Tien Shinhan here, and we are LIVE with what expects to be a unique take, per most at the Last Movie Outpost, on the new DCEU movie, Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn).
Listen, I will not bullshit any of you. I am a DC guy through and through. It wasn’t always that way, seeing how when I was a young lad I swayed more to the Marvel side EXCEPT when it came to the Batman mythos, particularly due to Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s excellent Batman: The Animated Series. My love for DC over Marvel grew in large part thanks to Dini and Timm’s subsequent animated series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited. It was the cumulative effort of all these series that led me to realize that yes, I greatly prefer these characters to the competition that currently rules the box office and the hearts of millions of fans worldwide. I became obsessed with DC Comics and that’s all she wrote, as they say. I say all this to say, yes, I view these characters with a little more bias than normal. I have no problem admitting it.
With Batman: The Animated Series in particular, as is well known, we were introduced to the character of Harley Quinn, real name Harleen Quinzel, the psychotic psychiatrist who fell in love with Batman’s greatest enemy, the Joker. Nothing new to any nerd frequenting these movie web blogs. However, I never took a liking to this character as most fans did. Harley Quinn did absolutely nothing for me. I found her to be just as annoying and just as overrated as Marvel’s Deadpool character. I just didn’t get it.
Second, I must add, I hold no affinity for the greater DCEU as a whole. I like Man Of Steel, loathe both Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad (Harley’s first foray in DC’s cinematic outings), and am indifferent towards Wonder Woman overall. I think WW starts off great but falls apart during the last act. Aquaman is the crown gem of the DCEU as of now, that movie impressed the hell out of me, and I have yet to see Shazam!.
That brings us to Birds Of Prey.
Firstly, the marketing and promotion of this movie have been absolutely atrocious. Second, aside from my disdain of the character of Harley Quinn, the Birds of Prey themselves’ is a group I couldn’t give two shits about. I have never read a single Birds Of Prey comic book. I have read everything from Detective Chimp to Batwoman to Shade, as far as B to C-tier characters/groups go, but I’ve not once read Birds Of Prey. So it is safe to say, I had next to zero interest in this movie. I only watched it because my girlfriend loves Harley Quinn like so many others.
Well, I watched it and to my own personal surprise, I enjoyed the hell out of it! I thought it was a fun ride and did not feel I wasted my time! Let me break this bad bird down for you. Oh, and:
I absolutely must say Margot Robbie loves and gets this character. She owns every scene she is in and makes someone like myself, who again strongly dislikes Harley Quinn, interested in her insane shenanigans. You can easily tell Margot has studied and researched every possible version of this character, from Batman: The Animated Series to the great Arkham Asylum games and all the Harley Quinn comics in between. For that, I must give her props and more importantly, I bought into her character in this film. Suicide Squad, not so much, though I do not place that fault on her alone. It helps Margot had a producing credit on Birds Of Prey so she was able to have more of a say in her character’s direction and it shows.
Much has been made of tiny women being able to combat men three times larger than themselves. I get that criticism but I have to point out Harley Quinn, and other non-powered female characters in comics, have been doing this in comics for decades so I can’t really fault that. It is fantasy and it happens in all forms of western comics as well as Japanese manga and anime so when you see one of the best scenes of Harley Quinn dismantling a group of biker mercenaries it shouldn’t be outrageous to you: Harley is a comic book character!
The point where it becomes a problem is when idiots think in real life that Ronda Rousey could beat up Floyd Mayweather, which was, unfortunately, a real thought that many people had for a time. Thank you, Amanda Nunes, an MMA boxer, not Marquess of Queensberry Rules-style boxing, for putting that idiotic thought to rest when she beat Rousey via TKO due to punches 48 seconds into the first round.
Staying with the character of Harley Quinn for a little while longer, I will point out the controversial “feminist” angle that many have decided to write this movie off because of. I have no shame in saying that modern feminism is quite toxic and from a lifelong registered independent’s point of view, seems to cause more harm than good. It alienates people, especially when it is forced upon our favorite cinematic mythologies. Look no further than Ghostbusters (2016) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi with Laura Dern’s awful, and more importantly, pointless character. This applies to Robbie’s version of Harleen Quinzel as well but WAIT! It works for her and I’ll explain why.
I think we get lost in the fact that some of these modern movies try to portray people who are known evil in a positive light. Star Wars is guilty of it specifically with Darth Vader and his redemption arc. Make no mistake, Darth Vader is an evil human and one of my biggest gripes with Star Wars, in particular, was that an evil tyrant can be “brought back to the light” and this was before Vader killed innocent children in Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith. It bleeds over into Harley Quinn as well. This film wants to make her sympathetic and wants you to forget she is a vile piece of shit.
That doesn’t work for me. I know Harley Quinn is a bad person. She is a supervillain and her “gaining her own feminine identity” after the break-up with the Joker does nothing to change my mind so, in essence, her over the top, far-left feminism works for her character: Is Harley Quinn charming and interesting? Sure, but she is selfish. She cannot be trusted. She is a villain through and through. That’s why it doesn’t bother me like so many others. Plus, she is a Bernie Sanders supporter. She wants everything free as most criminals do. Need I say more?
As far as the rest of the characters, the biggest stand out is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress. Winstead completely owns the role and is one of the funniest characters in the movie. She doesn’t start that way, as the storyline of her mob family, the Bertinelli’s being slaughtered in front of her child’s eyes, isn’t exactly something to laugh at, but late in the second act, it becomes clear the writers and/or Winstead herself had a unique and proper take on the direction to go with her. I hope Winstead gets another chance at portraying the Huntress because she owns it!
Renee Montoya has long been one of my favorite detectives on the GCPD squad in the comics and it was long overdue for her to be in a movie. Portrayed by Rosie Perez in this film, I would say it is a great cinematic introduction to the character. Much like Liam Neeson’s take on Ra’s al Ghul in The Dark Knight Trilogy, it isn’t exactly a perfect representation, but it is a damn fine one and works well in the context of the film. My only gripe with her character is she, paraphrasing mind you, don’t think Harley Quinn is such a bad person after all. Cue *eye roll* but it is the only negative on Renee Montoya that comes to mind.
Ewan McGregor plays the film’s primary antagonist, Black Mask, real name Roman Sionis. I thought his portrayal of a character I know next to nothing about but was engaging, in a scene-chewing kind of way. Add to the fact I have not seen Ewan as an outright villain before and it made for a unique experience. I can’t speak to comic accuracy, but the character is a sleazebag and Ewan makes him one of the more memorable villains in the DCEU. I don’t think that is saying much but still, I remembered him even hours after seeing the movie.
A few final things that I will briefly touch on that made the movie work for me is the scale. I, like many others, am quite burnt out on the “end of the world”, “the city will be destroyed” scenarios that are so prevalent in these kinds of movies. No, this is a simple “retrieve the McGuffin” story told in a uniquely insane way that mirrors the mind of the film’s central character, Harley Quinn, right down to the choice of terrible rap music that a person like Harley Quinn would listen to. It all fits and makes sense in her twisted style of narration.
Speaking of the McGuffin, it comes in the form of a diamond that a young street thief, Cassandra Cain, has swallowed. Black Mask seeks it. Harley Quinn seeks it and Cassandra herself opens the door to some of my criticisms of the movie.
Cassandra Cain is in the comics more famously a version of Batgirl, long after Barbara Gordon dropped the mantle and assumed the Oracle identity. She has a sort of cult status among the hardcore DC fans but is another character I had an indifference towards despite my love for the overall DC mythology. This portrayal of her will split fans no doubt but not as much as the Black Canary.
I will preface this first and foremost: I think Black Canary is one of the more over-rated comic book characters and here is my argument. There isn’t one iconic storyline where you can remember exactly what her role was. Black Canary in my mind will always only be known for being Green Arrow’s girlfriend. Nothing more. Add to the fact she has one of the sillier superpowers out there: a supersonic scream. Wow, so cool!
That said, of the actual Birds Of Prey portrayed in this movie, she is undoubtedly the worst. She can fight and she even utilizes her sonic cry once, but no mention is made of how she knows how to fight or where she got her power from. Huntress got a brief backstory of her training but there is zilch for Canary. I’m pretty sure no one even acknowledged her power after she finally did it. I admit I geeked because I knew the cry was coming but I can’t even be completely biased towards it. It was poorly foreshadowed and had no everlasting ramifications outside of briefly saving the squad.
Her storyline involving her working for Black Mask before turning to the side of good doesn’t matter. None of it mattered. Might I add, I absolutely do not care about the race-swapping because I don’t care enough for the character, to begin with, and admit it, neither do you.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is the portrayal of Victor Zsasz. A deranged serial killer in the comics that slices a line for each victim he kills on his body, his portrayal is a bit lackluster. They tie him into Huntress’ storyline, but it doesn’t matter. I really felt his character needed more to do and his presentation left very little to be desired. Just completely bland and forgettable.
Let me get out of here by saying this movie should have been titled something else. Harley Quinn and the Birds Of Prey would be better. This is Harley’s story and she is rightfully the star. Let the title reflect that. Save the Birds Of Prey title for an actual Birds Of Prey movie. This isn’t it but that is nitpicking at best.
Guys, I enjoyed this movie. It is one of the better romps through the DC mythos. It has already failed from a financial perspective but if I can say one thing, make your own opinion. Forget the political promotion of this movie, the Rotten Tomatoes shills, and just enjoy it. It won’t change the world and I do not aim to sway opinion, but I have to say Margot Robbie alone deserves a lot of credit for bringing this character to life.
But unfortunately, the tape machines are rolling and we are DESPERATELY out of time! See you in the talkbacks at Last Movie Outpost!