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‘Birds of Prey’: Wonderful, Chaotic, but Not-Quite-There

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Birds of Prey film poster.

True to its kooky title (and even kookier titular character), Birds of Prey: And The Emancipation of One Harley Quinn was always going to be a wild card. Hailing from the ill-fated and infamous DCEU, the quasi-sequel to the critically panned Suicide Squad was not doing dear ol’ Harley any favors. However, the rise of female representation in the media due to the popularity of movies such as Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel puts an interesting spin on the situation. Will Birds of Prey, produced and starring none other than Margot Robbie and directed by Chinese-American Cathy Yan, become a trailblazer for cinema?

Not quite. But it’s a hell of a kick-ass mess in its own right.

Fresh off a rough break-up with her long term boyfriend, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) tries to make a name for herself and forms some life-long bonds along the way. Like most films featuring female-driven casts, the premise of Birds of Prey sounds like a typical coming-of-age-chick flick…right?

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey (Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell). Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Well, again, not quite. Her boyfriend is The Joker, a psychotic clown that tortures and kills innocents for a laugh. Harley, a villain who notoriously has a bounty on her head, has to make a name for herself without the immunity of The Joker protecting her anymore. And the girls she forms bonds with – an alcoholic detective, a blood-thirsty assassin, a pick-pocketing street rat, and the singer/driver of the crime lord that’s trying to kill her – aren’t your typical gal pals. What’s a girl to do?

Birds of Prey does a lot of things right. First off, it doesn’t adhere to either the typical Marvel or DC movie formula, which is a breath of fresh air after two decades of the industry churning out comic book film after comic book film. It’s also worlds away from the atrocity that was Suicide Squad. Action scenes are smooth, clean, and long, which is unheard of in most comic book films today. The soundtrack is a fucking blast that enhances the overall lively tone of the film.

The film does have similarities to Deadpool due to both breaking the 4th wall and garnishing that rare R-rating due to its heavy gore scenes. However, even then, Birds of Prey manages to distinguish itself due to its bright, colorful-popping scenes. Watching the movie was like seeing the world through Harley’s mentally deranged psyche – cocaine-induced power upgrade included.

Margot Robbie and director Cathy Yan. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Where Birds of Prey really shines though, is in how it presents its predominantly female cast. In an era where feminism has become a way for businesses to capitalize on political movements for cash incentives, Birds of Prey manages to avoid the superficial women empowerment shtick that is present in other comic book films. Its female ensemble is badass but without all the cliché characteristics. The Birds of Prey girls aren’t flawless, perfect human beings like the main heroines in Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel. Yes, those characters are otherworldly creatures with superpowers, while those in Birds of Prey have a lot less physical prowess. But what exactly can the average woman relate to in goddess-like characters like Diana Prince and Carol Danvers? Is there even a scene in either of their respective movies where they face a moral complication or simply look ugly?

Not really. But Birds of Prey does. These girls make bad decisions. Harley literally looks like a hot mess in a few scenes. The nuances of feminist ideals are still present in the film – female characters look sexy without an overly-sexualized wardrobe or any gratuitous sexual undertones. There is no corny, pandering moment that elicits a standing ovation like that cheesy five-second girl power scene in Avengers: EndgameBirds of Prey isn’t a female-led comic book movie – it’s a comic book movie that happens to be female-led.

Harley Quinn. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Now, the movie’s far from perfect. Margot Robbie is amazing as Harley, but her performance is so fantabulous that she easily overshadows most of her co-stars. While most of them are fine actors, none of them can hold a candle to Margot, a two-time Oscar-nominated actress. For example, Ellan Basco’s performance as Cassandra Cain is strong in its own right – especially for a young actress such as herself. However, 90% of her scenes are with Margot, highlighting the rawness of her acting skills in contrast to a bonafide Hollywood A-lister.  

Harley Quinn, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) and Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

It doesn’t help that the story had a difficult time introducing all these new characters – the overabundance of interwoven subplots and erratic time-skips led to a lagging middle act. The arch-nemesis, Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) is also a little too campy to be taken as a true threat. In one scene he carves off the faces of an entire family – proving to the audience that he’s a sadistic, terrifying crime lord that should be taken seriously. In another scene, he has a childlike tantrum about his obsession with collecting ‘beautiful things.” All in all, Birds of Prey’s chaotic tone led to a narration that was a little too messy at times.

But honestly, what can we expect from a film starring someone who was thrown into a chemical pool by her ex-lover? The craziness of Birds of Prey did more good than harm; it certainly gave it enough character to make it a fun watch in the theater. Sometimes we need a little chaos in our lives.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Film links: IMDb


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