Dan's Review: "Birds of Prey" is a messy bit of fun
Feb 09, 2020 12:58PM
By Dan Metcalf
Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn - © 2020 Warner Bros.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (Warner Bros.)
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material.
Starring Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor, Steven Williams.
Written by Christina Hodson, based on "Birds of Prey" by Jordan B. Gorfinkel and Chuck Dixon, and "Harley Quinn" by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.
Directed by Cathy Yan.
Villainy used to be taboo, a well-defined polar opposite of all things good and desirable in society. This cultural norm also used to play out nicely on the movie screen with white hat/black hat-wearing characters sending clear signals while avoiding any sort of ambiguity. Such boundaries have been blurred of late in all types of media, from movies to the comic books that inspire them. The “comic book” has evolved into the “graphic novel,” where the delineation between good and evil is often lost in a barrage of gunfire, blade cuts, and bludgeoning. A simple “KAPOW” has been replaced by blood splatter and dismembered bodies, meted out by “antiheroes” with fewer ethics than a wild badger. The characters that used to be pariahs have transitioned into headliners with a full complement of standalone feature films. DC Comics and Warner Bros. even went so far as to give several of their villains their own “super team” movie in 2016’s Suicide Squad, featuring a few well-known baddies (the Joker and his sidekick Harley Quinn) along with some lesser-known DC comic book scoundrels. For the DC Extended Universe (which includes the Justice League), the next antihero movie is Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, with Margot Robbie reprising the role of Harley Quinn from the Suicide Squad.
The main plot involves Harley’s breakup from the Joker (Jared Leto in Suicide Squad) and her quest to find meaning beyond being the girlfriend of the most feared criminal mastermind in Gotham. As she struggles to make a new life for herself, Harley gets tangled with Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a.k.a. “Black Mask,” a brutal crime lord with a penchant for cutting the faces off people who cross him. When Harley’s violent tactics mess with Roman’s business model, she is forced to retrieve a diamond stolen by a teen named Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), a foster child and adept pickpocket. Meanwhile, Gotham Police Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez) builds a case against Roman while being constantly dismissed for her efforts by misogynist and corrupt leaders. She is also investigating several murders being carried out by a mysterious assassin named Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a.k.a. “Huntress.” At the same time, Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a.k.a. “Black Canary” is promoted from being one of Roman’s club singers to hi personal driver. When she sees what Roman is trying to do Cassandra, Dinah betrays her boss. All four women eventually find themselves being hunted by Romans, causing them to form a tentative alliance in order to survive a great battle with the madman and his male henchmen.
Even though Birds of Prey narrowly avoids some of the pitfalls of Suicide Squad’s weak story, poorly and drawn characters, there are a lot of moving parts and loose ends to deal with, including a chaotic plot that relies on a lot of bombastic behavior of Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie owns the character with all her heart and soul, manufacturing most of the chaos and charm. The problem is, the story seems like more window dressing for yet another branch of the DC cinematic universe, which is beginning to feel infinite. I’m not sure the world is ready for more characters and a bigger DC mess to clean up (like the uncertain fate of the Justice League). Sure, these fun, new female characters bring more unseen baggage to the table and maybe there is room for a wider expansion of the DCEU. I tend to lean more in the direction a cinematic market that is oversaturated with superheroes and now – supervillains.
It should be noted that Birds of Prey is rightfully rated R due to the extreme violence and raunchy language, which makes the movie even messier. The cartoonish and silly fight choreography tends to get a little repetitive beyond the first sucker punch or creative way to kill the legions of male buffoons who fall “prey” to the ladies’ outstanding abilities. This sort of comic tableau might be fun at first, but it eventually becomes an unrecognizable part of a bigger, yet fun mess.
"Birds of Prey" Trailer