Misleading. Deceptive. These are the two things that come to my mind when thinking about the title of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), because when I think Birds of Prey, I think a group of women who kick ass and sing amazing songs about the sexual flaws of their male cohorts. What we get here is a Harley Quinn version of a hallmark break up story that works well but sacrifices the other characters in order to keep the focus on the storyteller.
Title: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Production Company: DC Films, LuckyChap Entertainment, Kroll & Co. Entertainment, Clubhouse Pictures
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Produced by: Margot Robbie, Bryan Unkeless, Sue Kroll
Starring: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong & Ewan McGregor
Based on: Birds of Prey by Jordan B. Gorfinkel & Chuck Dixon / Harley Quinn by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm
Release dates: February 7, 2020 (Worldwide)
Running time: 109 minutes
Rating: R (United States) / MA15+ (Australia)
Some time after the Enchantress’ defeat, the Joker and Harley Quinn have fled back to Gotham. In the midst of their abusive relationship, the Joker breaks up with Harley and kicks her out of their house. Eventually, Harley is taken in by an old man named Doc who owns a Chinese restaurant in the city.
After recovering emotionally, Harley goes out clubbing where she spends the night at a club owned by Roman Sionis, a sadistic gangster with cruel tendencies who masquerades as a bubbly nightclub owner. While at the club, Harley meets Dinah Lance, a burlesque singer who works for Roman. Harley becomes intoxicated and acts rowdy in the club, which results in her injuring Roman’s driver. Roman’s thugs drag Harley outside as a consequence, but Dinah saves her before violence can occur. Impressed by Dinah’s skills, Roman appoints her as his new driver.
Dinah drops Harley off at the latter’s house and Harley decides to remodel her life in many ways, including cutting her hair and adopting a hyena from an exotic pet shop (who she names after Bruce Wayne). Harley also destroys Ace Chemicals, the place where she had pledged herself to Joker before truly becoming Harley Quinn.
Meanwhile, Renee Montoya, a police detective in the GCPD, arrives at the scene of Ace Chemicals and determines that because Joker and Harley have broken up, the latter will be easy to arrest. At the same time, Cassandra Cain, a young orphan, pickpockets Zsasz and steals a diamond which has very important information. Cass is subsequently arrested and, out of desperation, swallows the diamond.
The following day, Harley is intercepted by Montoya as she walks through Gotham. Harley flees the scene before being captured by Roman’s men. Zsasz and Dinah tell Roman about Cassandra’s status. It is shown that Roman likes to wear a black mask – which is an art piece – while torturing people as an intimidation tactic. Dinah and Zsasz also inform him that they captured Harley, and as a result, they have decided to not anticipate retaliation from the Joker, citing Harley’s destruction of Ace Chemicals as proof the two have parted ways.
Dinah texts Montoya about the situation with Cass, revealing in the process that she is a mole in Roman’s organization. Breaking the fourth wall once more, Harley discloses to the audience that they are up-to-date on the events in the film. Harley overhears Roman talking about the diamond and offers to retrieve it from Cass if he spares her life. Roman agrees and allots Harley one day.
Later, he puts a bounty on Cass’s head “to make it more ‘fun'”. Harley disguises herself and breaks into the GCPD to retrieve Cass. Harley breaks Cass out of the holding cells and the two flee to an abandoned warehouse. However, they are ambushed by armed goons who are motivated by the bounty on Cass. Harley proceeds to battle and kills them after inhaling cocaine from a damaged bag.
The bounty also attracts Helena Bertinelli, a vigilante known as the “crossbow killer”. Helena targets mobsters in the hope of avenging her murdered family and also plans to use Cass with the intent to lure Roman out. Meanwhile, Dinah discovers that she has the metahuman ability to scream at a supersonic level. Dinah texts Montoya about the bounty on Cass, but the text is discovered by Zsasz, who informs Roman. Roman flies into a rage, as he strongly dislikes a subordinate not following orders, and he scratches and damages his face in the process.
Harley and Cass decide to hide out at Harley’s apartment. However, the apartment is bombed by people looking for Cass and it is revealed that Doc sold Harley out to Roman. Harley calls Roman and agrees to turn Cass over in exchange for protection from the bounty as a result of the lack of trust.
Roman sends Zsasz and Dinah to retrieve Cass. Zsasz drugs Harley, showing that Roman didn’t honor their deal, and Dinah tries to free Cass. However, Zsasz, having already known about Dinah’s treachery, attacks her but is unexpectedly killed by Helena, who arrives at the amusement park. The women are all placed under arrest by Montoya, who Dinah had texted with regard to the situation. Harley manages to convince the women to work together to fight off Roman, even though the others were initially reluctant.
The women use Harley’s old gear and weapons to attack arriving hordes of Roman’s goons, eventually emerging victorious. Cass is captured by Roman and Harley pursues them to a nearby pier. Once Harley catches up with them, Cassandra puts a grenade in Roman’s suit, killing him. In the aftermath of destroying Roman’s empire, Montoya, Dinah and Helena start the Birds of Prey with the money from the accounts of the diamond while Harley and Cassandra pawn it and start their own company together.
In a post-credits audio scene, Harley is about to revealed to the audience a secret about Batman but before she finished her sentence, the movie ends.
- Margot Robbie as Harleen Quinzel / Harley Quinn
Robbie as Harley Quinn is pretty much what you would expect since she did the role before in Suicide Squad, and that is the same thing we are getting here. Quinn’s mental issues are the main focus of the whole film, going from depression to acceptance though her time on screen. Basically we are going to spend a lot of time with Robbie and that’s not a bad thing; her Quinn is the obvious standout here. Since the whole film is based around her, we do get some Deadpool-style 4th wall breaks and some very sycophantic storytelling which helps the character fit into the world around her.
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli / Huntress
Winstead as Huntress is a bit of a dry character. Like most of the others outside of Quinn, Huntress doesn’t get too much character development except from her origin story and that’s it. Winstead does what she can with the character, showing a very new to the whole revenge narrative kid who doesn’t know anything else. Her dry straight faced delivery of everything while not understanding human interaction is a small stand out when given the moment for things to land, but otherwise a very squandered character.
- Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Laurel Lance / Black Canary
Race change character aside, Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary is yet another character who should have gotten more in this film than she got. As a character, Black Canary spends a lot of time being used by Black Mask and Zsaaz as a driver/bodyguard after her promotion from club singer. Given that she is the only metahuman (DC’s version of a mutant or super powered person) in the whole film, she is only given one scene in which she uses her powers and then collapses… ugh. Smollett-Bell doesn’t do too badly in the role but she, like all the other characters, doesn’t get any real time to shine.
- Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya
Oh hi Rosie Perez, long time no see. Yeah not too much to say about this 80s detective movie stereotype, which they point out many times in the movie. Montoya is just as gruff and angry as Perez can make her. While she seems to be the way to connect characters together, it doesn’t make her the glue in this film. Honestly, except for the reason they needed a “straight laced good guy” type for the movie, there isn’t much reason to have Montoya in the movie at all. She really does stand out in a bad way here.
- Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz
Man I had high hopes for when they brought Victor Zsasz into the DCU given that he is just such a psychopath… Man I was disappointed. There isn’t anything really wrong with Messina’s portrayal of Zsasz, but I think the problem comes from the writers not wanting to take full advantage of the (American) R rating and letting Zsasz be the true psychopath that he is: Meaning obsessed with killing everyone and everything in an uncontrollable mess and adding scars to his body. This version is a lot more reserved and more of a henchman to Black Mask than he should be.
- Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain
Basco is a small delight as Cain here. Instead of being the character she is in the comics, she is more about being a small time pickpocket with dreams of more. She looks up to Harley not too long after they meet and develop a bond that makes you think that Quinn is going to become a bit more subdued, but in the end she is the bad influence to Cain and it just works. Basco is all the little smart mouth sass that you need in the film and is the standout of all the secondary characters.
- Ali Wong as Ellen Yee
It’s a bit of a shame that you have one of the funniest Asian stand up comedians on the circuit today and you put her into a role that is so straight laced that it’s just frustrating. I’m a big Ali Wong fan with her stand up, but to see her so stone cold here as Yee just makes me shake my head in shame. But luckily she only gets a couple of small scenes with Montoya that her appearance doesn’t really matter in the long run.
- Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis / Black Mask
McGregor as Black Mask is a delight. You can tell McGregor has taken this role and just had fun with it. Sure, the writers tried to make him into such a misogynistic woman oppressing piece of shit, but the way McGregor takes it all in stride and just pushes the cheese to 110% is such a delight to watch. At times you do feel like you need to hate him, but then you see him do something goofy or silly and you’re right back to enjoying his performance. If there is anyone who almost steals the spotlight from Robbie’s Harley Quinn, it’s McGregor as Black Mask.
Birds of Prey is what you get when you put some of the third wave feminist bullshit aside and just tell a good story with a character who really brightens up the screen. Harley Quinn taking center stage might have cost some secondary characters a lot of screen time, but since she is the one telling the story then it’s not surprising that we got what we did. The frantic and sycophantic storytelling nature coming directly from Quinn really shows how unstable she is without having to show it on screen in a silly way.
The movie does have a habit of using the more bright and neon color palette that was used in Suicide Squad and it makes much more sense here than it did in the previous film. The explosion at Ace Chemicals really has that Harley Quinn style to it and the use of colored smoke, bean bags and confetti bombs in the police station fight were right up there as things you would expect to see from the character today in the pages of her own comic. Also the fight scenes here are AMAZING and creative; but what do you expect from the mind behind the fight scenes from the John Wick trilogy?
Nut shots, so many nut shots. Look, I’m all for hitting a guy in the weak spot when possible, but when every second, third and forth hit is to a guy’s groin during a multi-man fight, there’s only so many times I can hold my own nuts in sympathy.
Outside of personal bits and pieces like the nut shots, I do feel like there wasn’t too much wrong with Bird of Prey. Yes there was the typical female empowerment, men-are-evil, third waver fingerprints all over the film; but it’s light enough that for once I don’t feel like I need to point it out as the main issue with the film. The main issue I’ll take with that particular topic is the way the film was marketed leading up to release. You had Margot Robbie and everyone else involved coming out and saying that this is a film for women, made by women, men don’t need to see it but if they don’t come and spend the money then they hate women in films. This bullshit marketing need to stop. You can’t come out and say those things and then set things up so that if the film fails, you blame it on the people you state shouldn’t be seeing the movie. It’s wrong and misleading.
As for the film itself, I do have an issue with a few small things, and that is some of the characters. Victor Zsasz, as I mentioned above, is a bit of a letdown because the writers didn’t make him anything close to his comic counterpart when they had an opportunity to do so. A lot of the secondary characters (Black Canary, Cassandra Cain, Huntress & Rene Montoya) just didn’t get the screen time they deserved in order to feel like they were a part of the main story. The focus on Harley Quinn and her break up with Joker takes up too much screen time and comes at the cost of making the other characters around Harley into something substantial.
Bird of Prey is a very misleading film when you look at it. I’m not too sure why the studio decided to slap the BOP title onto the movie when Harley Quinn and her saga is front and center at all times till the halfway point of the third act when things bring everyone together for one fight and that’s it. Personally I think this would have been better off just being a solo Harley Quinn movie and leaving it at that, because that’s actually what we got.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) should be a movie where we see a group of kick-ass women coming together to battle a central egotistical bad guy and a psychopath that even Batman finds hard to take down at times. What we got instead was the DC version of a Hallmark channel break up movie involving Harley Quinn and a bunch of other woman who are thrown in so it doesn’t make it a solo picture that could possibly fail at the box office. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a good movie as a Harley Quinn solo adventure, but it;s not giving us a real Birds of Prey adventure.
- Robbie as Harley Quinn is always entertaining
- Creative use of color to help brighten up the film
- McGregor as Black Mask steals the show
- Fight scenes are amazing
- Secondary characters get little to no development
- Victor Zsasz isn’t anything close to his real self due to lazy writing
- Anti-Male marketing used to drum up ticket sales
- Too many nut shots