How Birds Of Prey’s Director Tackled Harley’s Action Scenes Without Superpowers

Harley storming GCPD

Birds of Prey arrived in theaters last weekend, helping to further grow the DC Extended Universe in the process. Cathy Yan's blockbuster is a raucous R-rated romp through Gotham City, and served as as spinoff for Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn following Suicide Squad. The iconic villainess faced off against Gotham's worst, making a group of female friends in the process. Birds of Prey had plenty of action, although Yan had to take a very specific approach when approaching the movie's fights, especially considering Harley doesn't actually have any superpowers.

Most comic book movies feature superpowered protagonists, like with DC's last few releases Shazam! and Aquaman. The action in Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is more grounded, and the stakes feel high as Harley and company dodged bullets and fought Black Mask's henchmen. Cath Yan recently appeared on our very own ReelBlend podcast, where she opened up about approaching the action in Birds of Prey. As she put it,

I think it was always this interesting line that we were toying with the whole movie. It’s a heightened world, but there’s also something realistic about it. I always tried to ground everything in a related, human emotion. So like with Harley, she’s a great gymnast, she obviously knows her way around a mallet and a bat. And that was kind of what we focused on. What is she actually able to do? Is her flexibility an asset?

While Harley Quinn might be an agent of chaos within the DCEU, Cathy Yan's approach to her action scenes were much more methodical. She had to think how Harley's frame and skills would factor into a combat situation, especially as she battled men who were physically larger than her.

Birds of Prey features an awesome cast of femme fatales, including Harley, The Huntress, Black Canary, and Renee Montoya. Each possessed their own unique fighting style, which were on full display during the movie's final battle. Huntress is precise and lethal, Canary is a high kicking street fighter, and Montoya is a more scrappy combatant. Then there's Ms. Quinzel, who uses her gymnastic abilities and lack of self preservation to throw herself into a variety of deadly positions.

Powered by RedCircle

Later in her appearance with ReelBlend, Cathy Yan further spoke about how the action sequences were approached in Birds of Prey. As she put it,

And considering what women are better at in some ways. Or how can a woman actually fight men? And it’s not necessarily strength, maybe it’s flexibility. Maybe it’s the fact that they are smaller and shorter, and they can kind of get around things. Or maybe they’re faster, maybe they’re more creative. I think Harley also has a superpower called her brain. She’s very able to psychoanalyze people. She’s quite smart, and she’s ahead of you.

Harley Quinn and company might not have any superpowers (well, except for Black Canary's cry), but that doesn't mean they don't have a particular set of skills that will lend themselves to combat. Margot Robbie's character has crazy gymnastic abilities, as well as a genius level intellect-- despite being crazier than a soup sandwich. She's shown using these "powers" throughout Birds of Prey's runtime, taking on the likes of Black Mask, his thugs, and the GCPD. And she did so with style and self-narration.

Margot Robbie's signature DC villain will be kicking more ass in James Gunn's The Suicide Squad, although we should expect her in a smaller role than Birds of Prey. But clearly Warner Bros. is invested in the character, and she'll be sticking around.

Birds of Prey is out now, and having a hard time at the box office. Be sure to check out our 2020 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.