Movie Review: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Birds of Prey is about four different badass women on both sides of the law coming together to save an innocent, if sticky fingered, teenager and put down the crime boss attempting to kill her for the gem she stole. It stars Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Chris Messina, and Ewan McGregor. It is directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson.
The only other film I've watched in this "DCEU" iteration (Joker's a separate world from the one established by Man of Steel) is Wonder Woman, so I have no context, comments, or criticism about how it fits into the larger narrative concept of said film universe and could care less about the grand narrative of that. So, if you're looking for a deep dive into all of that, look elsewhere. If you want to know what I think of Birds of Prey as a film, then, I loved it.
I love especially when a very tired genre gets a breath of new life. Cathy Yan is a strong director and has some incredible action set pieces that she's able to navigate with deft hands. She's got a powerhouse cast and she gets some incredible work out of each and everyone of them. She did well partnering with the great Matthew Libatique as he frames this incredible dream ballet of a film in all the right ways. I didn't want to take my eyes off the screen.
Though, where this film lives and dies is in its edit and writing. Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff put a great spin on this complicated origin story/breakup movie. The two of them, at the direction of Yan, built this complicated narrative out of the flashbacks, dream sequences, simultaneous events, and animated sequences. It's all impressive and incredibly easy to follow even with the dreaded specter of narration throughout. The action is so smooth we see the impact of each hit and the incredible artistry of the stunt teams on full display. Birds of Prey is also just plain funny. There are several very funny moments inserted by Christina Hodson into her excellent script. I especially loved Huntress's attempts at tough dialogue in her mirror and the way Harley cuts down Black Mask's villain-splaining of his master plan.
Though, I will say for the sake of something that was a mild disappointment, this film owes a great deal to Deadpool. There are a just a few noticeable moments of fourth wall breaking and more than a few horrible violences turned into humor. Of course, then, there's also the question of Roman Sionis and Victor Zsasz's relationship. I'm very interested in all the facets of queer identity and relationships, it would be much more comforting to have had all of that defined rather than it be the homoerotic masquerade that they're putting on with each other. Though, each is in his own right is an absolute psychopath so is all representation, good representation? I just don't know how I feel about it. Maybe more of Renee Montoya and her ex-girlfriend arguing about something to do with their relationship would have made their subtext more palatable.
There is no one performance to pull out of this film because they're all so good. Both Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina turn in great unhinged against type bad guys and Ella Jay Basco is really fun. Yet, what I loved about these performances is the nuance in the women at the center of the story. Harley Quinn is not only a crazed badass, she's also a heart broken accredited, psychiatrist who has no time for your male ego bullshit. Renee Montoya is not only a great detective who can kick ass and take names, she's also a put upon woman who is tenacious and caring of victims. Helena "Huntress" Bertinelli is a dangerous assassin out to avenge her family, but is also someone who didn't have a childhood and is attempting to interact with others in healthier ways. Dinah "Black Canary" Lance is a singer who just wants to keep her head down and get out of her bad situation, but is also a woman who helps other women and children who are going through the same terrors of her childhood.
Birds of Prey is not just a good comic book movie with an anti-hero lead, it's a great story with a fun mix of characters and zaniness to boot. A movie that can juxtapose the dressing down of the best detective in town for doing her job while she wears a T-shirt that reads, "I shaved my balls for this?" is superior and deserves your time and your eyeballs. Go and see this one because it's familiar, yet original and supports empowerment without it being a hollow gesture.