Movie review: “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (2020)

“Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (2020)


Running time:109 minutes

Written by: Christina Hodson

Directed by: Cathy Yan

Featuring: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong and Ewan McGregor

Harley Quinn: “Oh hey, you’re that singer no one listens to.”

Dinah Lance: “Oh hey, you’re the asshole no one likes.”

Released recently in cinemas is the first DCEU movie since the triumph of “The Joker” (2019) in the form of the overblown in title, although thoroughly underwhelming in execution, kind of sequel to “Suicide Squad” (2017) in “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (2020). Featuring at its core Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn who in this movie talks to the camera, causes carnage and in a way brings together the all girl group ‘Birds of Prey’, featuring Renee Montoya, Black Canary, Huntress and Cassandra Cain who are all pale imitations of not only their comic counterparts but have appeared in other formats with much more originality and gusto than this movie, which for me was a letdown. This movie has some of the same issues that the recent “Charlies Angels” (2019) although nowhere near extreme as all the people (almost anyway) cast in this know what the movie was trying to be so performances have been adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately it is the paint by numbers script as well as the mostly lethargic and explain at every corner narration that keeps this as a below average comic book movie.

One of the main issues is that for almost the entire running time Quinn and other characters keep referring to The Joker but he is never seen, I get why, he is such a larger than life aspect of the the DC Universe that if he did appear it would distract from not only Quinn but the idea that this is a female empowerment movie. Also there is the added confusion of which actor would play the Joker, especially after fans turned on Jared Leto’s performance, so he is only sen in shadow here. Therein lies one of the major issues with this movie, the varied cast, the narrative that for half the movie is told in flashbacks and flash-forwards which is all well and good but it does not match the story which is completely pedestrian.

I get what “Birds of Prey” was supposed to be, a female empowerment movie with a supposed badass female character at the centre who could do and say anything she wanted to so that it would prove that, yes women can do anything. Except of course we have already had that movie in “Wonder Woman” (2016) which not only had the budget to go with that vision but also had a three dimensional character that audiences could get on board with. Unfortunately Harley Quinn is a two dimensional character at the very best so other cast members have been added and their origin stories have been shown horned in to prop up Quinn, which feels forced because it is, so the narrative is stop and start every fifteen minutes, making for an uncomfortable watch.

“Birds of Prey” is set after the Enchantress’ defeat, the Joker breaks up with Harley Quinn, throwing her out on the streets of Gotham City, recovering from her abusive relationship by cutting her hair, adopting a spotted hyena, taking up roller derby, and blowing up the Ace Chemicals plant where she pledged herself to the Joker years prior. One night, Harley gets drunk at a nightclub owned by gangster Roman Sionis, and cripples Roman’s driver after he insults her. Later, she meets burlesque singer Dinah Lance, who later rescues an intoxicated Harley from an attempted rape and abduction. Spotting the scuffle from his bedroom, Roman is impressed by Dinah’s skills and appoints her as his new driver. Meanwhile, GCPD Detective Renee Montoya investigates a series of mob killings carried out by a crossbow-wielding vigilante.

Written by Christina Hodson and directed by Cathy Yan this “Birds of Prey” is a rather boring watch which it shouldn’t be, say what you want about her last outing in “Suicide Squad” but it wasn’t boring. I get wanting to have women behind the scenes but neither have a real style in terms of their creative output, the only thing that comes close is the fact Hodson was a writer of the modest hit “Bumblebee” (2018), but even that story was propped up by the visuals, actors and nostalgia, here there is nothing to distract audiences from the story as the direction is mild, in fact another direct was brought in to up the ante on the action. Another aspect of the movie that is shocking is the almost complete lack of any kind of memorable or practical production design, everything looks on the cheap and frail. One example is all the nightclub scenes where the location looks drab and actually not authentic at all, it looks like a sound stage with some tables and chairs, what were they thinking.

The cast led by Margot Robbie is made up of a mixture of new faces and familiar ones, they all attempt to instil their characters with something that will come across as how they should be in a movie like this. I loved seeing Rosie Perez who is possibly doing the best work in the movie, but for me it was the always great Chris Messina who not only knows his own character but also realises what movie his is actually in, I loved his performance.

All in all this was a mess of a movie, with an unproven director who seems out of her depth, a plot that goes nowhere and finally a budget that is well under what this movie required to have some visual flair. It is interesting that Warner Brothers say they are interested in making a female empowered movie but budget it at the least of all the DCEU movies, which actually says more about what they care about than what they say publicly. Think about it, “Birds of Prey” had less than half the budget of “Suicide Squad”, sure it was a different movie, but if more had been given over to the world building and plot this would have been so much better.

In my opinion I would not see this movie in cinemas, I might recommend this as a home watch but it adds nothing to comic book adaptations and is certainly a horrible followup to the DCEU’s biggest success, “The Joker”.

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