2020 was unsurprisingly light on superhero movies, and, in fact, this was the first year since 2009 that no Marvel movie hit the big screen. But that doesn’t mean we were completely lacking in quality cape-and-cowl content–far from it. While the MCU may have been MIA through 2020, the vacuum was filled by an unexpected bright spot by the name of Birds of Prey–or, perhaps more accurately, called Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, the title it held onto for about a week or so after it hit theaters. But it’s just Birds of Prey now, and that’s what really matters.
Birds of Prey was a movie that nobody saw coming, especially given Margot Robbie’s introduction to the role of Harley Quinn back in 2016’s Suicide Squad. The movie really had no right to shape up the way it did, not with so much stacked against it. Sitting down in a theater to finally see it at release–just a month or so before the pandemic really took hold in early February–there was an overwhelming sense of both trepidation and curiosity from the crowd. Everything about this could so easily go south, or just become a Suicide Squad Part 2. It could have brought the DCEU’s winning streak to a crashing halt and regressed all the progress made right back to the rain-slicked, grey-toned monotony of days gone by.
Instead, what we got felt like some sort of revelation. Not only did Birds of Prey artfully subvert just about every anxiety its audiences might have had, it did so with the sort of over-the-top moxie only a character like Harley Quinn could provide. Robbie’s evolution in the role has taken her from featured sidekick in an otherwise forgettable team to absolutely quintessential embodiment, standing alongside the likes of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman or Zach Levi’s Shazam. And her co-stars, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Jurnee Smollett as Black Canary, and Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, all rose to the standard.
Rather than a regression to old familiar tropes and styles, Birds of Prey broke free of the superhero movie mold, blending the sort of wacky irreverence normally found in a standalone feature like Deadpool with the frantic, nonstop energy of a good heist movie, and splashed in a little Looney Tunes zaniness for good measure. It was cool, instantly re-watchable, and full of a seemingly endless forward momentum, repeatedly tossing in new characters and ideas that will inevitably make the DCEU a much richer, more interesting place in the future.
And perhaps most importantly, it still stands as a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for anyone suffering from superhero fatigue–or even regular fatigue after the way this year has gone. There’s no way anyone involved in Birds of Prey could have known where the year would go so shortly after its release, but that doesn’t matter–they still provided a fantastic escape (a Fantabulous Emancipation, if you will) from the boring and the drab, something we could all use a little more of, especially now.
For the rest of our top movies of 2020, head here.