Birds of Prey take flight in another DC win – movie review

By Tribute on February 7, 2020 | 2 Comments

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)The film begins with an animated intro, giving audiences a brief rundown on Harleen Quinzel (Margot Robbie), from childhood all the way to her transformation into the villain Harley Quinn.

After years of an on-again, off-again relationship with the Joker, Harley decides to finally strike out on her own and symbolizes her emancipation by blowing up the chemical factory that transformed her into who she currently is. This act, unbeknownst to Harley, has put a target on her back for all those whom she and Joker have wronged over the years, including one Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a crime boss better known as Black Mask.

To avoid being killed by him, she strikes a deal to retrieve a diamond stolen from him by a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Harley’s latest job will pit her against the spirited detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), vigilante killer Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and lounge singer Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who is only trying to look out for and protect Cassandra.

In spite of the underwhelming critical reception of Suicide Squad, it’s no surprise that Warner Bros. and DC felt inclined to craft a spin-off for one of the film’s few bright spots: Harley Quinn. One thing agreed upon by both critics and audiences was the performance and character of Harley Quinn, and her ensuing mainstream popularity only added fuel to the fire. Though it took several years and a few changes along the way, she finally took off with this spin-off featuring the famous all-female team — the Birds of Prey. While the film’s title puts the Birds of Prey front and center, this movie is ultimately Harley Quinn’s show from start to finish.

That in itself will either have you along for the ride or turned off as she pivots away from being a straight-up villain, but isn’t quite an anti-hero either. She’s a character who is entirely self-absorbed, and her background as a psychiatrist makes her entirely self-aware of it. Harley acts in her own best interests and whether or not you sympathize with that will determine your enjoyment of the film. Margot Robbie’s performance is fantastic, fully embodying the role and embracing all of the quirks and traits that made her such a beloved figure on Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series, but also making the character her own. Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn plain and simple — the same way that Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool.

And I bring up Deadpool for the simple reason that narratively, Birds of Prey takes many cues from the hit R-rated Marvel film. Like the Marvel film, Birds of Prey relies heavily on its main character’s narration as a crutch for its storytelling early on, especially as it jumps back and forth in its timeline of events. It is a bit jarring at first as you try to get your bearings, but it is reflective of the chaotic mind of the main character. However, once the film does find its footing in the second act, the film really takes off. Additionally, while Birds of Prey doesn’t quite go all-in on the fourth-wall breaking that Deadpool does, it is there in the film with Quinn’s narration and a few winks here and there towards the audience.

Beyond Quinn, the titular Birds of Prey in the film are all interesting characters in their own right and thematically you can understand how they got paired up with Harley Quinn for this film. The old adage of “birds of a feather flock together” is fitting, as we learn the origins of each character. Not only do each of the women look to be free from under the thumbs of the men that have taken much from them, but each shares a similar trait of being lost orphans (with the exception of Renee Montoya).

Performance-wise, each fits their role like a glove. Perez, being the veteran that she is, embraces her role with gusto, even as the film pokes fun at her stereotypical detective with cheesy ’80s dialogue.

Newcomers Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Ella Jay Basco bring some levity to their roles with a few dramatic surprises along the way. However, the real standout for me was Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Helena Bertinelli, a.k.a. Huntress. The direction they take her character in is honestly refreshing, as Winstead subverts your expectations for her vigilante character. The end result is that she provides some of the biggest laughs in the film, which you wouldn’t really expect from her as she typically plays cool, calm, and collected women.

Where this film delivers its biggest surprise is in its action sequences. The film is highlighted by two major set pieces in a police station and in a fun house, with both being wonderfully executed. Knowing that director Cathy Yan is still a newcomer to big budget productions, it was both wise and smart for DC to bring in the likes of John Wick‘s Chad Stahelski to punch up the film’s action after principal photography was finished. The fights are creative, inventive, brutal, and make great use of the sets and locations for each set piece. The climactic battle against an army of gangsters in the Booby Trap fun house is incredibly memorable, showcasing each character’s skills while providing a few laughs along the way.

It may have taken DC a while, but after years of trying to play catch-up to Marvel they finally seem to be hitting their stride on all fronts. While Justice League was a slight hiccup after the breakout success of Wonder Woman, their following films have all been a breath of fresh air, with each being uniquely distinct from one another.

From the vibrant and saturated adventure of Aquaman to the intimate family-centric Shazam! and the divisive, yet impactful Joker, DC’s offerings have only continued to get better and better. With their latest entry, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Warner Bros. and DC not only provide a solid spin-off solo film for their most popular character from Suicide Squad, but craft an origin film for some of their B-list heroes. ~Paolo Maquiraya

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