So I Finally Saw Birds of Prey

After I did three posts that were basically a wish list for superhero films, I found myself hungry for some new superheros. But I’d seen every superhero movie that has come out in the last decade except for Bloodshot, and there is absolutely no way in hell I’m paying 19.99 to watch that movie. There was not a single film in the entire genre that I’d overlooked, right?

Wait, didn’t DC fart out one other film before the world went mad? It did, didn’t it? 

Birds of Prey (Movie) | DC Database | Fandom

That’s right, I had completely forgotten Birds of Prey – sorry, I meant Harly Quinn: Birds of Prey, or rather Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – existed. It came out at a really bad time with very little fanfare. Releasing on Valentine’s Day of all times, Birds of Prey (and the Overly Long Title I don’t want to Repeat Again, Even as a Joke) had the unenviable task of being a follow up to the mixed Suicide Squad without half of the good characters in that movie (Deadshot is absent, leaving them only with Harley Quinn), as well as a film that came after the critical darling and commercial success of Joker, plus a comic book movie that put women front and center, AND a DC movie that doesn’t feature Wonder Woman. It was under marketed and just kind of plopped into theaters before quietly dying long before Coronavirus could be blamed for its financial failures. 

But it is a movie about comic book characters that had the “Go Woke, Go Broke” crowd frothing in impotent rage at their inability to actually impact the popular discourse besides think pieces about their own impotence, so I decided to give it a try. After all, it was only 5.99 on Amazon to rent, the one time DC was good was when they did a woman focused film, and unlike some people I don’t live in constant terror being rendered obsolete by the advance of the zeitgeist. 

Now that I’ve seen Birds of Prey, I can resoundingly say it was…okay. It’s fine. Granted, being “fine” makes it the second best DCEU film in my estimation, since the only non Wonder Woman film to not be offensively bad was Shazam!, and I still can’t be objective about that film.

Allow me to explain.

For a brief summary, the story takes place after Joker (who does not appear in this film thank God) and Harley have broken up for real this time. However, no longer having the Joker’s protection, every hired gun in Gotham with an axe to grind is now after Ms. Quinn. The primary of these is Black Mask, a D-list villain that DC was fine tossing at this project because no one cares what happens to Black Mask. He is after a diamond that had encoded in its atomic structure the information to the Bertinielli family fortune. This drags in police detective Renee Montoya, the last surviving Bertinelli in the Huntress, Cassandra Cain, a young pickpocket, and a character the movie insists is Black Canary. Hijinks, predictably, ensue, all of which Harley narrates to the audience Deadpool style. 

1) The Good

First of all, the acting in this movie was mostly stellar (we’ll talk about the one exception in the next segment). Margot Robbie is a phenomenal actress and she brought her A game to what was clearly a passion project. It was also wonderful to get to see a depiction of Harley that acknowledges that her background includes being a psychotherapist talented enough to be assigned to the Joker, and not just being the absolute lunatic that fell in love with him. It makes Harley instantly more well rounded, and her impromptu psychoanalysis of other characters provides some great comedic fodder. 

The rest of the titular Birds of Prey do a great job with the material they have. The absolute stand-out is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, and let me just say it is so refreshing to see a version of Huntress not being told that her quest to get justice for her parents’ murder is somehow less valid than a grim and brooding vigilante’s quest to get justice for their parents’ murder. Beyond the meta-textual appreciation for seeing Huntress do something other than have men tell her she’s wrong, Huntress in this film is absolutely hilarious simply by reacting straight-faced to the madness of the other characters around her.

Huntress | DC Extended Universe Wiki | Fandom

Incidentally, I loved the character played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell and her role in the film. However, it annoyed me that she was called Black Canary when she’s an entirely original character that happens to share a name and skillset with the original Black Canary. Not enough to ruin anything for me, but…it was just odd. On the flip side, the re-imagined Cassandra Cain being a pick pocket as opposed to the product of a hyper abusive upbringing by Deathstroke was a welcome change that made me appreciate her role in the film more.

Also, while the film kept a very comic book aesthetic for the female character’s costumes, it ditched Harley’s booty shorts, gave Huntress a reasonable outfit, and kept Detective Montoya in something a police detective would actually wear. Black Canary’s outfit was the sole exception, but given how aggressively mysogenystic Suicide Sqad was, I’m willing to appreciate any progress in the right direction. The progress, incidentally, is not just in surface level things like costuming.

From left, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in “Birds of Prey.”
yes, for the DC films, this is a step forward

This is a film about women overcoming toxic men. Every character has at some point or another been victimized by a man, and let me just say how much I appreciate that this victimization never took the form of sexual assault. Instead we had Harley overcoming an abusive relationship, Montoya dealing with a former partner that stole credit for a big case, Huntress being the sole survivor of a mafia massacre, and Black Canary being exploited for her singing voice by Black Mask. Cassandra is the only one without an explicit victimization backstory, but she’s a child. The victimization happens in the story, with Cassandra being threatened with disembowling by the end of the film. I think we can safely call that fairly explicit victimization. I put this in the “Good” category because it’s handle reasonably well, and again, I’m just so glad that none of these women’s trauma involved sexual assault or anything weird involving their wombs because seriously, that’d be pretty fucked up. Looking at you, Marvel. 

Oh, and the two primary action sequences are a beauty to behold. Seriously, the film is worth watching just for its third act fight in an abandoned amusement park.

2) The Bad

Honestly, I was going to do an in depth breakdown of the film’s flaws, but I’m inclined to be gentle since I now have a second DCEU movie that I wasn’t violently angry after watching. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain was flat, which really hurt a particular emotionally charged moment. It wasn’t terrible and Ms. Basco definitely has some natural talent, but a couple scenes with her could have benefited from another take. 
  • The plot was kind of a mess of too many threads bouncing around that didn’t have quite enough room to breathe, but that’s mostly compensated for by the film’s frenetic pace. 
  • I’m not a huge fan of Margot Robbie’s unique interpretation of a Boston accent, and it gets a bit grating by the end of the film after her constant narration. 
  • Black Mask is the biggest flaw in the movie, sinking to the level of Marvel Phase 1 villain. He’s basically a cheap knock off of Justin Hammer, although the story also twists itself inside out to make him a credible threat in his own right and then does nothing with that.

Black Mask in Birds of Prey

Also, the mask gives him the same ability to emote as William Dafoe in the first Spider-Man film

Again, I’m not claiming this movie is good. I’m saying that it was better than most of DC’s recent output, and if you find yourself wanting a new comic book movie to kill a couple hours, there are certainly worse movies to spend your time on.

Bloodshot. I’m taking a shot at Bloodshot again.

Want something else that’s probably better than Bloodshot? Check out my books!

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