2020 is finally over but before we send it off to the trash heap it deserves to be in, it’s time for the third annual Golden Cages, Flixist’s extremely coveted prize! Each year the Flixist staff gets together to vote on the best and worst films of the year and gives you lovely readers our true and honest thoughts. Plus since there are no other awards shows this winter (suck it Academy!) we’re now the de facto voice of truth in the film industry. So read on dear viewer and see which films win our lovely little award!
Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey is technically a sequel to David Ayer’s much-maligned Suicide Squad, but it feels more like a rejoinder. In Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) was a mere object: ogled, acted upon, the therapist The Joker psychologically abused into his sexpot moll. In Birds of Prey, we witness her fantabulous emancipation just as the unwieldy subtitle says. It’s sparkly, it’s glorious, and it has some of the best on-screen action of 2020.
Tonally, Birds of Prey feels like a Gail Simone comic. It’s irreverent, it’s savvy, and it puts its focus on the women of the story and their relationships. Female agency is essential in Birds of Prey. Our heroes have all been wronged by evil men, and the Gotham City of the film is a wretched hive of creeps and misogyny. It takes a bit of time for the eponymous group to assemble–the consequence of introducing new characters and essentially re-introducing Harley Quinn–but the film is dotted with joyous slugfests along the way.
A lot of the staging and fight choreography in Birds of Prey is reminiscent of classic Hong Kong action cinema by way of Luc Besson (on the note of evil men). Harley running around with the young Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) seems to wink at Leon: The Professional. In fact, wardrobe-wise, Harley’s revised outfits seem like a sartorial wink to The Fifth Element‘s Leeloo. The police station scene feels like John Woo (and maybe a bit of T2) with a glitter cannon. The prisoner/warehouse slobber knockers have the undeniable panache of Tony Jaa and Jackie Chan, respectively. (A lot of those 2000s Thai martial arts films similarly channeled ’90s HK energy.) When Harley, Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Belle), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Montoya (Rosie Perez) are finally joined as sisters in arms, it’s like an ensemble Sammo Hung movie from the 1980s.
Everyone in Birds of Prey has their own fighting style, which is a rare sight in American action movies. Yan and stunt coordinators Jon Valera and Jonathan Eusebio (both John Wick franchise veterans) know that action isn’t just action. Fights and stunts are a form of storytelling, both an external expression of character and a crucial part of character development. Action doesn’t happen when words fail; action is a kind of language. There’s a poetry to hand crossbows and kicks and mallets and baseball bats, and it’s just as essential as the one-liners peppered into the fray and the things characters say when they’re vulnerable or comfortable around others. Action is interaction.
Harley Quinn may just want a breakfast sandwich, but we hope she settles for the 2020 Golden Cage for Best Action Movie.