In 2016, there were two movies that were rumored to be in the DC pipeline: Gotham City Sirens and Birds of Prey. For the Sirens film, Margot Robbie was set to reprise her fan-favorite role as Harley Quinn while Suicide Squad director David Ayer was attached to direct the project. Production was allegedly planned to begin in 2017 but, instead, something else happened: The two films merged into one. Robbie was still going to be playing Harley Quinn, but not alongside Catwoman and Poison Ivy in Sirens. Instead, she was going to be part of Birds of Prey.
Instead of turning the Birds of Prey into the Sirens, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn should have just stayed a Sirens film. Here's why.
HARLEY QUINN'S INVOLVEMENT
In 2015, Robbie pitched the idea for a "girl gang film" including Harley, saying: "'Harley needs friends.' Harley loves interacting with people, so don't ever make her do a standalone film." It's a fair enough statement, but the choice to put her as the lead in the Birds of Prey film is especially puzzling because she never was a member of any incarnation of the team in the first place.
In fact, the only time Harley Quinn was ever in a Birds of Prey comic was to serve as one of the villains. Neither Barbara Gordon, Dinah Lance, nor Helena Bertinelli particularly cared for Harley.
Her actual friends, on the other hand, were Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. In fact, Harley considers Poison Ivy to be her best friend.
Part of the Birds of Prey film's promotional material flirts with the idea that Harley dumped the Joker and is a free woman, enjoying the company of her newfound friends. Sure, it's a nice concept, but it's literally the one featured in Gotham City Sirens.
In Sirens, Ivy and Selina encourage Harley to free herself from the Joker, noting that she's a much better and happier person without him. It's the two of them who have her best interest at heart and encourage her independence.
What's more, in recent incarnations, Harley moves on to date Ivy after she leaves the Joker. It makes perfect sense for such a pivotal figure like Ivy to be in a story about Harley's independence. If a girl gang film was what they wanted, Sirens fits the bill to perfection.
THE BIRDS OF PREY'S DYNAMIC
The Birds of Prey marketing has focused on Harley Quinn, prominently featuring her across every piece of media. The movies wants the Birds to be Harley's team, but it's Barbara Gordon's.
At its heart, Birds of Prey is a story about heroines who learn from each other and make a difference in the world. Its roster changes frequently, featuring other heroines like Big Barda, Lady Blackhawk and Manhunter, but there's always one constant: Barbara Gordon.
As Oracle, Babs founded the team with her best friend, Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary). Later on, once Gail Simone took over the series, the lineup included the likes of Huntress. This became the most recognizable incarnation of the team.
Oracle is the brain of the operation, Dinah is the heart and Helena is the fury. Each woman learns something from the other, becoming better people in the process of working alongside each other.
For example, Oracle gives the series' previous villain, Savant, a second chance, citing Dinah's good nature for inspiring her. Dinah, learning from Huntress, stands up for herself and confronts her abuser kicking and screaming. From her interactions with Huntress, Oracle also learns to stop being so controlling and put her trust in others.
Helena, in turn, takes from Dinah's good nature, literally stating in Issue #80 that her time with the team has inspired her to let go of some of the rage she's been holding in. She says that Dinah taught her mercy, and ponders what kind of person she'd be if she met her earlier in her life (Issue #99).
Helena also learns how to think before she acts from Barbara, concocting a well-planned scheme to put the Gotham mob away. Her efforts were successful —even by Batman's standards.
Birds of Prey was a huge stepping stone for each of these characters and they played beautifully off one another. Their dynamic isn't one of mere friends, but colleagues (some who didn't even like each other at first) who grew to view themselves as a family. "They're the best friends I've ever had," Barbara says by first volume's conclusion.
This lineup thrives on its cast and the dynamic they've built. Injecting Harley Quinn into the narrative (especially at the expense of Barbara Gordon) is a disservice to those characters.
As previously mentioned, Barbara Gordon founded the Birds. There's a reason the series was started without Helena and survived without Dinah, but has never existed without Barbara. It's her team and, throughout the series, 80% of the villains they encounter have some connection to Barbara.
After the events of The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon was wheelchair-bound, seemingly ending her superhero career. However, she became Oracle instead and, adopting this new persona, she was perhaps more significant than she ever was as Batgirl.
As Oracle, she was the eyes and ears for an entire legion of superheroes. Even the likes of Batman and the Justice League relied on her technological prowess to aid them.
The Birds themselves operated under her command, constantly assisted by her techno-know-all. In Birds of Prey, as Oracle, she even took down the likes of Brainiac and fought back against the Joker, boldly stating that he "took nothing" from her.
She even assisted in training other generations of Batgirls like Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, keeping the Batgirl legacy alive.
Sure, later incarnations of the team included Barbara's return as Batgirl, but Oracle was where she and the team truly shined.
Oracle was a revolution, a superhero who changed the world from her wheelchair. How many disabled superheroes are there? How many wheelchair-bound heroes are there? Taking her away from her own team is a huge disappointment, both for the loss of a disabled character and a powerful, unique leader.
THE SIRENS' DYNAMIC
Just as Barbara was the connecting thread for the Birds, Harley was the glue that held the Sirens together.
Ivy and Harley are best friends, the two declare so quite often throughout the series and prior to the series. Harley affectionately refers to Selina as "kitty," showing great attachment to her.
Selina herself even shows to have a soft spot for Quinn, encouraging her to leave the Joker and indulging some of her wishes.
Ivy and Selina, on the other hand, are not friends. Sure, they occasionally get along, but they don't trust each other entirely.
The Birds of Prey were founded on the premise of doing some good in the world. The Sirens, on the other hand, were formed as a "super bad girl team-up," in the words of Harley Quinn.
What's interesting about the Sirens is their unique dynamic. Ivy and Harley ebb more to the side of villains, while Selina is a bit of an antiheroine, bending the laws to her own whim. However, despite these differing ideals, the three serve as a very effective team.
Taking place after the death of Bruce Wayne, Selina fears what a post-Batman Gotham could be like. With Dick Grayson taking on the Bat mantle, it's revealed that the two concoct a plan of their own: Selina forms the Sirens to keep them out of trouble.
Until the final issue, the others are none the wiser to her plot. As far as scheming goes, it's good-natured and results in some good character development for the girls. Ivy gets to live as a botanist for a while and Harley separates from the Joker, finally realizing that he used her.
Selina also made some revelations regarding her feelings for Bruce and came to care for the girls.
Harley and Ivy are villains, yes, but they're hardly the worst Gotham has to offer. Selina is the perfect choice for this kind of team because she is a reformed villain herself, still bending the law on occasion, but ultimately fighting for the side of good.
Therein lies the reason why their dynamic works just as well as the Birds'; they're among like minds. They aren't villains pretending to be heroes, they're people with questionable morals who have the chance to be more. Selina sees the ability in them to be better than they are. With each other, they can be.
The underlying lie that bound them together and the oppositional nature of the team served for a very compelling story. The three women learned from each other, playing off their respective strengths, but never feeling like husks of their former characters.
By the story's end, Selina is forced to give the two up to Batman (after they break their code and murdered several folks at Arkham) and the girls are crushed by her lie. It tears the team apart, but not before Selina wrestles with her morals and lets the girls go.
Their dynamic was complicated, filled with double-crosses and acts of kindness alike, but in the end, Selina did realize she cared for them. She chose her friends over her loyalty to Bruce just one last time, letting them run while she stayed behind. Their parting was bittersweet, but it was entirely fitting for the complex natures of their characters.
The unique nature of their team would make for a wholly interesting story on the big screen, one that fits Harley Quinn's character far better. These characters are actually interested in her reformation and independence. With the Sirens, Harley can actually be a morally questionable character who walks the line of good and evil without it feeling disingenuous.
The Siren's aren't a "team who functions as a family," but they are friends. They aren't good, but they aren't evil either. This middle area the team falls under (coupled with the nature of their founding) would be a much more unique film than the one posed for Birds of Prey.