Main cast: Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Dinah Lance/Black Canary), Rosie Perez (Det Renee Montoya), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Helena Bartinelli/Huntress), Ella Jay Basco (Cassandra Cain), Chris Messina (Victor Zsasz), Steven Williams (Capt Patrick Erickson), Ali Wong (Ellen Yee), Dana Lee (Doc), and Ewan McGregor (Roman Sionis/Black Mask)
Director: Cathy Yan
Whoever arranged for the marketing of this movie deserves to be tarred and feathered out of the industry. Haven’t these people learned anything? Woke marketing – the kind that scowls and berates usually white straight men for being terrible, while claiming that they must watch the movie to become better people – rarely works, especially as the people who delight in seeing straight, white men being berated rarely ever pay money for the woke product itself. Terminator: Dark Fate had the director Tim Miller telling straight men to go eff themselves and don’t watch the movie because it’s not for them even before the movie opened, so the bulk of the audience such a movie typically attracts obligingly stayed away and the movie flopped. Elizabeth Banks screeched that Charlie’s Angels is for women, not men, and then later scolded men for not watching her movie after it flopped like a beached whale party.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) has the people behind the movie doing the same thing even before it opened: this is a feminist movie, eff the patriarchy, white men stay the hell away because this movie doesn’t need them to succeed… oops, the movie is now flopping hard because those men decided to let these crazy broads have their way. My favorite is Ewan McGregor – who ditched his wife of almost thirty years and mother of his children for Mary Elizabeth Winstead while making this movie – lecturing men on how they need to watch this movie to learn how to respect women better. Sure, he may have valid reasons to ditch the wife, but the optics are terrible, and they make him look like a hypocritical gobshite.
All this is most unfortunate, because the obnoxious marketing builds up this hideous impression that the movie is a joyless woke-fest, a one-hour-and forty-minute equivalent of a Greta Thunberg-ian “How dare you!” uttered in Margot Robbie’s baby voice.
This movie is not that at all. It’s hardly woke – in fact, one can argue that attaching feminism to this movie is a huge disservice to the concept and history of feminism, as this movie is all about crazy women beating up men non-stop and never receiving any consequences for their actions. If anything, this one is a female counterpart to the Deadpool movies. The main characters are morally ambiguous and crazy chaotic, but they also have their own personal code when it comes to treating the people they have come to be fond of. There is plenty of breaking the fourth wall, self aware humor, poking fun at comic book tropes… yes, this one will fit in very well in that crazy universe that Deadpool and friends hail from.
Anyway, the plot. Harley Quinn is ditched by Joker some time after events of Suicide Squad, and it was all painful and hard to bear… until she decides that she’s going to be her own person from now on. She decides to give herself closure by driving a truck into that toxic waste chemical plant where she took the plunge, so to speak, for her ex, and causing a spectacular kaboom that rocks the entire Gotham City. She feels great, but things go downhill fast when she realizes that her action lets every criminal in the neighborhood know that she is no longer with the fearsome Joker and hence she no longer has his protection. Now. everyone with a grudge against her is out to kill her.
Meanwhile, the mysterious lady known as the Huntress is in town, taking down crime bosses and their henchmen one by one.
Also in Gotham City is Detective Renee Montoya, who wants to find evidence to take down the crime boss Roman Sionis, but she is hampered on all sides by her superior – her former partner who took credit for her efforts as well as the promotion she should have received – and her district attorney ex. Her informant used to be Roman’s driver, but Harley Quinn breaks his legs and puts him out of commission shortly into the movie. Renee tries to convince the new driver, Dinah Lance, to be her new informant, but Dinah, whose mother used to be an informant too, doesn’t trust the police and tells Renee to go take a hike.
These women’s paths intersect when the orphan teen Cassandra Cain picks the pocket of Roman’s right-hand lackey, personal assassin, and likely boyfriend Victor Zsaz and ends up possessing the diamond that contains the etched bank account numbers of the fabulously rich and fabulously dead Bartinelli family. The family was one of the most successful organized crime aristocrats in town until they were mostly killed during a hostile takeover by a rival family, and now, with the diamond in his possession, Roman plans to use the wealth to dominate or buy out the other crime lords in town. Of course, he can’t, now that the diamond is missing.
In order to get him to spare her life, Harley offers to track down Cassandra and retrieve the diamond for Roman. Dinah is already wading in the mess as she is Roman’s driver, and she begins leaving messages to Renee in order to get that detective to help protect the teenage girl. Of course, the Huntress just wants to kill gangsters. So there you have it, the plot.
Mind you, this movie may as well be a solo Harley Quinn movie because the Birds of Prey only get together officially towards the end, and even then, Harley isn’t part of it. So why put her in a movie that has Birds of Prey in the title? Also, Dinah is nowhere like Black Canary in the comics, and no, I’m not talking about how she is now black. What I’m saying is that she only uses her sonic superpower once in this movie, and for the most part she is just some kung-fu lady kicking men’s gonads hard. The Huntress looks like some generic leather-clad lady who wields a crossbow and does kung-fu. There is nothing here that resembles the Birds of Prey beyond the names of some of the characters here. While this is fine if it had new or interesting things to say, but it is just some generic pugilism-and-guns movie with female leads. This movie could have changed the names of the characters into Poodle Pow-Pow, Black Pigeon, and Edgy Leather Girl, and nothing else will change. It sure feels like screenwriter Christina Hodson had merely changed the serial numbers on an old unsold script for this movie.
On the bright side, Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, the same way people will say Hugh Jackman is Wolverine or Robert Downey Jr is Iron Man. Her mannerisms and voice affectations are perfect and she becomes the character so much so that it can be hard to imagine anyone else playing that role. Sure, Ms Robbie’s manic pixie girl act is a bit overexposed ever since Suicide Squad happened, but her charisma and infectious joy at playing this character carry the movie to the finish role. While the three other ladies playing the other lead female characters are also good, their roles are poorly defined for all the effort they have put into it. No one is allowed to outshine Harley Quinn here – it’s perhaps not a coincidence that Ms Robbie is one of the producers, heh – and the movie would still be pretty much what it is even with Black Canary and Huntress written out. Hence, my earlier point about how this one should have been just The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
It’s the same with the two male villains. The actors do a great job with what little they have, especially Mr McGregor who is just so much fun to watch, but again, no one is allowed to snatch the limelight from the one single character who, ironically, is never canonically a member of Birds of Prey in the first place.
As for the rest of the movie, most of the fight scenes are well choreographed – they even make the notion of skinny chicks with barely any muscle taking down men twice their size seem believable. The worst was also seen in the trailer – sadly, that is the penultimate fight scene. Yes, the trailer gave away scenes at the climax of the movie, and yes, the worst fight scenes are the climactic ones. Did those John Wick people that helped with the earlier fight scenes leave early during the filming? Still, things pick up during the rest of the movie, and there is no shortage of fights and explosions to keep me entertained.
For the most part, the humor and the action work well for me. The cast does a great job with what they are given. However, the movie has also crammed in way too many subplots without fleshing out most of them, so at the end of the day, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) feels more like an entertaining pilot episode for a new series than a movie in its own right. Really, they should have ditched the two unnecessary main ladies and let Harley Quinn take the whole thing solo.