From Avengers: Endgame to Crisis On Infinite Earths, so many of our comic book stories deal with unimaginably high stakes. Frankly, it doesn’t seem possible to raise the stakes any higher than the aformentioned superhero stories have, and that isn’t a bad thing—hopefully, it will encourage comic book movies to consider lower stakes. Logan, one of the best comic book adaptations of the last decade, proved how effective and universal a story you can tell with relatively small stakes.
Birds of Prey is a spin-off from Suicide Squad, a film that loaded up its anti-heroes’ mission with humanity-ending stakes, but this girl gang movie is intentionally looking to do something much different.
“It’s more contained [than other superhero movies] for sure,” Margot Robbie (aka Harley Quinn) tells Den of Geek and other outlets gathered for a Birds of Prey set visit in March. Birds of Prey isn’t about trying to stop the end of the world. Rather, it is about trying to save one girl, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), from the clutches of Gotham City crime lord Black Mask (Ewan McGregor)—and maybe, in Harley’s case, cause a little mayhem in the process.
“My initial pitch [for Birds of Prey],” says Robbie, “was it should be no bigger than mafia-level or gang level. It should all exist in a very small geographical vicinity and the stakes should feel very personal. [They should] feel life-or-death, but not the life of death of thousands of people, just the people that we spent time with onscreen.”
Robbie’s articulation of the stakes not as “lower,” but as more “contained” is a helpful one.
“I’m just so desensitized to seeing a world, a city being flattened,” says Robbie. “I’ve seen it so many times on screen by this point. And VFX is so advanced at this point, it can’t even shock me with the realism of it anymore. I just don’t want to see stakes that big because I’m kind of numb to it.”
Stakes don’t mean anything if we don’t care and, when you see entire cities flattened or entire worlds disappear, it can be hard to translate to a viewer what that means on an emotional level.
“It’s a far more contained version,” continues Robbie, “but it doesn’t really take away from the stakes. It still feels really, really important. But that was a huge part. I was just tired of seeing billions of buildings falling down.”
Birds of Prey hits theaters on February 7th. You can find out more about the film here.