of taking care of herself, but how true that is is up in the air, especially with Cassandra involved.
Evil Is Cool: Many fans and critics have praised Ewan McGregor's interpretation as the villainous Roman Sionis, calling him one of the best parts of the movie due to his charisma and how funny he is. Its especially notable in that he has relatively little screen time and dies at the end, eliminating any possibility of more of him.
The fandom of the movie and fans of comic book incarnation of Cassandra Cain have been at each other's throats since the premiere. Fans of the comics character are very vocal in their disappointment about the film changing her to the point of In Name Only, being Abled in the Adaptation and a little kidthat needs to be protected. Fans of the movie claim such changes were necessary and accuse the original character of being an offensive Asian stereotype. Comics fans fire back that the character doesn't fit that stereotype, and argue that erasure of disability is never good for representation and ask how exactly is Movie Cass an improvement when her role is that of a hopeless child.
Comics Birds of Prey and Movie Birds of Prey fans similarly have been quite heated. Commonly cited was the inclusion of Harley Quinn and her over-focus as the protagonist in the movie, which Comic fans complained about as it resulted in both Dinah and Helena being Demoted to Extra and Barbara being written out completely. Fans of the movie consider these moves justified as the movie wouldn't exist without Harley (as it was pitched as a Harley Quinn movie with a few other heroines), and consider the fact Barbara is slated to get her own Batgirl movie as a worthy compromise; however, the fact Barbara is typically Oracle when she's with the Birds, while the film is explicitly slated to be using Batgirl, makes this less-than-reassuring for those that wanted Oracle (especially given the ongoing trouble between fans who adore Barbara-as-Batgirl and those who adore Barbara-as-Oracle, particularly if the latter also prefer Cass or Stephanie as Batgirl).
With fans of Harley Quinn (2019) too, thanks to both adapting the general story beat of 'Harley Quinn goes out on her own after breaking up with Joker and bonds with new friends', but with very different approaches. Fans of the show are pretty quick to cast shade at the film for its treatment of the Birds of Prey and Cassandra, as well as for the Unintentionally Unsympathetic portrayal of Harley since the film still tries to present her as a hero, while the animated series plays her as a Villain Protagonist in a Black Comedy who's meant to be a horrible person. It doesn't help that the show includes Harley's best friend and love interest Poison Ivy, while the film used the Birds instead.
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Harley plowing into the police station by blasting away with nonlethal projectiles; as media attention has revealed the serious injuries that "nonlethal projectiles" actually inflict when the police use them on protesters and bystanders. On top of that, even in normal circumstances, beanbag guns are intended to be fired at crowds from a ranged distance, while Harley is shooting cops at point-blank range, resulting in so much force that it knocks several of them off their feet. It's played for laughs, but she probably broke a lot of bones during this sequence.
Including a hyena in a film that has a majority-female cast is an appropriate fit when you take into account that hyenas have a female-dominant hierarchy. Also, Bruce, Harley's pet hyena is seemingly killed midway through the film when villains attack Harley's apartment, but in the last scene is revealed to have survived; when they are reunited, Harley comments Bruce apparently has "nine lives, like a cat" (paraphrased). Despite looking like canids, hyenas actually are feliforms instead of caniforms, which make them (very) distant relatives of cats.
Harley mourning her ruined sandwich is a parody of the Signature Scene in Hamlet where the titular prince mourns the skull of his friend Yorick. Yorick and Harley are both jesters.
The interactions between Zsasz and Roman Sionis look like they are a couple. Notably while Roman is locking eyes with Dinah, Zsasz looks like he's a jealous lover. There's nothing to confirm that they really are a thing, with the closest thing to it is Harley calling Zsasz Roman's "BFF".
Roman and Zsasz are together the morning after the club scene, when Dinah rescues Harley. In pajamas.
Both Harley and Dinah are very appreciative of Huntress. When she rides to Harley's rescue at the end, there could've been hearts in her eyes, especially since Harley (in both comics and this movie) is canonically bisexual.
Idiot Plot: So much of the film could easily have been avoided if:
Roman Sionis had been properly protective of a diamond containing access codes to a fortune, doing the proper thing of storing it in a vault either in the manager's office at the Black Mask club or in his apartment, rather than letting Victor Zsasz walk around with it in his pocket at all times. He also could have, as a plan B, extracted the codes and stored a backup copy of them in a safe place so if the diamond did get stolen, he could get access to the money and beat the jewel thief to it. And that's not even mentioning the Contrived Coincidence that a child who had no idea about the codes stole it, and not a rival.
Harley had made plans for what would have happened if she and The Joker had broken up, rather than destroy a chemical plant, and have both the top cops in Gotham and everyone she wronged after her, and also had immediately gotten to work making Cassandra Kane shit out the diamond, then forming a plan to fight Sionis' men and Sionis himself so she could sell it and get the money herself. Rather, she waits until before the final battle to even try it, and even then she still doesn't do it.
There are John Wick fans who are excited because the director, Chad Stahelski, has crafted action sequences in it. Regardless of the films' content, this guaranteed some impressive and creative set pieces.
While the film is mostly a Harley Quinn movie, a number of fans came just to see Black Canary and the Huntress make their movie debut; for the most part, general sentiment among viewers is the two need a spin-off.
Memetic Mutation: Due to its title, a lot of fans have jokingly complained that it "wasn't actually a nature documentary about eagles".
Victor Zsasz crosses it when he eggs Sionis into taking his anger out on a random woman, claiming she was laughing at him when she clearly wasn't. While she got out in one piece, the fact that Zsasz was so willing to put her in the crosshairs knowing what his boss might do - all for his own amusement - shows him to be a real piece of work.
Offending the Creator's Own: Some Asian-American fans were livid about the In Name Only treatment of Cassandra Cain, turning her from a dyslexic and near-mute Badass Normal and the World's Best Warrior to a much younger, 'normal' kid who the adult heroes need to protect, with some seeing it as a betrayal of one of the best Asian superheroes.note Cass' Batgirl run was the second-longest-running comic book series to feature an Asian lead. The screenwriter and director of the movie are both Asian women.
Some critics of Jurnee Smollett's casting have argued that it's not right for an iconic blonde bombshell like Black Canary to be played by an actress who isn't a natural blonde, let alone white. These people are apparently unaware the comics had already long ago established that Black Canary isn't a natural blonde (it's naturally black), and that her hair color is the result of either a wig or a dye job, Depending on the Writer. And as for her ethnicity, this is not the first time we've had a non-white Black Canary; in First Wave DCU, Canary got a white-to-Indian Race Lift.
Some have criticized Black Mask's dress sense (namely the tieless white suit with a Hawaiian shirt) as being garish and flamboyant even by Gotham City standards. Despite this, Black Mask has worn a near-identical ensemble in his acclaimed appearance in Batman: Under the Red Hood. Similarly, those unhappy with promos depicting Roman Sionis without his namesake mask would do well to keep in mind that from the late 90s onwards, Roman's signature charred skull look was not a mask but his actual face. To say nothing of his original look in the comics, which made him look like a more thuggish version of The Mask.
Rated M for Money: After the success of Deadpool and Joker, it seems to have been reasoned that being rated R would benefit this movie. The opening weekend box office would indicate this was an incorrect assumption. Some commentators have argued this mistake led to a worse box office for a simple reason: the biggest name draw of the movie is Harley Quinn and a very large segment of Harley Quinn's fanbase is young girls. Due to the movie's rating, many of them likely couldn't see it even if they wanted to.
Harley and the Birds of Prey fighting Roman's thugs at the amusement park funhouse.
The life and death of Harley's bacon and egg sandwich.
Slow-Paced Beginning: While the film has gotten good reviews, the first act is consistently pointed out as the weakest. It takes time to introduce everyone and get going, especially considering the story is structured non-linearly.
Squick: Zsasz cuts off a man's face. While we don't see the corpse, we do see Zsasz brandishing the face and taunting his wife with it.
Surprisingly Improved Sequel: Compared to Suicide Squad, which was criticized for being an overall narrative and tonal mess, Birds of Prey, while still having significant issues of its own, is considered an improvement for sticking to a whimsical approach and trying to be more fun.
Tainted by the Preview: The bizarre ad campaign for the movie, which played up the quirkiness over selling what the story was about or who the title team are (and why they matter to Harley Quinn), seemed to turn off a lot of the film's potential audience.
Between her Age Lift and her being Abled in the Adaptation, most fans have accused the movie of using a In Name Only version of Cassandra Cain, to the point even Gail Simone, who otherwise loved the movie, had to admit this seriously bothered her. A major point of contention is that there were many other characters who could have fulfilled this role, such as Harper Row or Sin, or even Stephanie Brown, and by using Cassandra's name, it wasted the opportunity to adapt her properly within the DCEU.
The lack of Barbara Gordon didn't sit well with many fans; the creative team wanted to use her, but they were told no by the studio, and in the end, it's Renee Montoya who becomes the actual team leader.
Huntress makes a great impression and arguably has the best backstory but she definitely gets the least amount of screen time of the main five characters.
The titular Birds of Prey in general receive very little focus compared to Harley and only band together as a team in the final act of the film. This was so apparent that the title of the film was changed post-release to Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey.
Cassandra Cain in the comics has a lot of interesting parallels with the film's other characters: she has a history of abuse like Harley, is part of a legacy like Black Canary, was raised by assassins like Huntress, and her father was an alcoholic like Renee is. None of this is used in the film, and she bears no resemblance to her comic counterpart. It's entirely possible the only reason the film used her, rather than Stephanie Brown, Harper Row or a half-dozen other female characters whose backstory wouldn't have had to be so heavily altered, is because of the movie's clear desire to have a fully racially-diverse cast, and she is the only notable young female Asian character in that part of the DC Universe.
Rather than explore her angst over her mother's death or bonding with any of the women, Dinah spends much of the film as Roman Sionis' reluctant henchwoman. The mildAdaptational Villainy meant that the bulk of her character was only able to shine through small scenes, and compared to Huntress and Harley, she ended up getting saddled with largely unremarkable fight sequences, which is disappointing given her comic self is one of the top-ten best martial artists in the DC Universe, something that isn't really well-reflected in the movie.
While the film is focused entirely on Harley and its long, full title is literally about her emancipation, Harley's doesn't actually go through much of an arc leading to this. Her backstory established her having an Abusive Dad and a romantic dependency that coloured her choice to cling to Joker even after their break-up, but after bombing Ace Chemicals, very little is brought up about her need for others until the climax, where Roman repeats some spiel that her roller derby teammates had said earlier about her needing a relationship. In-between these points, she's never presented as being in-need of a partner or dependent on others, and even when she briefly offers to work for Sionis to find Cassandra, it's not out of a genuine dedication to him. Given the similarities between Joker and Sionis, Harley having a personal attachment to Sionis could have been a means to discuss Harley's dependency issues as well as giving her a personal motivation/conflict with him beyond 'Sionis finds her really annoying'.
More than one person has said the movie should've centered on Huntress, who actually has a direct connection to the story, rather than Harley Quinn.
As noted above, by naming the girl the group are protecting Cassandra Cain, the film tossed aside the opportunity to adapt Cassandra's story in a later movie, at least within this continuity. Pretty much any young female Gothamite would have worked better in this role, but Cassandra had such a specific backstory and character arc that is completely unusable thanks to the choice to use her name here, leading many to wonder why they did so.
We never see Sionis learning about Zsasz' death. Considering how close the two of them were, it would have been interesting if one of Sionis' reasons to go after Harley and the other heroines had been to get revenge for Zsasz' death.
The characters don't unite until the last act; while several of them have had run-ins with one-another in a one-on-one basis, none of them even know Huntress is a thing until they meet her at the amusement park and subsequently don't have much space for banter. Given that one of the main highlights of the film has been the character interactions, its hard not to feel the movie could have benefited by having the girls converge much earlier and have Helena be far more involved in the diamond plot line.
In the wake of the movie's underwhelming opening weekend, a number of critics and box office analysts have suggested that the film's seemingly-arbitrary R-rating might have hurt its chances at the box office, particularly given Harley Quinn's popularity with the same demographic of teens and young girls who had helped make the PG-13 Suicide Squad a massive hit. It's been argued that Birds of Prey's colorful aesthetic and wackiness might have played well to a younger demographic, particularly since most of the gore and profanity could have been removed or at least downplayed without really affecting the plot.
There's also the matter of the film ostensibly being a Birds of Prey adaptation when the titular team are supporting characters to Harley Quinn (a character that has received backlash from comic book fans due to perceived overexposure), along with the changes to said team making the adaptation potentially unappealing to those fans. Since general audiences were relatively unfamiliar with the team and there wasn't a pent-up demand for the movie — unlike what happened with Deadpool — the R-rating also hurt the film's reach.
Unexpected Character: When the movie was first announced, few imagined it would feature Cassandra Cain as one of the main characters, while Barbara Gordon is entirely absent. It seemed notable because Cass has a storied history of always being shafted by the higher-ups at DC, passing her over for the much more popular Barbara Gordon. Then the movie released, and it turned out the character was Cassandra Cain In Name Only and only existed as a Living MacGuffin to tie the story of all the other characters together.
Even positivereviews have accused the movie of disability erasure for replacing wheelchair-bound Oracle with Harley Quinn and completely ignoring Cassandra's learning difficulties and speech impediment from the comics. In general some reviewers have pointed out that the feminist message of the movie comes across as rather hypocritical for its exclusion of two of the most well-known disabled female characters in fiction.
Renee Montoya is portrayed by Harley's narration as a beleaguered Detective who unjustly had all her past credit stolen by her previous partner and current captain, Erickson. The narrative clearly wants to portray her as a frustrated detective obstructed by her incompetent captain. The issue is Captain Erickson is never actually shown giving unreasonable orders in the present and Montoya comes across as glory seeking over building a proper case, resorting to Cowboy Cop tactics and even lies and implicates her ex, Ellen Ye, to do so.
Generally this is why some consider Harley a Designated Hero. We are supposed to feel sorry for her traumatic childhood and abusive relationship with the Joker, but this doesn't change the fact she willingly helped him in his numerous crimes, including the assassination of Robin. After he dumped her, she lies about it for an unspecified amount of time openly admitting this allows her to do what she wants without facing any consequence. After she reveals the truth and she is captured by Sionis, she offers to capture Cassandra for him to save her own skin. Even if she originally planned to simply take the diamond and she even established a positive relationship with Cassandra, she decides to throw her under the bus after her landlord Doc sold her out and literally throws Montoya out of a window when she tries to stop her. While she ultimately apologizes and sides with the other heroines, this happens only after it became clear Sionis had no intentions to spare her life and she had no other option besides dying.
Visual Effects of Awesome: Special props must be given to the work done on Bruce the hyena, who looks like he just stepped out of the 2019 remake of The Lion King. The CGI work on him was so good, in fact, the films budget could only allow for one hyena when Harley usually has two.
What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: Considered the prime reason for the movie's surprise box office underperformance on its opening weekend. The film itself lacked much of the taboo that prior DC film Joker had, with only the strong profanity necessitating the R rating. As many of Harley Quinn's fans skew younger, the decision to release it under that rating, completely cutting the younger demographic out of the picture, was considered a major misfire on Warner Bros.' (and by extension Margot Robbie, who lobbied heavily for the R rating) part.
Erika, an innocent clubgoer in Sionis' club who is laughing loudly about something unrelated when he gets mad. Somehow, he gets it in his head she is laughing at him, and forces her boyfriend to cut her dress off just to terrify and humiliate her in front of everyone.
Mr. Keo's daughter as well, while her parents were mob bosses she was just an innocent girl who happened be related to them. Sionis' reason for killing her (she starts crying out of fear, and he gets grossed out when she has a snot bubble) just makes the whole thing all the more vile.