Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

*. In my write-up on Suicide Squad I made note of the fantabulous debut of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. As did pretty much everyone else. Studio heads knew they had a hot property (something the DC Universe was in dire need of), and Robbie herself wanted to do the project so much that she would even serve as producer. And so . . . here’s more Harley Quinn.
*. But did I want this much more Harley Quinn? I thought her Fran Drescher-Nanny voice got irritating even before the pre-credit story about her breaking up with Pudding (the Joker) was finished. I get that the whole message here, in so far as Birds of Prey has a message, is about female empowerment, but I’m not sure Harley Quinn is much more than a sidekick. At least given this script.
*. As Mick LaSalle put it in his scathing review: “The character makes no sense — but no, even that makes things sound better than they are. There’s no character there at all. There’s a look. There’s an attitude, and there’s an assemblage of mannerisms, but these are all veneers surrounding a vacuum. Screenwriter Christina Hodson found no character to write, and so Robbie had absolutely nothing to act — but she keeps trying.”
*. Is this fair? You might say this is a comic book movie, and all you came in for was the action, the one-liners, the stunts, and the effects. And I’ll grant that Robbie and director Cathy Yan do their best. The fights are well choreographed and the whole thing has a bright and glittery quality that looks like . . . well, like most other movies of this kind. But the script . . .
*. The obvious comparison is to Marvel’s Deadpool, another comic book movie that upped the violence and potty-mouth trash-talking. But the Deadpool movies were funny. The only laugh I got out of Birds of Prey was Montoya’s t-shirt. I can’t remember the last time I saw a young cast this talented — Robbie, Rosie Perez as Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina as the heavies — so totally wasted. They could have got their stunt doubles to do all the work and stayed home.
*. So there’s fight scene after fight scene after fight scene. As I’ve said, they’re well done, if repetitive after a while. But at least they try to keep that part of things fresh. There’s lots of music. So much that the whole things starts to seem like the a playlist. There’s a CGI hyena that looks pretty good. There are comic text overlays that made me wonder if they were intended to be funny or more to explain things that really dull viewers may have missed. But a plot?
*. Well, there’s a diamond MacGuffin that ends up being even less than that. There are some dull bad guys (McGregor and Messina) who are just nasty without being scary or threatening (one rape scene in particular is just gratuitously unpleasant). In the end girl power triumphs over the patriarchy. The Birds of Prey are assembled, giving hope for another DC franchise. But I think this is where I’ll be checking out.

5 thoughts on “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

    1. Alex Good

      She has some. But I think LaSalle is on to something when he says she’s mostly an attitude. In a way she’s like Heath Ledger’s Joker: just a shit disturber. Now I think some comic book heroes can go overboard with the back story (like Batman) but here I just didn’t know who Harley Quinn was.

      Still, she’s better than McGregor’s Ronan Sionis/Black Mask. McG tries his best, but what a boring bad guy, where they just threw the nasty stuff at you to try make up for how dull he is.

      This could have been a better movie in so many ways.

      Reply
      1. tensecondsfromnow

        I liked this more than Joker. And it bothers me that male critics are suddenly sensitive to attitude vs character here, when fairly vapid stuff like Deadpool gets a free pass. Double standards!

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Fair enough. But Deadpool has some funny lines.

        I think I liked Joker better, and I didn’t care much for Joker. I’d rate this as only slightly above average comic-book fare.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        Not mad about either. Only found the post credits in Deadpool 2 funny. But want female driven films to feel different from males ones, and HQ passes the test. Would like more jokes like the t shirt one though…

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