Birds of Prey
2 out of 5 stars
With her introduction to the world in 2016’s Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the highlight of a disappointing venture in the DC Universe. Despite the critical vitriol that was levelled towards David Ayers’ film, it was a box office success. It is no surprise that the most colourful character would get her own spin-off. Then to have Joker breaking all of the records for the mature version of this genre, who would question whether his girlfriend should get her own circle of villainous sisters. The rich world of graphic novels provides her with a band of women who can support this psychologist gone mad to take on the evil underground of Gotham City.
Harley’s story starts off soon after the conclusion of Suicide Squad, but things are not all rosy for the psychotic minx. She has just broken up with her green-haired boyfriend and with the demise of their relationship, the tattooed villainess loses all of the protection that his horde offers. She has had an open license to act out against anyone. Still, these actions have led to more enemies than allies for her to rely on while processing her relational issues.
Quinn becomes the target of everyone she had crossed in her life. Specifically, the crime boss Roman Sionis, who is known as the Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and his lead henchman, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). As she finds herself on the verge of having her sparkle snuffed out, the former doctor discovers that they need to find Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) to retrieve a diamond she stole. Harley works a 24-hour deal to recover the young orphan who will lead to her own freedom from the ire of the crime lord.
In the process of apprehending the little pickpocket from the Gotham City Police, the fairy-floss-haired mercenary begins to realise others are looking for Cassandra. Police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is trying to hold the orphaned thief to see how she can use her to bring down Sionis. Meanwhile Roman’s driver and nightclub singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) tries all she can to save the girl from the hands of her vicious boss. Then to add to this mix comes the mysterious Crossbow Killer or Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who has a vendetta against the majority of the underworld of Gotham. Eventually, the four women must band together in an unlikely situation to save Cassandra and defeat the massive forces controlled by Black Mask.
Trailer contains mature content
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is an historical outing, because it is the first time audiences will see an all-female ensemble of comic book heroes. Director Cathy Yan is given license, provided by the success of Deadpool, Joker and Logan to bring forward a heavy-hitting and foul-mouthed interpretation of these women. A violent and foul introduction for audiences for these femme-Fatales who hold nothing back in delivering vengeance and their bizarre form of justice.
The challenge with writing anything disparaging of this film could cause some to label this review as misogynistic in tone, but far from it. The DC team managed to get the role of women in their graphic novel world worked out early with Wonder Woman. This movie seems to be trying too hard to gain ground in this male-dominated universe by trying to be like Wade Wilson.* Something that Marvel is having a difficult time embracing now that he is in the MCU due to the Fox Studios acquisition. The other issue is that Margot Robbie is not the most robust lead for this franchise. (A statement that will cause many to spew vicious comments upon reading this review.) The reality is that the accomplished actress is best in amongst an ensemble and adds value to every film. This franchise needs a steadier character to build upon than the morally ambiguous Harley Quinn. An anti-hero who is hard to invest in or trust for the future.
The biggest challenges for this film are the pacing and tone. It is an origin film, which means that the narrative must build awareness of the characters. This causes a disjointed and confusing method of storytelling that could be attributed to Harley Quinn’s nature, but ultimately it bogs things down. Then couple this with the overwhelming need to emulate the Merc with a Mouth’s* model of storytelling, things never really get up to speed until over three-quarters of the way through the film. Interestingly, the highlight of the cast was Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina as the depictions of the villains. These two actors know how to take their characters to the edge without going over the cliff.
A film that is bombastic, vicious and groundbreaking that fails to rise to its own expectations. With characters that no one would want their daughters to emulate and a confusing depiction of female empowerment. Birds of Prey fails to launch for this reviewer, but it surely will make bucket loads of money for DC, Warner Brothers and sell a multitude of ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ t-shirts. (Does that make anyone else cringe?)
*References to Deadpool’s other names.
Reel Dialogue: The world needs female heroes
As a father of three daughters and one son, something that should be celebrated is the female hero. Unfortunately, none of the characters in Birds of Prey should or can really be held up as heroes. They are meant to be a representation of female empowerment, but who would want their daughters to act like any of them? It is an identity crisis that is not new to our modern era, but when the studios do manage to find the right combination of power and femininity, it is no wonder that they explode in popularity. Hence, the successful examples of the recent incarnations of Wonder Woman and Beauty and the Beast.
Christianity tends to get a bad wrap for not celebrating women, but this is not an honest depiction of what can be found in the Bible. Throughout the text, there are examples of strong women and the men who appreciated them. Names like Rahab, Ruth, Deborah, Mary, Priscilla and many more proved to have quite an impact on history and faith. Also, one aspect of Jesus' ministry was to move society to appreciate and celebrate the value of women. Even the most sceptical historians have to acknowledge that Christianity is a faith that values female heroes.
Passages to consider on the topic of women: The Book of Ruth, Proverbs 31, The Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
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Russ Matthews works for City Bible Forum as the Engaging Manager. He enjoys developing large public forums throughout the city to engage workers with the bigger questions of life. He oversees The Edge and Reel Dialogue.