Warning! Mild spoilers ahead for Birds of Prey.
Warner Bros. and DC’s latest film, Birds of Prey, unites several women of Gotham City together in one epic girl gang action film, narrated by the chaotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). The team-up film features Gotham City detective Renee Montoya, Black Canary, Huntress, and Quinn herself, with crime boss Roman Sionis (Black Mask) being the villain that brings them all together. Played by Ewan McGregor, Black Mask is a classic Batman villain from the comics, who wants nothing more than total control of Gotham, as well as the deaths of all the aforementioned women. How different is this film version of Black Mask compared to how he’s depicted in the comics?
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In Birds of Prey, each of the titular women either has slighted Sionis in some way, or he has slighted them. At the start of the film, Black Mask has an opportunity to expand his criminal empire, desiring to unite several different gangs under his sphere of influence as well as having enough resources to bribe any cop or judge in the city, thus giving him a complete criminal monopoly over Gotham City. As the film progresses, viewers see that Roman is pretty prone to mood swings, completely losing his cool if things aren’t going the way he wants them to go. While he might seem cool, breezy, and suave in one scene, he quickly turns dark and temperamental the next. Black Mask also has a respect for Joker who, while absent in this film, allows Harley Quinn some protection from Sionis. However, this changes once Mask learns that Joker and Quinn broke up. Sionis also has a lot of issues with his rich family, having been cast out by them which led to Sionis starting his criminal empire.
This film depiction of Black Mask does differ in some ways from the way he’s originally characterized in the comics. First introduced in Batman comics in 1985, Black Mask has been a frequent and consistent member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery as a big Gotham City crime lord. One big difference is that the Sionis in the comics is unable to take his mask off. Caught in a burning building, the heat caused the mask to fuse itself onto Sionis’ face, forcing him to always wear the obsidian mask, while the film version is able to put his on or off as he wishes. Also, while Black Mask is quick to anger and rage, he’s doesn’t seem to have quite as drastic mood swings that we see in the film. This is not a drawback and should be seen as a new and fresh take provided by Ewan McGregor’s performance.
While the film and comic depictions do share Black Mask’s role as a major crime boss, the level of respect seen towards Joker in the film is most likely not shared in the comics. After all, Black Mask is a leader of a criminal organization, while Joker is very much an anarchist, seeking chaos and disorder. He also shares an estrangement with his family, however, it’s more fleshed out, with Sionis going so far as to murdering his parents and fashioning his mask from his father’s ebony coffin, which is not referenced or mentioned in the film.
All in all, Black Mask’s depiction in the film honors the comics version quite well. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of the character is stellar, and one of the best parts of the entire film. While he might have met his match with the Birds of Prey, Black Mask is certainly a formidable enough villain and is a welcome addition to DC’s film universe.
Birds of Prey is in theaters now.
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