Reviews

Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

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Can I just say I hate this movie’s title?

After watching Birds of Prey, everything about this title annoys me to no end. From the very moment the title was officially announced, everyone and their grandmother knew this was a Harley Quinn movie, despite the Birds of Prey getting top booking. Harley Quinn is not only tagged onto the title, but it overwhelms it in a cavalcade of nonsense. Whenever I talk about this movie, I don’t call it Birds of Prey. If DC is marketing this movie as Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), then by God I will call it that, and that title is just verbal diarrhea at best. It’s not cute, it’s just obnoxious. Fantabulous isn’t even a word, and the fact that this title has a parenthesis is just awful. What was so wrong with just calling it Harley Quinn & the Bird of Prey? Why have all of this nonsense except to be annoying?

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let me explain why that terrible title didn’t stop me from having a pretty alright time with this movie.

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Director: Cathy Yan
Rating: R
Release: February 7, 2019

Serving as a pseudo-sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad, BoPAtFEoOHQ picks up some time after that with Harley (Margot Robbie) officially being kicked out by Jared Leto’s Joker, much like how he was kicked out of this franchise. Heartbroken, she goes around drinking, letting out her aggression, and making a whole host of new enemies that don’t want to mess with her because they think she’s still attached to the Joker. Once she publicly announces that she’s single by way of blowing up a chemical factory (as you do when you’re drunk), every hired gun is out to kill her. Those same hired guns are after a foster girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who stole an obscenely valuable diamond and starts to pal around with Harley, leading to a mapcap chase between hired killers, vigilantes, cops, and psychopaths.

It’s a surprisingly fast paced plot with the presentation of information being a bit cluttered to say the least. There’s narration framed from Harley’s perspective recounting the events after a drunken hangover, which causes several of the events to be told somewhat out of order for the first half of the movie. We’ll follow along with Harley for a while, then jump to another character, then back to Harley, then into another character’s footsteps. It’s a very light version of Kill Bill, only filtered through a DC action movie.

The presentation is fine for the most part, but due to its structure, BoPAtFEoOHQ is very exposition heavy. Whenever a new major character is revealed, and there’s a lot of them, the movie will take time to stop, have Harley introduce them, spend a minute or two detailing their backstory, then getting back to the main business. Even bit characters get a few seconds worth of introduction before being killed off just as quickly as they appeared. There are moments when the exposition works, like when Harley psychoanalyzes characters as their talking and explains all of their insecurities to them, but then a few scenes later she’ll go right back to narrating. The worst offender is Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is fantastic when she’s able to speak and fight, but her development is sidelined for 80% of the movie in favor of having other characters explain her backstory to us.

But whenever the movie isn’t focused on explaining everyone’s motivation, the action is almost non-stop and always fun to watch. While the action isn’t as gruesome as the likes of John Wick, there’s plenty of great hand-to-hand combat scenes that surprised me with just how inventive they could be. Bones are broken, people are lit on fire, faces are sliced off, and I was never not having a good time when Harley and friends were left to just beat people up. It’s not mind-blowing by any stretch of the word, but it certainly was stylish.

That cult of personality created by the movie is all thanks to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. To many, she was the saving grace of Suicide Squad and catapulted the character into pop culture stardom. While her fame may be grating to some, myself included, I couldn’t help but appreciate the energy she brought into every scene she was in. There were moments where I think Robbie leaned a bit too much into being DC’s answer to Deadpool, but her character actually does feel like a character and not a quip-inducing man-child.

As I’ve said before with the movie’s awful, awful title, this is really Harley’s movie. Sure, the core members of the Birds of Prey, one of DC’s most under-represented but still awesome team of all female badasses, appear and have moments between them, but I never felt like I got to know any of them by the end. It wasn’t until the last 15 minutes of the movie that all five core members were actually in the same room as each other, with most of them only meeting each other then.

The only member who appeared enough to have a fully fleshed out arc was Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Belle), while the rest were more side characters in their own movie. Fans be warned though, if you’re a hardcore Cassandra Cain fan, you’ll probably be pissed off about her portrayal here almost as much as her post Infinite Crisis incarnation. Fans know what I’m talking about. No I’m not a comic book nerd. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, move along and pretend there’s nothing to see here.

Meanwhile, the movie’s antagonist, Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), had plenty of appearances and chewed the scenery whenever he got a chance in a gleeful and manic performance almost similar to Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborne. He’s almost gibberingly insane and was one step away from talking to his eponymous black mask to ask it for advice. Instead we just get a lot of Ewan McGegor dancing and killing people over snot bubbles. I can dig it.

Calling this movie imbalanced would be very generous to say the least. When it works, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) does well enough, but it fumbles more than I would have expected it to. It beats the hell out of Suicide Squad, but that doesn’t really say much about how good BoPAtFEoOHQ really is. I think if there’s one way to look at it, it would be as a disposable popcorn flick. It’s not going to make you think, and it certainly isn’t going to change any of your thoughts on DC’s current crop of releases or Harley Quinn as a character, but it delivers exactly what you expect it to. It gives you some fun action, pretty colors, a well-intentioned, if messily executed, message on feminism and teamwork, and wraps up with a happy ending. Inoffensive, fun, and pretty alright at the end of the day. More Aquaman than Wonder Woman.

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Decent

6.5

When it works, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) does well enough, but it fumbles more than I would have expected it to. It beats the hell out of Suicide Squad.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.