'Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn' (2020) A Clowny Movie Review

Updated on May 9, 2020

DC As of Late

With the start of DC attempting to envision its own cinematic universe since 2013 akin to Marvel, the DC comic book flicks have been all over the map in quality. Man of Steel, in my opinion, was hot garbage with absolutely zero personality to it. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was also a huge mess of a script on screen, but it at least had Ben Affleck being an awesome new Batman. Suicide Squad was another messy script, but this movie actually made an improvement by injecting some life and color into the characters to at least be somewhat entertaining… with the exception of Jared Leto’s Joker, but that’s a whole separate discussion right there.

I don't blame Leto for this... but I still didn't like it.
I don't blame Leto for this... but I still didn't like it.

Then after Suicide Squad, the studio seemed to really begin taking notes on where they went wrong previously as they made a complete turnaround with 2017’s Wonder Woman which won over fans and critics with some tremendous heart and action. Soon after though we went a step or two backwards with Justice League, again, not exactly being a tightly written narrative and also has one of the worst villains I’ve seen in a movie from recent memory; however, where it shines is with the characters being exceptionally fun and charming. Plus, Affleck as Batman again is just so good! I really will miss him in the role. Although admittedly I could have done without Ezra Miller as the Flash/Barry Allen, every second he showed up on screen with his hyperactive annoying commentary about everything under the sun I prayed for a bus to run him over… and then back up.

I'll drive the bus if I have to.
I'll drive the bus if I have to.

After Justice League it appeared as though DC was back on track with both Aquaman and Shazam! containing likable and exciting rollercoaster rides with more thought put into their story and characters while having the delightful edge of a signature DC property. In all honesty, when Zack Snyder’s presence with the films began dwindling is when we finally started truly seeing a vast shift in the tides. Maybe that’s wrong of me to say, but I’ve enjoyed most productions from DC without his name attached as director. Including the latest installment to the franchise, Birds of Prey.

The Plot

Crime lord Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) finds some grievances in the likes of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a crossbow wielding killer who calls herself Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a traitor singer named Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and a young pick-pocket (Ella Jay Basco) who steals the wrong diamond from Sionis. It’s up to this group of misfit women to protect the girl and keep themselves alive before the entire city of Gotham devours them whole.

The Story

One of the few issues I do have with this movie is in its story and the execution in structure. While never totally ruining my experience, it did slightly irk me that this narrative has been recycled a few times now in other recent comic book movies such as Logan and Deadpool 2; the familiar story of the imperfect hero going through their own personal tribulations who has to find the strength within themselves in order to protect a young child from being killed and along the way they form an unbreakable bond that will last a lifetime. Basically Leon: The Professional, but with superheroes all over the place. Which to an extent is fine, don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid premise. I simply would prefer to get something a little more original at this point is all.

All we're missing is a scene where Harley teaches the girl how to water a plant.
All we're missing is a scene where Harley teaches the girl how to water a plant.

Now to touch back on the film structurally speaking, which is a tiny bit chaotic in the first act. Jumping back and forth in time with the story to the point of exhaustion. Initially this editing choice was fine as it contributed to the humor and tone of the movie being from the perspective of a lunatic. Then it reached its limit and I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on or why. To be fair, maybe that was the intent for a select portion of the movie, but when the pacing finally leveled out in a more linear fashion I was relatively relieved. There wasn’t any specific part that I was necessarily dreading though as I was still thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Harley Quinn / Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie… How do I put this? Oh yes, I have been madly in love with this actress ever since I first laid eyes on her in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. We won’t get into detail as to why… But I love her and she will be my wife. All joking aside, I have consistently found her performances to only get better and better as she grows as an actress. Even if she appears in a movie I don’t particularly care for, so far Robbie has at least provided me with some level of solid entertainment from her acting chops. Then in 2017 with her role portraying real life ice skater Tonya Harding in the film I, Tonya, that’s when I knew she was going to be someone truly special in Hollywood history. Seeing her portray Sharon Tate in last year’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood solidified that in my book as she delivered so much heart into the movie that it shines so very bright for no one can deny it. Margot Robbie is someone I will always continue to look forward to seeing in future projects.

Now to touch on her as Harley Quinn, I think that she is utterly fantastic having the time of her life as this extremely kooky yet somewhat layered character. Yes Harley is brash, absurd, bombastic, obnoxious, completely over-the-top insane and downright silly. The smart thing that these filmmakers and Robbie keep in mind is how to balance all of her eccentricities along with a good measure of heart, charisma, and remembering that this is actually an extremely intelligent woman under the guise of sheer psychosis. Can Harley be annoying? Yes, but in the right amounts to get a good laugh out of her. I never felt as though she was too much for me to tolerate, even if she would borderline on irritancy a little. Robbie I feel makes this character familiar in a lot of ways that we all know and love while still crafting it as her own. She’s reactionary yet crafty, funny yet knows when serious sh*t hits the fan, out of this world bonkers and still knows when to let a quiet moment happen. She’s absolutely great and I adore her.

One element about the Harley character that I can’t look over is the fact that she comes across as DC’s answer to Marvel’s Deadpool; in the sense that she is narrating the film in a similar fashion which breaks the fourth wall on numerous occasions, she’s kooky and a smart ass like Deadpool a lot of the time with similar senses of humor, there’s animated segments occurring within her mind’s perspective sometimes, etc. Now I will say that it never felt as though Birds of Prey was cynically ripping off Deadpool, all I’m saying is that the motivations behind the producers making this movie were fairly clear. With that said, it was still very fun and funny too. Harley and the movie itself has copious amounts of personality that keeps things fresh as I watch what is essentially a minor retread of what I’ve seen before.

If they made their next sequel together, I wouldn't even bat an eye.
If they made their next sequel together, I wouldn't even bat an eye.

Ewan McGregor / Roman Sionis / Black Mask

Ewan ‘F*cking’ McGregor is a God damn treasure and has been since his acting debut in the 1990s. This man can do no wrong in my opinion. We can probably list off McGregor’s entire filmography with how unbelievable an actor he is and more than enough reasons on how easy it is to be sucked in by his performances. McGregor is a modern legend that will go down as one of the greatest and most versatile actors of all time. Now to add on top of that, he plays probably my favorite villain to come out of a comic book flick in recent years. McGregor as Sionis is so much joy on screen to behold with his powerfully flamboyant persona that switches on a dime to total sadism the very next second is so addictively satisfying. Every single second this baddie popped up, I was excited to see what he was going to do or say next and I relished every frame of McGregor sinking his teeth deep into this material he’s given to work with. This is a villain we don’t get enough of where it’s not the same, go-to Saturday morning bad guy of the week. This guy is twisted and delightful and hilarious and terrifying all at once. Think of Gary Oldman as Stansfield from Leon: The Professional, only a hint more feminine.

I’m sure an argument can be made about the Sionis character depicted in Birds of Prey not quite capturing a faithful adaptation of how he is portrayed in the comic books. From what I’ve seen and understand of Black Mask’s persona, McGregor certainly takes some liberties with his development. In all honesty, I don’t care. Not a single iota of my mentality gives a crap how different the two interpretations of the character are, he’s freaking entertaining as hell and I had a blast watching him from start to finish. Truth be told, I loved this character probably more than any other DC or Marvel antagonist to come out in the last ten years; including fan favorites like Killmonger or Thanos from the Marvel side of things. Are those two more fleshed out in the screenplay? Sure. Although on pure entertainment value, I have to give it up to Ewan for being unapologetically d*ck-ish as Black Mask. The same can probably be said for his partner in crime Victor Zsasz, played by Chris Messina, as he also shared plenty of scene chewing to go around as a baddie.

A Small Taste of Ewan

Woman Power

From the last few years it seems we’ve been getting a sizable amount of woman empowerment flicks throughout various genres, but very notably in the action genre as well. The topic has become so prevalent in our current pop culture that I even wrote an article on the matter which I can share a link down below to. Some great examples that can been seen under the woman empowerment category recently; Annihilation, Widows, Captain Marvel (I don’t care what everyone else says, I love this movie), Mad Max: Fury Road, Ready or Not, The Hunger Games, Wonder Woman, among select others. Then there have been others on the more cynically implemented and lazy side of the spectrum such as The Kitchen, 2016’s Ghostbusters, Terminator: Dark Fate, The Hustle, and last year’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels.

While it definitely felt noticeable in some instances that Birds of Prey was also trying to cash-in on the subject, it didn’t feel too significantly forced. Particularly because first and foremost, the characters stand on their own as identifiable and fleshed out people and now simply cardboard cutouts for writers to use as tools to speak to the audience so they can sound “with the times.” To genuinely speak on behalf of a female perspective while still providing interesting characters is what Charlie’s Angels and The Kitchen fail to accomplish in comparison to Birds of Prey. Now I won’t go so far as to say that it reached levels of greatness on delving into the subject matter of empowering women characters, but it at least was sure to execute it competently and most of all respectfully towards its target demographic. For that reason I can give the movie extra points in those regards.

The R Rating

This is rated R and I couldn’t be happier. No, not the hardest of R ratings, but still appreciated nonetheless. Giving that bit of a darker edge that I personally crave from a DC flick that separates itself from the run of the mill PG-13 comic book blockbuster. So anyone under the impression that they can take their kids to Birds of Prey… They still should, but I respect that it is a parent’s choice in what content their children should be allowed to view… Come on though, what’s the worst that could happen? I grew up with RoboCop as a kid and I’m totally fine, let the kids have some bloody good fun! All I’m saying is that the little ones can handle a movie with a villain who peels the faces off of people with a knife. They won’t get that kind of content from Marvel currently, so bring the whole family!

Seriously, they cut peoples' faces off. It's pretty awesome.
Seriously, they cut peoples' faces off. It's pretty awesome.

Overall

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is fun. High art or the most deep content around? No. Oscar worthy? No. Go down in history as one of the great comic book features ever made? Unlikely. I didn’t care and neither did the movie. The goals of Birds of Prey were to have a good time with a wide set of colorful characters and show off how these woman can kick some serious ass. Margot Robbie is lovable as ever. Ewan McGregor is sadistically great. Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings in some fantastic chemistry that the rest of the cast works terrifically off of. Rosie Perez makes one hell of a comeback to film as I was sorely missing her on the big screen for a number of years now. Rosie Perez has been an underrated gem for the last few decades, so damn it this better be a sign that I get to see her be awesome in more movies again. Of the main cast or “Birds” if you will, the one I may have the least interest in is possibly that of Black Canary played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Not to say she’s bad by any means, she is good for sure and seems to give her role as much depth as she can; there’s just not all that much there to paint a particularly lively portrait frankly. Although I still look forward to seeing more of her in hopes she will be given more energy in future installments.

I've missed her so much. Now it's time to make a 'White Men Can't Jump' sequel!
I've missed her so much. Now it's time to make a 'White Men Can't Jump' sequel!

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but when it comes to the new DC movies to come out to theaters, I get more excited than I would for any Marvel movie. Please do not misinterpret what I said as me not liking any Marvel movies because I actually do like and even love many titles under the roster. However, when I go into a modern Marvel flick, I feel as though I know exactly what I’m walking into. While with a DC movie, I honestly have no clue as every entry feels rather unpredictable with what formula will be introduced to next. Thus far in the latest slew of DC cinematic ventures, whether good or bad, I don’t feel as though I’m being handed the same formula time and time again. Maybe the material will feel familiar, but it won’t ever feel like any prior DC flick. There is ambition put forth in every story to encapsulate a unique flavor from the last and it is an aspect that I heavily respect the studio for doing as it gives me a sense of care put into the writing for every title. Birds of Prey is not like Shazam! and Shazam! is not like Aquaman and Aquaman is not like Suicide Squad and so on. Marvel has recently been running into that problem specific slightly, so if I can say anything, DC does at least understand how to spice things up to keep their stories from being too derivative of their own sources. Whether one is objectively better than the other… I think that’s an article for another day.

DC Cinematic Universe

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That’s All Folks!

Birds of Prey: And the… Extremely Long Subtitle. Actually I like the title, it’s funny. What do you think though? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wish for more crazy R rated DC movies? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a fantabulous day!

© 2020 John Plocar

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