Review: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

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

Director: Cathy Yan

Writer: Christina Hodson

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

Plot: After Harley Quinn and the Joker break up, it is pretty much open season on Quinn as everyone she’s wronged comes for her at once.

Review: Let’s travel back in time to the far off year of 2016. It’s summer. You’re just getting out of the theater. You saw Suicide Squad. It… wasn’t good. The humor was off. The fight scenes were lazy. And, what the hell was Jared Leto doing as Joker? But, still, if you’re like me, the movie wasn’t a total waste. There was one particularly bright and shiny aspect of this otherwise pretty bad movie. That glimpse of hope: one Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Man, she was so good! And she seemed to have such an intense understanding of the character. If only she were in something better. If only there were a good “Suicide Squad-esque” movie for her to feature in. Guess what? This is that movie. Birds of Prey (and the Fantaboulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is exactly the movie I wanted Suicide Squad to be. It’s funny. It’s dark. It kicks ass. And, most importantly, it gives Margot Robbie a chance to shine as Harley Quinn.

And boy, oh boy, does Robbie shine. It’s very clear, even before watching Birds of Prey, from her previous performance and the fact that she’s a producer of this movie that Margot loves the character of Harley Quinn. She obviously knows this character inside and out. It’s a character that even after a critical failure, when everyone else was bailing from the DCEU, that she wanted to keep playing. I think that shows a lot on the screen. This is without a doubt a better interpretation of the iconic Batman villain. She’s more well rounded. She has complex emotions that we actually get to see play out on screen. She’s less of just a sex symbol. She’s smarter. She actually uses her psychology degree, which was nice to see. And, to be frank, she kicks more ass. Her fight scenes in this movie were super well choreographed and a lot of fun. I hope Margot gets to keep playing this character for as long as she wants to. I enjoy the hell out of it and I get the sense that she does too.

While most can agree that this is a fantabulous Harley Quinn adventure, I’ve heard some rumblings that this may not be so great for the Birds of Prey. Honestly, I can see their point. The team is kind of pushed onto the back burner for most of the movie. In fact, they’re not even a team at all until the very last act. Personally, I didn’t really have a problem with it. No offense to anyone else involved, but I bought my ticket to see Harley Quinn. The Birds of Prey were just a bonus. I think a lot of this would be cleared up if the title were switched around. Something like Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey (jazzed up to their liking, of course) would’ve helped a lot.

On the topic of the Birds of Prey, I really liked the side characters in this movie. I thought most of them were fantastic. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a Huntress who completely lacks confidence but kicks all kinds of ass was a lot of fun. Out of all of the characters introduced here, I’d like to see more of her. This version of Black Canary was really cool too. I feel like we didn’t get to know her all that well, but she served as a good moral compass for Harley and the entire movie. I really enjoyed Cassandra Cain too. She wasn’t anything like her comic book character, but I try not to get nitpicky about that anymore. I thought she was an interesting, mostly innocent character that was dragged into this world and had some of the funnier moments in the movie. But, maybe my favorite supporting character was Ewan McGregor as Black Mask. I wasn’t excited for him at all. To me, Black Mask has kind of been a boring character. He’s just your typical gang leader, kingpin type. However, McGregor turned him into one of my favorite comic book villains of all time. He’s just so swarmy and pure evil. And, he does this pouty thing when he doesn’t get what he wants that slayed me. But, he still managed to have a handful of scenes that were scary as hell. In the constant struggle for these movies to both be taken seriously while also having fun, I think he walked that line really well.

The only characters I didn’t really dig were Renee Montoya and Victor Zsasz. Unfortunately, I just found Montoya to be boring. She was just your typical cop in a movie. They even tried to address this by making it a joke, but I didn’t really buy it. I wish her character had been cut to focus on some of the more interesting team members. Either that or replace her with Batgirl or any other character from the comics. Nothing against Rosie Perez, Montoya was just a weird fit. And, Zsasz didn’t feel quite crazy enough for me. I know I said that I’m trying not to compare it to the comics, but it’s difficult in this case. Every time I’ve seen Victor Zsasz, he’s so crazy that he’s barely even human anymore. He’s just a killing machine. Here he was crazy, but not quite scary enough. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just experienced different versions of him than the screenwriters have. Both are fairly minor characters and neither one really hurts the movie in any way. It’s just that in such a stacked lineup these two really stood out to me as disappointing.

I have one last minor critique that doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the movie all that much but I thought was worth bringing up. The plot isn’t all that original. It’s very reminiscent of John Wick. Badass is off limits. They do something to get themselves kicked out of the club that offered them protection. Everyone tries to kill them. Heck, there’s even a scene in Birds of Prey where every mercenary receives a text with a bounty on it. That’s literally straight out of the John Wick universe. I get that movies based on IP borrow from original movies all the time, but it doesn’t have to be that on the nose. I mean, if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best. And, like I said, it didn’t affect my viewing all that much, but I felt it was worth mentioning. Oh, and you can 100% tell that Deadpool came out between the wrapping of Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey. It definitely influenced the way the audience gets to know Harley. But, they’ve always been very similar characters so, again, I don’t have that big of a problem with it. As I’ve said and will continue to say, Birds of Prey is a Harley Quinn vehicle. The plot doesn’t matter all that much. And, frankly, neither do the Birds of Prey. It’s a chance for Margot Robbie to show off in this character that she loves and the movie more than succeeds on that front.

TL;DR: While not the most original movie in the world, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is the Harley Quinn movie fans have been waiting for with a really fun cameo appearance from the likable Birds of Prey.

Score: 8/10 (Great)

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