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Birds of Prey: breaking down the first trailer for the Margot Robbie movie

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Margot Robbie returns as the anarchic Harley Quinn in the first trailer for DC comic book movie Birds of Prey. Or, to give the movie its full title: Birds of the Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.

Oscar nominee Robbie, recently acclaimed for the likes of I, Tonya and Mary, Queen of Scots reprises her role from 2016's divisive Suicide Squad – only this time, she's set to it proper justice. With Birds of Prey due for release next year, here's what we learned from the trailer...

1. Emancipation really is the name of the game

Equality of representation is big news in comic book cinema at the moment. With the genre having been dominated (on the big screen at least) by male characters, audiences are hungry for the balance to be tipped. 

In the wake of 2017's Wonder Woman, enter Birds of Prey, which appears to be positioned as a kind of apocalyptic break-up movie from Quinn's perspective. (Incidentally, that's how director Ari Aster described his horror movie Midsommar released earlier this year.) 

The jumping-off point is Quinn's break-up with the Joker (which cannily allows the film to ditch Jared Leto's controversial take on the character from Suicide Squad). This is an act that appears to liberate her both physically (we see her in the trailer undergoing a style change) and emotionally – the latter is represented by a full-bore immersion in anarchic, violent chaos.

The breakdown of the relationship compels Quinn to extend the message of emancipation to several other women. These are the people who become her new 'crew': Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Renee Montaya (Rosie Perez). They come together to protect young girl Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) from the clutches of crime lord Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).

It seems the movie can be read on two levels: as women escaping the clutches of toxic masculinity, or as a gleefully madcap comic book adventure. The choice is yours.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey movie trailer



2. The movie tackles gender perceptions

Intriguingly, the movie is directed by Cathy Yan who is one of a select number of women to have helmed a superhero movie. Previous examples include Patty Jenkins with Wonder Woman, and next year we're getting Eternals for rival comic book studio Marvel, directed by Chloe Zhao.

We may well be at some kind of a tipping point in terms of gender representation behind the camera, as well as character portrayals in front of it. Only time will tell, but we're hoping Yan will be unleashing plenty of interesting and provocative material in Birds of Prey.

On the basis of the trailer's primary aesthetic – a kind of crazed, primary-coloured, carnival side-show – it certainly looks like Yan is determined to leave her mark on the material. We imagine the look of the film is designed to ape the idiosyncratic nature of Quinn herself: deceptively sweet yet underscored with grittiness and tenacity.

We're especially intrigued by the shot where Robbie appears to morph into Marilyn Monroe, or someone who looks very much like her. Perhaps this is a sly comment on how Quinn's beauty is perceived by others, or maybe a wider statement on women's objectification in cinema in general?

Note the imagery of the hands – this is a theme that pops up in the background of the trailer in Black Mask's layer, perhaps implying the clawing touch of men attempting to sculpt representations of women on the big screen. And on another note, is this an indication that the movie will burst into a musical sequence at this point?

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey movie trailer

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3. Ewan McGregor is a very bad guy

In the past, Ewan McGregor has flirted with the wrong side of the law (think of his classic turn in Trainspotting), but he's rarely gone full evil, apart from odd misfires like Jane Got a Gun. This time, however, he cranks up the ruthless as Black Mask, a fan-favourite baddie from DC lore.

It appears the character's got a serious problem with women judging from his treatment of victims in his lair, which will surely fuel Harley Quinn's mission of liberation. And what's with the imagery of the hands? Given the character's evil and pervasive influence, we may be getting a visual representation of his grasping power over women in his orbit – no doubt Quinn and the rest of the Birds of Prey will set this right.

Ewan McGregor as Black Mask in Birds of Prey movie trailer


4. Unlike Suicide Squad, this looks genuinely anarchic

Director David Ayer's Suicide Squad made a lot of noise about how its central posse was comprised of classic DC bad guys. However, the film disappointingly refused to take any risks, manoeuvring these difficult and violent individuals into redemptive, wholesome character arcs that undercut their edgier qualities.

On the basis of the Birds of Prey trailer, director Cathy Yan has properly let Robbie and co off the leash. The former does everything from head-butt the camera to sharing food with a hyena to flippantly throwing dynamite out of a moving car. 

In other words, it looks like she's finally been giving the opportunity to nail the complex qualities, innocent yet dangerous, of a fan-favourite comic book character.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey movie trailer

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn reaches Cineworld on 7th February 2020. What are your observations of the trailer? Let us know @Cineworld.