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MOVIE REVIEW: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

April 2nd, 2020 by Marc Comments

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (15)
Run time: 1h 49min 
Directed by:  Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Ewan McGregor

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.

So, thanks to the whole damned virus thing happening in the world we have seen a bunch of movies either having their cinema run cut short for home release or sent to home release early. This was the case with Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn which has appeared on digital and given us all a chance to get to experience in the comfort of our own homes.

Now, full disclosure, I enjoyed this movie in the cinema. While not loving it, I found it fun and a welcome distraction.

But does it still hold up?

Well, yes and no.

The movie itself have very little substance in the story department – Harley Quinn (Margo Robbie) has broken up with her boyfriend, the Joker (previously played in Suicide Squad by Jared Leto) and, without his protection, every crook and villain in Gotham that she ever crossed is out for her blood.

But the main one is the Gotham crime boss Roman Sionis, AKA Black Mask (played with gleeful evil by Ewan McGregor). Along the way she meets other women who have a bone to pick with Sionis – the ladies who will go on to become the Birds of Prey, Black Canary, Renee Montoya, Cassandra Cane, and Huntress.

Along the way Quinn will have to find a stolen gem for Sionis – who will kill her otherwise – all the while leading the ladies to their fateful team-up down the line.

While Birds of Prey has much to recommend it, especially in the performances dept. with Robbie and McGregor delivering in absolute spades, bringing their respective roles to life in a way that deserve a better showcase than this.

Adding to that Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Montoya, Huntress, and Black Canary, respectively) all give fun, solid performances, but sadly we learn very little about who they are or what motivates them beyond the absolute bare-essentials, which is a shame because Smollet-Bell and Winstead in particular bring the roles to life in a way that leaves you wanting more… just not in a, “I can’t wait for the sequel,” kind of way.

Dead Pigs director (and writer here) Cathy Yan tries her best to create a bright, vibrant Gotham and mostly succeeds – the city lives and breathes in glorious technicolour, and the action scenes – handled by John Wick’s Chad Stahelski – are all fun, well-paced and effective, but they bring the very idea of believability (I know it’s a comic book movie, but still) to the absolute outer-limits… I mean are there no armed police in Gotham? Could Harley really overpower that many massive thugs?

Also, the character of Harley seems to exist only as an agent of chaos: she escapes all the situations she finds herself in, not by skill but by sheer luck. She exists like a real-life Looney Tunes character, walking into danger and then out again, cluelessly unaware of just how much danger she is in and walking out unscathed at the other side.

For all the entertainment, the movie too seems hellbent on making male characters evil, stupid or both – except for the sandwich maker – with Sionis’ only drive being that he hates women. Renee Montoya too, a strong character in Batman lore, who forms part of the GCPD’s triumvirate along with Sergeant Harvey Bullock and Commissioner Gordon, is here a tough woman who is pushed around by all her male colleagues who use her success to climb their own career ladders… it’s a fine concept but it really ruins the character I’ve loved ever since 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series.

Also annoying is the disregard for Leto’s Joker – I know he wasn’t loved by a lot of fans, but to blatantly disregard him is pretty crappy. Here, Joker is seen in long shots and from behind while his character is completely disrespected and at one point Harley even says she was the brains behind all his greatest schemes – I love Harley, but this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of her relationship with Joker and who she becomes without him.

And don’t even get me started on Christopher Messina’s Victor Zsasz – not the actor’s performance, but the fact that they just don’t understand the character and who he is in the Batman universe (I was there when Norm Breyfogel introduced in in the 1990s), nor the threat he is and his role in Batman’s rogues gallery.

But, while it seems that I’m being really hard on the movie (well, I am), it is still fun… it’s certainly fine for putting in two hours, especially in the world we live in now which has us all stuck in the house. Just don’t let yourself have any gawdy expectations for the film, nor should you try to justify its blip as an early Academy Award longshot, and let it all wash over you. Embrace the idea that it’s all taking place in Harley’s mind; it makes more sense that way. Sort of.

3 out of 5 Nerds

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Marc is a self-confessed nerd. Ever since seeing Star Wars for the first time around 1979 he’s been an unapologetic fan of the Wars and still believes, with Clone Wars and now Underworld, we are yet to see the best Star Wars. He’s a dad of two who now doesn’t have the time (or money) to collect the amount of toys, comics, movies and books he once did, much to the relief of his long-suffering wife. In the real world he’s a graphic designer. He started Following the Nerd because he was tired of searching a million sites every day for all the best news that he loves and decided to create one place where you can go to get the whole lot. Secretly he longs to be sitting in the cockpit of his YT-1300 Corellian Transport ship with his co-pilot Chewie, roaming the universe, waiting for his next big adventure, but feels just at home watching cartoons with his kids….