BIRDS OF PREY (2020)
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The full title of this latest DC comics flick is Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, though they could have saved some poster space and just called it Harley Quinn, as it is far more her movie than the title crime fighting group’s. The actual Birds of Prey are hardly in their own flick and Huntress, especially, has extremely minimal screen time. Messy plot finds Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) having broken up with the Joker and now with a target on her back, as she’s no longer protected by being The Joker’s girlfriend. She’s particularly pissed off sleazy crime boss Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), who will spare her life if she steals back The Bertinelli diamond, which is now in the hands of young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Cain is being watched over by detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who is being fed inside information from within Sionis’ gang by his singer/driver Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). Throw in a mysterious vigilante called Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is killing off mobsters across Gotham. Of course, all paths are destined to meet and we have basically the mess it sounds like.
Flick is directed by Cathy Yan, who thinks style is simply cranking out a famous pop culture song every five minutes and bathing everything in neon lights and glitter. It makes the mess of a script by Christina Hodson all the more obvious in how superficial it really is, despite all the attempts at feminist commentary about female empowerment. Messages that would be far better presented if the story or characters had any real substance or development. A good example of a film that tries too hard and gives itself far too little to work with. Harley Quinn is the only character that has some weight, but only because she was already established in another movie. Why DC can’t do anything really special with this character theatrically is a mystery. The current DC animated series with Quinn (voiced by Kaley Cuoco) is a naughty, bloody hoot with tons of sarcastic wit and delivers the girl power messages slyly along with all the fun. It’s far better written than this under-baked flick. At least if the action was fun and fast moving, it could make this more watchable, right? Unfortunately the monotonous fights wear out their welcome, just as early as the soap opera level melodrama about broken homes, being orphaned and murdered parents. Yes, these origins are comic book tradition, but come on, do something innovative with them. This is the same old tired stuff with glitter thrown over it to make it appear new. It’s a thin coat of paint over a thin script for characters and actors that deserved far better. The story is also told in a Pulp Fiction-esque habit of going back and forth, until it settles into the last act and Tarantino used it far more effectively. Here it just makes a jumbled mess seem even more jumbled. Shame, there might have been a real blast of a movie in there somewhere, but director and script let our clown queen and her new buds down.
For the most part we have a good cast, though. Robbie is simply a great Harley Quinn in desperate need of a far better movie. She’s fun, energetic and gives us a tough, sexy, smart-ass bad girl that makes the best of a bad script. She makes every line work better than it should and livens up most of the drab, cliché scenes whenever she can. A good actress and a pro. Same can be said for Ewan McGregor having a blast as the thinly written Roman Sionis. He gives the sometimes prima donna villain some menace and the right amount of-over-the-top to vastly improve what he was given to work with. Rosie Perez is good as Montoya, a cop crapped on by the system one too many times, but still trying to do her job. As for the actual Birds of Prey, beautiful Jurnee Smollett-Bell does give her Dinah Lance/Black Canary a little heart and substance and is a strong women in need of more screen time. She’s better than her thinly written part deserved. As a big fan of the versatile Mary Elizabeth Winstead (just watch her in Smashed and Faults), it’s rare to say she didn’t seem right for a part, but the actress doesn’t quite click as Huntress. Maybe it’s because she’s one of the worst written characters and has barely any screen time to be developed. Her anger issues are the brunt of jokes in a script that wants us to respect women. Rounding out is Ella Jay Basco as orphan and delinquent Cassandra Cain. She’s an annoying plot device in a flick that has enough problems without having an annoying child as a plot device. Harley gets saddled with her and it’s funny how a film wanting us to believe in female empowerment turns one of it’s strong female leads into a stereotypical babysitter/surrogate mom. At least Basco tries to give her cliché character some fire and spirit.
Sadly another wasted theatrical venture by one Harley Quinn. Another great portrayal by Margot Robbie goes wasted again with a muddled mess of a script and ‘too hip for it’s own good’ direction. Some messages about female empowerment are buried under a cliché and superficial flick that wastes a good cast, and despite a lot of chases and action, is actually very by-the-numbers once you peel away all the loud pop culture radio hits and all the glitter and neon. With a wittier script and a director who didn’t bury what could have been some nice underlying weight and substance under a lot of shallow glitz and glamor, this could have been as good as the current animated cartoon, which fires on all the cylinders that this flick fails to.
Rated 2 (out of 4) anti-heroines who, again, deserved a much better movie.