In 2019 Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan stated that Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) takes place in a separate, “kind of” parallel, timeline to 2016’s Suicide Squad. And yet despite this, there are several references to the wider established universe that we’ve seen in movies like Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad throughout Birds of Prey. Admittedly this parallel universe could just have similar events, so any direct connection should be taken with a grain of salt, but in this post, we’re taking a look at how Birds of Prey connects to the wider DCEU.
Although Birds of Prey focuses on the titular ‘emancipation’ of Harley Quinn there are a few nods to the debut of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in 2016’s Suicide Squad. The most obvious one is some duplicated footage, namely the flashbacks to Harley’s origins, and transformation in Ace Chemicals. Harley later references the events of Suicide Squad when retelling her life story to Cassandra Cain. She mentions being taken out of prison and having a bomb put into her neck, before breaking out of prison again.
Another Suicide Squad reference comes when Harley breaks into the Gotham City Police precinct and sees a wanted poster for Captain Boomerang. The poster has a picture of Jai Courtney’s George “Digger” Harkness a.k.a Captain Boomerang, which is an actual screenshot from the movie. As she sees it Harley says “I know him” referencing her time alongside Captain Boomerang as a part of the Suicide Squad.
Towards the end of the movie, Harley lets the other Birds of Prey take some gear and equipment out of a box of her old things. Amongst them is a katana sword, which is likely a reference to the character Katana who appeared in Suicide Squad and Harley’s “Daddy’s little monster” shirt from Suicide Squad. Harley grabs the shirt and says it has “sentimental value”.
How Birds of Prey fits into the upcoming reboot “The Suicide Squad”, which will star Robbie’s Harley, is unclear, but the character development Harley has in Birds of Prey will likely play a large part in the movie.
The fallout from Joker and Harley’s most recent break-up looms large over Birds of Prey and drives much of the plot. After announcing the break-up by blowing up Ace Chemicals Black Mask and almost everyone in Gotham who has something against Harley comes after her.
But as much as the Joker’s presence, or lack of it, is a large part of the movie he doesn’t show up himself. There are however a few scenes where he almost appears. The first is during the movies’ opening animated sequence, where a more stereotypical version of the Joker is presented (something along the lines of Romero’s 1960’s version). This version is used again in the centre of Harley’s dartboard. Where it gets a little closer to something we may recognise in live-action is the reused footage of Harley’s dive into the chemical bath in Suicide Squad and another flashback.
The original scene from Suicide Squad features only Robbie’s Harley and Jared Leto’s Joker, but for Birds of Prey, it only uses the parts with Harley. The side of Leto’s face can just be seen as the Joker lifts Harley from the acid, but it is clear it’s zoomed in a little more than the original scene from 2016, to block his face.
The other scene is a flashback to Harley daring the Joker to tattoo a henchman’s face. There Harley can be seen in full view but it is only the back of the Joker (who is actually a stand-in). He is in a purple suit and has the vibrant green hair of Leto’s Joker, but is otherwise a non-specific version. The emphasis on not featuring Leto’s joker is likely due to the negative critical reception to his version, and Leto’s own public grievances with how he felt his performance was edited (to be different to what he and the original script intended).
How the DCEU will get around this apparent Joker problem going forward is unclear. The studio could just avoid focus on him as they do in Birds of Prey, and leave the next adaptation to Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson’s upcoming Batman series that is seemingly outside of the DCEU’s continuity. They could simply recast the villain and have no one notice, or with a little retconning they could lean into the since debunked fan-theory that had Leto’s version as a tortured Jason Todd (the second Robin), and not ‘the original’ Joker.
However Joker is handed in the future of the DCEU, after Birds of Prey, Harley is fully established on her own, and likely won’t go running back to him at any time soon (then again this is Harley Quinn, and nothing about her is predictable or makes much sense).
For the story Birds of Prey is telling Batman’s absence works well, and having Gotham’s two biggest characters, (Batman and the Joker) notably missing proves to be extremely effective. That said, the movie does showcase Harley blowing up a giant chemical plant, fighting her way into a Gotham Police precinct, throwing bombs at cars, and having a huge showdown with Black Mask at Amusement Mile. So the lack of Batman or any of Gotham’s other established heroes (if there are any at this point in this universe) does present the question of where exactly they are.
The main nod to Batman comes in the post-credits ‘scene’ where Harley claims to have a secret about Batman and says “Batman f-“ just as she is cut off. The line is likely a reference to Harley from the comics who is certain that “Batman f**k’s bats”.
There are surprisingly few references to Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne throughout Birds of Prey’s version of Gotham, with no glimpses at any Wayne buildings. But to make up for that there is one huge nod, where Harley explains that her Hyena is named “Bruce” after “that hunky Wayne guy”. Harley’s crush on Bruce Wayne is a little ironic but plays well into Bruce as an established playboy and businessman in the eyes of Gotham’s citizens.
Harley decides to prove her latest break-up with the Joker is for good by blowing up ACE Chemicals, the chemical plant that gave both characters their pale white skin, and truly transformed them into the supervillains that fans know so well. The Ace Chemicals company has shown up in the background of other DCEU movies such as Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Justice League, and Shazam!
In the comics Black Mask’s alter ego Roman Sionis runs a company called Janus Cosmetics. Janus is mentioned by Harley and can be seen on posters and in the background of a few scenes, but this isn’t the first time it has appeared in the DCEU. In the opening of 2017’s Justice League, in a scene taken straight from the opening of the New 52’s relaunched Justice League Series, a Janus logo can be seen in the background as Batman fights a Parademon.