Review: 2016’s Suicide Squad is probably one of my least liked in the DCEU brand. There were a lot of great ideas behind it, but ultimately it’s potential was wasted with a poorly constructed plot and bad editing. But one thing that truly stood out as a saving grace for the film was without a doubt, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. There is simply no denying that she stole the film with her larger than life performance as the character, which generated major demand for more Harley Quinn in the DC Universe. For a while the potential of a solo Harley Quinn movie seemed very promising, even a Joker/Harley film which would have seen her fabulous emancipation from the clown prince of crime. But alas, none of those panned out quite as hoped. Instead, we got “Birds of Prey: & the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn.” A mouth full, for one, and almost nothing to do with the actual Birds of Prey. But that isn’t to say Birds of Prey is by any means a bad movie. It does have it’s pros and at it’s core, is quite entertaining. However, it is also a very problematic film, which I will elaborate on later in this review.
Let’s get started by addressing the acting here, which is largely well done! Mary Elizabeth Winstead is amazing as Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress. I would dare to say that her portrayal as the character was perfection. And while at first glance one might argue that she doesn’t dress like her comic book counterpart. Her counterpart from the source material was usually reduced to eye candy outfits that left very little to the imagination as where Winstead’s take has the character donning tracksuit look that comes off as tactical and more combat-like. And overall it just looks amazing as fuck if I may say so. My favorite scene with her happens in the 3rd act during the Funhouse raid. It’s probably one of the best moments in that sequence and it honestly had me thinking “she is one badass motherfucker!”. Winstead owns the role, there is absolutely no debating it. However, it Is somewhat disappointing to see her presence in the film being somewhat small. Initially I had my doubts about Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, but thankfully they were proven wrong. Smollett-Bell brought a new take to the character that was both fun and fresh. And even though she doesn’t wear the character’s signature fishnet stocking, Smollett-Bell totally rocks the gold pants like a freaking badass! I also liked Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain. It took some time warming up to her take on the character, but once I did I enjoyed it a fair bit.
Moreover to some of the other performances like Ewan McGregor, who I think did a fine job portraying infamous gangster Roman Sionis. Although there is a something done to the character I was kind of furious about, but we’ll get back to that topic later when I point out the things I did not like. But I digress, McGregor really immerses himself into the role and becomes this short tempered, easily set off type of gangster that is determined to get what he believes is his by right. McGregor is a seasoned actor and it’s evident here with the quality he pours into his performance. Margot Robbie once again shines bright like a diamond as Harley Quinn. It’s almost as if the character and herself were destined for each other. The only complaint I have with her performance is that there were a few instances in which she over does the Brooklyn accent. Which was a little annoying, but it’s a minor nitpick that can be easily overlooked. But I digress. Robbie has a lot of fun with Quinn this time around and some of it pretty damn amazing, especially with the choice of color pallets they went with in the cinematography. It’s really colorful like earlier we see Quinn blow up the Ace chemical plant as the ultimate “fuck you!” to the Joker in a drunken rage for dumping her and throwing her out into the streets. This platter of colorful shots is seen again later on in the film during the police station raid, in what I consider the film’s best moment. Harley basically goes in with a teargas gun and it taking on the cops with gas and glitter grenades. The scene is colorful and hilarious, and I adored the slapstick sense of humor that was incorporated into the action sequence. Now I would be doing the film a massive disservice if I didn’t mention the film’s soundtrack, which is pretty amazing. Love or hate the movie, you cannot deny that the soundtrack is on point and kicking all kinds of ass.
Now that I’ve said everything I loved about Birds of Prey, and it was a lot great stuff to unload. Now I have to talk about the things I did not like. And here is where things may get a tad bit controversial. Some may agree. And some may outright lambast me for saying it. But the film’s overall tone handle’s the topic of toxic masculinity all wrong by painting literally every male character in a negative light. Seriously, you will not find a single male character in BoP that is in any way good towards women. The film portrays all men as sexist, violent towards women, or having violent tendencies. And are untrustworthy towards women. I get what message BoP was trying to get across with this narrative. But the way it went about it was all wrong. Yes showcasing toxic musicality and the violent patriarchal system of misogyny against women is something that is deserving of being told on the big screen. But not all men are trash, which is something the film failed to grasp in it’s plot. A great example of praising feminism and putting patriarchal misogyny on blast is 2017’s hit Wonder Woman, and 2019’s Captain Marvel. Both films showcased the uphill battle women face in a man’s world, but also portrayed male allies. Men who did not look down on the opposite sex, but rather respected them as equals and fought alongside them in the good fight against evil. This is storytelling done right, sadly a memo that BoP must not have received during it’s developmental phase. Which while I’m on the topic of it’s development, whoever chose the title of the film really needs a demotion. “Birds of Prey: & the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn” is simply too long of a title. To be frank, I don’t think the movie should even be called Birds of Prey as none of the Birds are formed together until the very last 15 – 20 mins of the film. Nor do the birds really get ample time to shine since Harley hogs the spotlight from start to finish. A more appropriate title for the film would have been “Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey.” Which is ironically similar to what the studios went with after it’s opening weekend. But to be frank, it’s too little, too late.
I love actress Rosie Perez, she’s a very talented actress that is highly underrated in my opinion. She a good match for the role of Renee Montoya. However, the way the plot portray’s the character was irksome. In the movie Montoya is seen as a joke in the GCPD. No male cop respects her. And her own boss basically steals every single bit of credit that rightfully belongs to her. This does the source material of the character a great disservice. In both the comics, novels and even animated series Montoya is viewed as a highly respected member of the GCPD. Often at times she is considered as one of Commissioner Gordon’s right hand LieutenantEven taking charge when Gordon himself is out of commission for whatever reason. Yet, here theres no indication that she and Gordon are even colleagues as she doesn’t work at the main station nor is he even referenced. This is the first time Montoya is given time to shine on the silver screen and her debut is massively botched not by Perez by any stretch, but rather by poor writing. Which is another thing. Early on WB made it clear to fans that BoP would have an LGBT+ presence in a really big way. Yet, moviegoers were queer-baited with a scene so short it lasts for maybe 1.5 seconds. A literal blink and you’ll miss it early on in the movie. And as for Montoya? The only indication made that she is a lesbian is through a voice over done by Margot Robbie as Harley in one scene when referring to Montoya’s ex girlfriend who happens to work in the Gotham City DA’s office. The characters have zero past romantic chemistry between them and the only thing suggesting that they once dated is a the voice over. In my opinion, the studios likely did this to avoid issues in certain markets. Which is honestly a lazy cop-out. Which is a running theme you will notice with BoP. It has a plethora of brilliant ideas but never quite follow through with them to be great.
Another example of queer-baiting that the film mildly suggests that Victor Zsasz and Roman Sionis might be gay, or bisexual at the very least. But beyond hints and suggestions, just like the Montoya fiasco BoP never quite settles on it. Which is a real shame because it could have worked. But more on Roman Sionis, for those who aren’t aware, he’s a mid tier villain in the Batman rogue gallery and is most notorious for his signature black mask, hence the name Black Mask. But we don’t really get to see him in the mast a whole lot here. In fact, he doesn’t done the mask until midway into the 3rd act, for which he is seen wearing for mere portion of the climatic final battle sequence in the funhouse. After that he, surprise surprise, takes the goddamn mask off! Really? That’s like Bane taking his mask off after wearing it for a mere 5 mins. Or Joker deciding to take a wet wipe to the face because he can’t have all this makeup on before his big showdown. Which while I’m on the topic of Joker. McGregor does a fantastic job as Sionis. But he never quite achieve’s the presence of main villain in the film. Because even though he isn’t at all in the movie. Joker casts a massive shadow over the entirety of the film. From members of the BoP continuously bringing up his name, to Sionis and his gang to the officers of GCPD. Joker is literally everywhere in this movie and at the same time not. And it’s hard to take the threat of a big bad gangster like Sionis seriously when you’re constantly asking “I wonder what Mr. J is doing right now?” Or “Where is the Joker’s gang in all this?”. I’m no fan of Leto’s Joker. To be frank, he’s my least liked incarnation of the character. But considering this film is a direct sequel to Suicide Squad, it’s a damn shame we didn’t true closure to the Harely/Joker arc that began in the former.
Final Verdict: BoP is a lot of things. It’s wild and full of stylish creativity that it deserves credit for. What it was really trying to be was a fun lighter tone answer to the dark gritty nature of Joker (2019). In some ways it succeeded, while in other ways it failed. I’ve bounced back and forth wether or not I liked or hated BoP. There is no true short answer. Because there is enough stuff in BoP that I absolutely loved, but also there were stuff I really hated. All in all, BoP isn’t a terrible movie, but it isn’t the masterpiece that it could have been. It’s still a watchable film, if you keep expectations at it’s lowest.