Superhero movies used to be seen as blockbusters specifically targeting teenage audiences, but that perception has changed tremendously in recent years. While it’s true that the past has seen some R-rated comic book features such as WATCHMEN or SIN CITY, the projects have become far more popular now than ever before thanks to films like DEADPOOL, LOGAN and JOKER. Now that particular trend is set to continue in a major way with the release of BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN).
The new film is the second DC Comics adaptation in a row to get an R-rating after the billion hit that was JOKER, though some may see it as a surprise move given that it is a spin-off from 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD, which was rated PG-13. As it turns out, however, it was partially because of star Margot Robbie’s time making that blockbuster that she wanted to make BIRDS OF PREY with an R-rating, as she explained during an on-set interview in early 2019:
I did feel like I had to censor myself a lot, obviously to suit a [PG-13] rating, and a lot of the characters that exist in the DC world, to be honest, are quite dark. And a lot of them, Huntress for example, have serious childhood trauma, have serious mental illnesses like Harley. But I felt like sometimes you can't really go as deep with those things if you have to censor yourself. And I thought, 'Wouldn't it be liberating if we didn't have to worry about that?' and really go for it, and then later in the edit kind of find where the tone of movie lies.
CinemaBlend had the chance to visit the set of BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) when the film was in production last year, and it was during an interview with star/producer Margot Robbie that the movie’s future as an R-rated release was revealed. As noted by Robbie, not only did she feel making the project with a more adult-centric vibe would be more freeing for her in reprising her role as the titular Harley, but also noted that it was something that fits well with many of the other characters that the story is utilizing.
Directed by up-and-comer Cathy Yan, BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) begins with the clown-themed villainess getting kicked to the curb by the Joker and, in response, needing to establish herself as a solo villain terrorizing Gotham City. The big downside, though, is that she is no longer afforded the protections provided from being the girlfriend of the biggest psycho in town, and as a result is put in the crosshairs of another sadistic kingpin Roman “Black Mask” Sionis (Ewan McGregor).
Using her wit and proclivity towards violence, Harley must not only try and find a way to survive personally, but also protect a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who has also ended up with a target on her back. Fortunately, the crazy lady in crisis has some help from Dinah Lance a.k.a. Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a lounge singer with a crazy voice; a crossbow-wielding vigilante targeting mob figures named Helena Bertinelli a.k.a. Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and rogue cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
It should be a wild adventure that takes us through a version of Gotham unlike anything we’ve ever seen before – and it’s believed by the filmmakers that the R-rating is a significant part of that unique flavor. Speaking to what the rating would be, Bryan Unkeless couldn’t precisely say that BIRDS OF PREY would have an R-rating (it’s since been confirmed), but noted how it would fit with everything they were doing. Said Unkeless,
One thing I think that has really been a guiding light for us is to push boundaries and really not allow any kind of barriers to the creativity or the attitude that Harley sets forth. So that will lead us to where it leads us. But certainly we're trying to take chances.
Also starring Chris Messina and Ali Wong, BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) arrives in theatres February 7.