- Directed by Cathy Yan
- January 25, 2020 (Mexico City) / February 7, 2020 (United States)
Harley Quinn has broken up with the Joker for good and is striking out on her own but without the protection of her relationship with the Clown Prince of Crime, everyone she has ever upset in Gotham City decides to come after her. Now, in order to get a target off her head, she must deliver young pickpocket Cassandra Cain who has swallowed a unique diamond to crime lord Roman Sionis/Black Mask.
I had my doubts with Margot Robbie getting cast to play Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. I am still not 100% sold on it but she does a good job as the character that I can push my issues aside. I think she tries a little too hard with the trashy accent but that is a minor quibble in my opinion. She gives the character an off-kilter mentality with flashes of sanity.
Rosie Perez was Renee Montoya. She is a tough talking cop prone to speaking like an 80s police character. That is a quirk and not an actual personality trait. It was not until I did a little reading up on this before writing that I saw that Ellen Yee (Ali Wong), the Asian woman that Montoya keeps talking too, is supposed to be Montoya’s ex-girlfriend. If there was a mention or hint of that it was once and done and very quick. There was no hint in their interactions that they were more than coworkers.
Jurnee Smollett-Bell turned in a serviceable performance as Dinah Lance/Black Canary though I draw issue with the character only using her power once at the end of the film. It reminded me of how they shoved in that Godzilla fire breathing moment at the 90s Godzilla movie after fans complained. Were their budgetary concerns or did the script writer not really get that the character had superpowers?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli/The Huntress was unfortunately a wasted character and a wasted actress. There were some possibilities there, but she served no purpose to the story other than to give the characters some muscle at the end of the film. The diamond at the heart of the plot is embedded with bank account numbers of Franco Bertinelli (her father) who was the head of the Bertinelli crime family. While that does give her an excuse to be present, her character does little to move the story along other than to save somebody when they had no hope of survival.
Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask was entertaining. He was a bit over the top in his performance. I would have preferred Sionis to wear the mask more often in the film than at the very end when he is rallying the thugs to attack. Again it was reminiscent of that 90s Godzilla moment. I am not too familiar with Black Mask, but it feels as if the character should have worn the mask he derived his name from more. Other than that, he and his henchmen Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) were entertaining though Zsasz was underutilized.
The theme of this movie was female empowerment. The problem was that all the male villains they dealt with were just not nearly as competent as the women. Sionis, Zsasz, Captain Erickson (Steven Williams) who keeps stealing Montoya’s thunder along with a dozen or so characters who existed to be offed by the Crossbow Killer (Huntress) were just bordering on incompetent. They were not a threat nor authentic as rivals so the message of female empowerment is seriously weakened.
The movie should have been called just Harley Quinn because the titular Birds of Prey are not really the Birds of Prey until the final scene. If they must be included in the title, then I think the use of the name should have occurred sooner in the movie. If you are going to have the name of the team in the title or referenced in the film it should not come on come at the end. It just feels like you are trying to shut up some people that were complaining at the last minute. For further proof that they are trying to appease complaining fans, they put the characters in costume at the very end of the film. Like the last three minutes in a ten second shot but the costumes are just bad. They were bad by cosplay standards. The DC television shows have better quality costumes than this. They looked like something bought at a Halloween shop.
I also drew issue with how they went out of their way to say the Joker was not in this movie. I do not think it would have killed them to give a scene or two with the Joker in it. Even if it is a stand in in costume. His name was spoken so much and the character referenced so often that it felt like a weird tease that he WOULD be in the movie.
Cassandra Cain (Ellie Jay Basco) was just a street-smart kid and received no expansion beyond those two dimensional terms even though Harley took a shine to her. That attachment felt like “just because.” Unfortunately that is a trap writers using the adult-babysitting-kid plot fall in to. Attachment and bonding is obligatory but unless it comes with or because of character growth on the part of one or both characters then it is just hack writing.
Clearly the script needed a bit of work. It felt like it was almost there but not quite. For example the diamond element of the story need to be brought up a little more to the forefront. It was there and the impetus for everything but during the course of things it almost felt incidental even though it was what got everything going. And skip mentioning the Joker so much. He became a presence in the film even though he was never actually seen, and it caused the story to drag.
The dialogue was snappy. The characters had great banter between each other. And the action scenes were good. There were shades of John Wick with everyone in Gotham coming after Harley Quinn. She was perfectly crazy here and I’ve heard some complain about the beginning and end involving the breakfast sandwich but it helps drive home how detached from reality the character can be and truthfully it made me hungry for a breakfast sandwich.
In the end Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is not bad but not quite as good as it could have been. It needed work before filming started. The themes of empowerment were muddled at best by poor execution. I still enjoyed it more than the majority of the MCU films. It is a flawed film, but that will not prevent enjoyment so long as you are looking for nothing deep.