While Marvel Studios may have set the course for shared cinematic universes and inspired numerous new film franchises hoping to emulate the MCU, Warner Bros. chose to tread a different path for its intertwined superhero offerings. Zack Snyder launched the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU, with Superman and Man of Steel, which was followed by the debut of a familiar face when Ben Affleck suited up as the Dark Knight and joined Henry Cavill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Alongside Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, they became the premiere heroes of the DCEU, but little did fans know they would soon be overshadowed by the arrival of Harley Quinn.
Early indications forecasted a big future for "Batfleck," as fans soon named him. Not only would Affleck's Batman head the Justice League film intended to launch a number of solo franchises (as opposed to Marvel's slow burn of solo franchises that led to The Avengers), he was also appearing in other DCEU films, and there were plans for his own solo film, which Affleck was set to direct. Suddenly, Batfleck was the Agent Coulson of the DCEU, and the overarching story of the universe began forming around his various appearances and mentions. Of course, it wasn't Batfleck, but one of his Suicide Squad co-stars who would become the new glue of DC's filmverse.
Following the disappointing reaction to Justice League and the departure of Zack Snyder from the cinematic universe he had initially imagined, Warner Bros. started shifting its plans dramatically based upon each film's success or failure. Troubled films like The Flash and Justice League Dark were pushed back or canceled, while movies like Aquaman and the upcoming Shazam! seemed to pick and choose from parts of the DCEU that suited their story best.
To top it all off, Ben Affleck's time as the Batman was beginning to look shaky. First Affleck backed out as director and his script was tossed out, a move soon followed by rumors of a reboot at the hands of new director Matt Reeves. Affleck eventually left the role of Batman vacant, leaving the DCEU without the glue that was keeping the tenuous shared universe together.
Which brings us back to 2016's Suicide Squad, and Harley Quinn.
Even though the film was widely panned by fans and critics alike, Robbie's Quinn stood out and wowed audiences, reinforcing the character's popularity across all mediums. Following Harley's debut in Suicide Squad, it became clear that DC Films was betting big on the character, as rumors began dropping of various Harley-centric films, including David Ayer's Gotham City Sirens, and a Joker/Harley Quinn film that would reunite Robbie with Jared Leto's Joker.
However, given the ongoing fluidity of the DC film slate, Gotham City Sirens seems to have morphed into another film entirely, while Leto's Joker likely won't reappear in the DCEU any time soon (Joaquin Phoenix's upcoming solo Joker film exists in its own universe, separate from the one comprised of DC's linked movies).
So while Ben Affleck and the plans for the DCEU have become a thing of the past, Margot Robbie's has stepped up to usher in something new. Quinn has managed to survive the disappointment of her debut film and studio-wide upheaval to become the "face" of DC's Extended Universe. The previously rumored films and spinoffs may have now become casualties of DC Film's restructuring, Margot Robbie has maintained her leading lady role in not one but two upcoming DCEU films.
The first teaser for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) showcased Harley alongside a new wave of characters smartly hoping to ride the wave of her popularity while introducing even more live-action versions of DC heroes (and villains). Harley is also one of the few remaining cast members of the original Suicide Squad to be returning for Gunn's sequel/reboot, alongside Viola Davis' Amanda Waller. (There are reports that Deadshot will be appearing in the film, though Will Smith has left the role with Idris Elba eyed to replace him.) Both films are likely to continue to lean heavily on Harley's popularity and potentially spawn more sequels centered around the anti-hero.
The bottom line is simple: Margot Robbie's continued appearances as Harley Quinn further cements her role as the new maniacally grinning face of the DCEU, or The Worlds of DC, or whatever fans end up calling it. This universe, by any name, is all Harley Quinn's.
Directed by Cathy Yan from a script by Christina Hodson, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) stars Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Ewan McGregor, Steven Williams, Derek Wilson, Dana Lee, Francois Chau, Charlene Amoia, Chris Messina and Matthew Willig. The film is scheduled to be released on February 7, 2020. Written and directed by James Gunn, The Suicide Squad is set to hit theaters Aug. 6, 2021.