This isn’t the first time I’ve written about my love for 2019’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, a game better than its lengthy, non descriptive title would suggest. I was mostly excited to be able to play as relatively new characters such as Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen, but I was also thrilled to see some of my other favorite characters on the roster as well. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was for the game to reward my taste in characters — players receive a team bonus for creating a team with multiple women, among other things. The magic of video games allows and even encourages players to create the kinds of diverse teams that are rarely seen on the big screen.
It’s great that I get to create a team with so many women in the video game because the franchise’s more popular movie counterparts leave something to be desired. When Avengers: Endgame came out last year, I wrote about my expectations for the big team-up event and my frustration at the film’s big “girl power” scene. Big-screen superhero teams tend to fall into the “one token woman in a boys’ club” category, so in a movie with every MCU superhero team, it seemed like a chance to break from the formula and show women from different franchises teaming up in some meaningful way, maybe one that would echo the A-Force comics. No such luck.
Even the character marketed as the champion of women — Captain Marvel, the first female superhero with a solo film in the MCU — barely interacted with the other characters, let alone the other women, except in a bizarre battle scene where none of the characters made eye contact. In a short clip towards the end of the movie, Peter Parker gives the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet to Captain Marvel, who has to fly it across a battlefield full of enemies. “Don’t worry,” Scarlet Witch says to Peter without looking at him or Captain Marvel. “She’s got help,” finishes General Okoye. Every female character then lands beside them and charges simultaneously at the CGI horde. It’s hard to believe any of the characters knew the other was there, let alone that any of the actors were in the same room during filming. They don’t even help each other in battle, leaving the whole gesture feel empty and pointless.
Enter Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020).
Birds of Prey is less of a female Avengers and more of DC’s answer to Deadpool: The story isn’t about the titular superhero team but rather about Harley Quinn’s struggle to escape every person who wants her dead (so really, everyone). It’s a bit like if Deadpool 2 was called X-Force and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Wade Wilson. (Okay, actually, that would have been great.) Regardless, even Deadpool 2 featured its team-up more than Birds of Prey. DC’s “girl gang” team-up is more of a reluctant alliance formed out of a mutual desire to protect constipated pickpocket Cassandra Cain, and the Birds of Prey — Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya — don’t even all meet until the third act.
Even these mere twenty minutes of team-up prove to be better than the thirty-second scrap tossed to us by Endgame. The characters interact, helping each other fight with their varied skill sets in a way that makes sense, like Huntress giving the roller-skating Harley Quinn a lift on her motorcycle, one of my favorite sequences in the movie. None of it feels forced — yes, there’ve been a lot of mixed reactions from the internet about the part of the Booby Trap fight scene where Harley lends Black Canary a hair tie, but I think that scene is just another example of the characters’ personalities shining through. Yes, it’s probably also to sell Hot Topic’s overpriced Harley Quinn scrunchies, and it is taking a remarkable amount of self-control on my part not to order them right now as I type this, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great narrative choice.
I loved seeing Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, objectively the best character from Suicide Squad (2016), come into her own in a way that didn’t feel sleazy and had none of Justice League (2017)’s weird upskirt Wonder Woman shots. Even if I felt that the film spent too much time trying to convince us that Ewan McGregor was evil (I get it! He collects human faces! I’m desensitized to that kind of stuff now, DC, you overdid it with Gotham (2014) and Batwoman (2019)), I enjoyed every second that we got to spend with the five main women. I still can’t help wishing we’d get a proper Birds of Prey spin-off from this movie, as teased towards the end of the film, and the film’s opening weekend numbers have me nervous. Birds of Prey proved that the big studios can make a super(anti-)hero team-up for women that feels fresh and relatable, not hollow or male gaze-y, and I really hope DC and Marvel can see beyond the dollar signs and realize that.
Now if only someone would give the Hollywood decision-makers a four percent experience bonus for featuring more diverse teams of women.
Olivia Bono is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Level runs alternating Tuesdays this semester.