Ahem, the full title: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). 1992 was a good year for the comic industry, a brand new character was introduced that would rehape an entire mythos simply by existing. Batman the Animated Series was on air, was impressive in its style and decades ahead of its time. It became the definitive Batman for many of us with his rules and his choices, and the voice of Kevin Conroy. Then Paul Dini and Bruce Timm went “let’s give Joker a proper side kick.” – and we got Harley Quinn. She was popular on the show and continued to become a recurring character and a character in her own right with motivations and growth. Then the comics got a hold of her, then toxic fan boys, then somewhere along the line someone somewhere realized Joker x Harley is not a good thing and she once again came into her own. Now she has her own movie after a blow out performance in Suicide Squad. I still stand by my review on that one. It’s not as bad as people say. I still rate it above most of the DC collection
Would you be crazy to see this DC movie?
Let us for a moment and pause to appreciate that we have Christina Hodson (Bumblebee, Shut In) on script and producer credit and Cathy Yan as the director in her first major cinematic work. That’s right folks, a woman on script, a woman in the directors chair, and all of your protagonists are women. This is important. This is rare. You don’t see this in most genre’s especially action or superhero movies that have major theatrical releases. Since 1977 there have been four. Four out of over a hundred films and only one of them previously had women on the script (Captain Marvel). Here’s the list by the way.
- Rachel Talalay – Tank Girl (1995)
- Lexi Alexander – Punisher War Zone (2008)
- Patty Jenkins – Wonder Woman (2017)
- Anna Boden – Captain Marvel (2019)
That’s it. Now I liked Hodson’s work on Bumblebee, which gave us probably the most faithful Transformers movie since 1986. Then with Yan in the directors chair you get something different working with a script about women directed by a woman. This is a hard topic to explain, so bear with me as this is important for the context of the movie. Harley is a highly sexualized character, like ridiculously so. So when you think of how you’ve seen her in movies, you have her in tight hot pants bending at the waist to show off her butt – to who exactly? That is sexualization. Now compare that to this movie where in one sequence, while wearing a white shirt sprinklers go off. Many of my readers are rolling their eyes now going “oh god…”. Except what you are expecting doesn’t happen. It *doesn’t* turn into a wet T shirt contest with Margot Robbie. It actually becomes one of the more interesting fight scenes in the film. It’s all in the how the camera moves and follows her and the action. It’s centered on frame or on her face, or goddess forbid, the action.
Another example, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary. Her first appearance in the film is on stage singing in a seedy nightclub. Let’s play direct this scene. Do you
A: Do a long slow pan up from her heels, over the back of her legs, turning the camera at her hips to accentuate the hips and butt, staying on side angle as you raise to her chest, turning again after those curves are shown and then maybe show her face in some beauty make up, holding the microphone to her mouth seductively as she sings.
B. Silohuette at first. Then an over the shoulder from the back looking at the room, then cut to her from the shoulders up singing.
If you picked B, then you went the Cathy Yan route. 96 times out of a hundred you get option A. Option A also includes extended shot of her walking if you are Joss Whedon. Don’t ask just trust me.
This particular segue is important to the discussion of the movie because in it the characters ARE beautiful, they are sexy, but it isn’t sexualized. They feel like this is what they WOULD wear and its empowering to them. It does all of the above and more through the movie without once literally saying “Girl power”. It’s overt sure, but it’s never once stated and that matters.
Our main cast of characters are women of all ages and colors, another thing different from literally every other comic book movie out there. Again, this is important. REPRESENTATION MATTERS. You have Margot Robbie reprising her iconic turn as Harley Quinn and getting to run the show full Deadpool style. Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Underground, True Blood) as Black Canary reminding us that Canary is a street fighter first, super powered voice second. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane, Gemini Man) as The Huntress, possibly the least developed of the characters, but making that work to her advantage. Rosie Perez (Untamed Heart, White Men Can’t Jump) comes out swinging as Detective Renee Montoya and Ella Jay Basco (goddaughter to Dante Basco!) in her first cinematic role as Cassandra Cain. Every single one of these wonderful women own their roles, the screen, and perform. It’s fantastic that each gets their time on screen and gives definition to the characters. Of course there is also Ewan McGregor as Black Mask deciding that the scenery needed to be chewed. He would not be one upped by the manic Harley Quinn and boy did he take it to Jeremy Irons levels and you will hate his character for it. Chris Messina (Argo, Devil) also decided this was the direction to go with his take on Victor Zsasz. This is not a Zsasz I have seen before and it was …perfect for this movie.
We can also take a moment, but just a moment to talk about the fight choreography. Have you ever complained about not knowing what is going on in the fight because of quick cuts or weird angles or shaky cam? Watch this movie. It has none of those problems. They put our heroines (..and Harley) front and center in the action and they do a lot of in frame in camera stunt work and fighting with a single focused camera. Its a thing of beauty to watch multiple fights like that. The music is on point, with a special nod to a cover of Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Adona. It’s not perfect though. There are some pacing issues at times and maybe five total minutes could have been paired down. Atmosphere is hit or miss depending on the scene, mostly hit.
I had my entire Dark Court with me tonight. We were highly entertained. We sat after the movie talking about our favourite scenes and all the things that really made the movie for us. I will warn there’s a trigger warning I need to give around two scenes that may be difficult for those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. I can say the way in which they are shot does not translate to a male power fantasy or helpless woman who needs to be saved/can’t save herself, the trauma of the victim. Both are uncomfortable scenes and made show this is not acceptable without being exploitative of the victim. Another touch you wouldn’t have gotten without Yan at the helm.
Birds of Prey, as launched by Harley Quinn is a very good movie and also happens to have characters from comics in it. Good fight sequences, no blue beams from the sky, low key, street level film and it was a breath of fresh air. I still want my Gotham City Sirens with Harley and Ivy , but this…this is a good start and I want it to do well.
Should I see it then?
You’d be crazy not to. Seriously, its good and entertaining. Again there are flaws, but nothing the whole of the movie doesn’t overcome.
Would you see it again?
Full price even.
Do you have to ask?
I always do.
Then yes. Yes I am
Anything else to add on this one?
These are not spoilers, but things that will please fans of Harley and her comic runs
“Babies!” (ok there’s only one but you just wanna snuffle Bruce)
Bernie the Beaver.