It is truly ladies night over at DC Comics and Warner Bros. as the long-fabled all-fem lead cast of Birds Of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn burst on to the cinematic scene like a bean bag of confetti. And these colour-filled explosive firecrackers have lined up to have their moment on screen.
Quite frankly, it does seem like the women are the ones keeping on the lights over at Warner Bros. Pictures as far as DC Comics film efforts go. With the likes of Wonder Woman 84 soon to follow, and the coming Suicide Squad reboot that also has Margot Robbie’s Harlequinn aka Harley Quinn being one of the few only surviving remnants of the first David Ayer-direct Suicide Squad movie.
So now that the women of DC Comics are front and centre, how does the narrative of this Harley Quinn-led feature hold up in a disjointed film universe that has had multiple mini-epileptic big-bang reboots? Even that aside, is Birds Of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) another ode to feminism seasoned with poorly-contrived moments of anti-male ideology that pervaded the likes Captain Marvel, or will we get a well-balanced story that delivers the bond of sisterhood with all the frills of the layered character archetypes from all walks of life?
Let’s begin our deep-dive into a vat of chemicals, shall we?
⚠ SPOILERS AHEAD ⚠
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated
There is this twisted truth that some women will stay in a toxic relationship (or stand against certain ideals) so long as it benefits them. Typical ‘Karen’ stuff. However, Harley Quinn has had enough and the famed relationship between her and the Joker has dissolved. And judging from the opening animation, Harley Quinn masterminded a lot of the Joker’s capers, which she ultimately did not get the respect or credit for. So who needs him?
So Harley breaks up with the Joker. And as much as she was liberated by that, she still tried to enjoy the perks of being his girl – virtually untouchable by the criminal underworld. This soon comes to an end when she… blew up Ace Chemicals. Now I know we were explained in a few scenes that this was a known love nest or ‘thing’ for the Joker/Harley couple, and Harley destroying the factory was a true beacon to everyone she was no longer with the Prince Clown Of Crime… however this feels like one of the weakest plot points of the film. Sorry.
However, it is now open season, and every baddie that was done wrong by Harley wants a piece of her. Namely Roman Sionis aka the Black Mask. He has big plans to take over the criminal underworld, and a diamond encoded with a secret map to a fortune will help him secure it. Until its stolen and Harley Quinn is charged with getting it back. And it is this diamond that connects all the main cast of female bad-assery that kicks, punches and screams their way through the bad guys to secure their freedom and their lives.
A Gotham Unlike Any Other
When it comes to visions of Gotham, we oft see the gothic monolith structures with cathedral-like gothic gargoyle statues. And it has been one we’ve been used to. A cold, seedy dystopia fitting for the Dark Knight to brood and oversee the criminal element from his perch. Harley Quinn’s Gotham however is… different.
And you could tell when the team behind Birds Of Prey were aiming to give this Gotham a more city ‘outskirts’ type of feel. Poverty exists in Birds Of Prey‘s Gotham, however not as extreme as proceeding DC Films presented. A vibrancy and idiosyncrasy bloom that gave us a unique take on the fabled city. It speaks to a melting pot of culture and character. One that had its trouble with crime but also were filled with normal people trying to get through the day and live their lives.
A new lens is always a good way forward for DC, and the neon fuschia lights added a dash of colour to the drab which in turn complimented the fact that we were seen a city through the lens of a psychopath.
The Set-Up, Delivery and Punch of the Joker-less Joke
What I identified as one of the weakest of Birds of Prey‘s plot point is because of one, wholly irksome truth that DC and WB danced and paraded around without ever showing it. The Joker. Imagine seeing the Watchmen without the Comedian? To constantly hear references to him without any context, flashbacks or appearances?
We were given the Joker in animation form. With us constantly hearing about him and having his sketched visage being turned into a target for knife-throwing practice on a dartboard. Or a discombobulated voice in Harley’s head. The Joker’s equal-parts presence and absence from Birds Of Prey feels unnatural and inadvertently gives the impression Harley Quinn really is not much without the Joker.
One may even call it a double standard. The need to mention the Joker at every given moment but not have the Villain share the same space as Harley in the movie. Suicide Squad all over again.
And when impressions in the trailer led fans to believe Harley Quinn killed (or nearly succeeded killing) the Joker (and I suspect this may have been in the first scripted draft), WB and DC probably thought that to be too concrete a scenario for possible future spin-offs. Only if Jared Leto spends less of his time sabotaging other DC Films, ironically beefing with James Gunn
and slipping into underage young model DMs. Take a chance DC.
The Framed Perception of Men Unmasked
It is not too great a jump to conclude when Hollywood congregates the greatest female bad-asses in the DC Universe, the feminist slant is not too far behind. Which is cool. But when the them and us matrix places a broad general brush stroke to the enemy, then that is where it becomes a small issue. Balance is always key. Black Panther had this. Not every white person was the enemy. Neither was every black person the hero. People are complex, after all.
Birds Of Prey, however, conveys every man as an enemy in the emancipation of women. Every man either wants women gutted, repressed, owned or controlled. If they are not stealing the promotions and thunder from women like the Joker did Harley and like the present Gotham Police Captain did Renee Montana, they are betraying and selling them out, wearing masks and reduced to a menacing and violent sea of animals. This lends itself to the final scene where the life and innocence of pickpocket Cassandra Cain gets tossed around in a game of keep-away by the femmes of BOP. All to protect her from the thrusting blades and grabby hands of stock henchmen.
Even the Black Mask, who is presented to us through a gay lens, is not immune to the testosterone-infused hate in assaulting women, forcing complicity and forcibly getting other men to violently rip a woman patron’s dress off in his club.
This is not exactly a terrible thing, trust us. It is just interesting to see how people’s agendas find their way into the story. However, the film is fun and it really does not take itself seriously.
We could go on about the only black guy’s finger she bites in the psycho-hallucination sequence, but that would be us nitpicking.
And about that psycho-hallucination. Let’s talk about it. It’s less to do with the oddball-ness of a psychedelic type scene that appears once and only once crowbarred into a Harley Quinn interrogation scene. But it also speaks to the spastic edit nearing the end of the sequence as well as when we see the Roman first don the Black Mask.
It was hardly creative as it was spastic. For me the edit was lacking the creative blends that would create a more blurred line between reality and Harley’s twisted mind.
And I even understand that too; things would probably start looking more like Deadpool, and no one wants to be a copy cat.
This is where we have to give it up to Birds Of Prey. The fun, high-octane action is evident in this DC film. Harley’s explosive confetti bean bag one-woman onslaught of the police department. The fight choreography is great and hard-hitting.
I saw many people comparing it to John Wick, which is honestly a huge oversell. However, there are some sequences that carry a huge impetus. The use of colour and flair just adds to the fun and savagery. What is there not to love? And it is not just Harley who is punching heavy. The Huntress has a particularly bad-ass intro scene that is so on point and we honestly need a Huntress movie. I’ll be the first to say it.
Another scene that kindled a spark of intrigue was the Huntress and Harley tandem that had Huntress using her motorcycle to propel Harley on skates as they led chase after Roman and Cassandra through the streets of Gotham. Brilliant.
From the Good to the Bad-Ass Dames
Though I felt the meeting between all the main ladies could have happened a bit sooner, when all the ladies meet with their varying levels of vulnerability, and strengths, it truly is a nice, little sequence.
The Huntress is on her bloody campaign mission to get revenge for the murder of her family, whom also happens to be a Family of the Mob kind – the Bertinelli family. And one of the men that had a hand in the murder of her family is none other than the Black Mask’s current right-hand man Victor Zsasz.
Black Canary (from what I understand she is the daughter of the original Black Canary) is a songstress turn wheelman for Roman who ends up feeding information to Detective Renee Montoya when Cassandra Cain had money placed on her head.
And who would want to kill a little pickpocket? Well, if you got your sticky fingers on a diamond that could bring you an insurmountable fortune, understandably, every goon would want a piece of the pie. Especially when Roman needs the diamond to bankroll his Gotham takeover and puts a bounty on Cain’s head.
The Huntress felt more rounded as a character in how she was presented, possessing the psychology of a child who witnesses the trauma of their family’s violent murder. As an orphaned child, Helena gets raised by Italian assassins, growing into a deadly efficient killer but understandably stunted and awkward in the social and conversational department. Prone to violent outbursts like, well, a child. Always fun to see.
I honestly wished Perez’s Renee Montoya shined more, especially in the squabble department; I really wanted to see that knuckle duster go to work. And there had to have been a better film take of that phone conversation between Montoya and Black Canary in the bathroom stall. I most certainly could tell no one real was on the other end of that mobile phone.
Birds Of Prey was a fun movie. The interconnecting characters and stories will always be technically harder to pull off due to the many intricate mechanics and dynamics involved. Hollywood rarely gets that right. Hence, why the story does feel thin when stacked up. I also do believe a story without the constant references to Joker should have been had.
DC is banking heavy on the more appealing character that survived the Zack Snyder-tainted DCEU without paying the right amount of attention to crafting unique, compelling stories. Harley Quinn as an emotional wreck turned emancipated self-declared queen of Gotham is something we will always love to see. However, I do think more is needed to cement her above the status of supporting cast, especially when her first solo outing is flanked by other Birds and the absent yet omnipresent Joker.
We all love crazy. Now, imagine if the humour was dialed up, with less Joker name dropping. DC may be closer to achieving the succinct comic book film than they were post-Justice League. Which makes sense as you could only go up from there on out if it is still a seedling of the current Snyder-DCEU.
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- Margot Robbie shines as Harley Quinn
- Colourful and funky-fun
- Some great fight scenes and choreography
- Huntress and Black Canary second up for MVPs
- Roman as a character feels interesting... well, felt
- Story a bit thin
- Would have loved to see a tougher Montoya
- Wonders if the incessant Joker talk without his presence had anything to do with the Academy nominations?
- Hey, all guys aren't that bad. Unless you search our browser history
- The voice over and freeze fame sequences are a hit and miss at times
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