Film Review – Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a spin-off of 2016’s Suicide Squad. I obsessed over anything about Suicide Squad until I saw it. It was a disappointment, to put it mildly. One of the best characters in the film and one of the most beloved from the DC comics is Harley Quinn, portrayed brilliantly by Margot Robbie. Spinning off Harley Quinn made sense, and Margot Robbie became a producer on the project, as well as Suicide Squad director David Ayer.
Birds of Prey exudes girl power for the new decade. Fresh off a final break up with The Joker, or as Harley refers to him, Mr. J, Harley goes through a period of mourning that is filled with drunkenness, impulse purchases, and blowing up the chemical plant where they cemented their relationship. Harley keeps the break up on the down-low because she received a sort of immunity or protection from the violent revenge of her escapades’ victims. Unfortunately, her blowing up the Ace chemical plant is widely seen as a declaration of being done with The Joker, and those looking to even up the score come out of the woodwork.
While escaping her multiple run-ins with enemies known and unknown, Harley has run-ins with Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who already has her pinned as the culprit of the chemical plant disaster. She also meets club singer Dinah Lace aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) who saves Harley from being sexually assaulted while drunk. These two women join forces with Harley when young pickpocket Cassandra Cane (Ella Jay Basco) swallows a large diamond worth way more than her life. This diamond is also related to The Huntress aka Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who is on her own revenge quest but is comically being referred to as The Crossbow Killer despite her best efforts. Through Cassandra, these women all join up to protect her and her most significant threat, Black Mask.
Birds of Prey may have the most confusing villain I have seen in comic book films in recent memory. Ewan McGregor steps into a DC Comics franchise as Black Mask or Roman Sionis. Introduced as a club owner with a volatile temper, he appears to be a run of the mill villain with aspirations of being notorious in Gotham, like The Joker. As the film continues, it reveals that he is quite rich but quizzically disgusted by germs and things being untidy. He is also a metrosexual. He does grab the best repetitive statement of the film, “Ew.” If the DC Comics fans are waiting for him to become Black Mask, you will have to wait until the end. Unfortunately for his alter-ego, he is only seen as a rich guy buying mercenaries to do his dirty work. It’s questionable if Ewan McGregor’s talents were used to their full potential for such a lame villain.
Another questionable character usage in Birds of Prey is Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz. He is Roman’s right-hand man and does things for him so as not to get his hands dirty. Messina is a brilliant actor, and to see him reduced to such a character was a disappointment. The scars and cuts on his body are not even explained until the end of the film. While this role is a departure for Messina, like McGregor, the part did not deserve him.
I applaud DC Comics for going full-tilt on employing women for a female-centric film (Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) wrote the script and directed by Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) directed it). But even if you love who is behind the camera and in front, the jumble of storylines and timelines cannot be ignored. The film jumps back and forth in time through flashbacks and then returning to where it left off, and the flashbacks are not brief. I have confidence that the way the film is set up is on purpose, and if that is true, it is a brilliant way to mimic the mind of Harley Quinn and translate it to a story’s structure. It’s just that it may not be received well by the audience.
Let’s be clear, while this film introduces the Birds of Prey; this is Harley Quinn’s story. I felt that the title is a bit disingenuous considering the ending and based on where the characters go from there. Margot Robbie will always be Harley Quinn in the live-action DC Comics universe. She exudes every characteristic ever associated with Harley, and most of all, Robbie looks like she is having an absolute blast doing it. Based on Birds of Prey’s reception at the box office, there may be a lot more Harley Quinn in our future. To put it bluntly, Birds of Prey is a mess, but so is Harley Quinn. How fitting.