Welcome to my very spoiler-y review of 'Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn)'! I have written a spoiler-free review link
, so please turn back to that review now if you don't want to be spoiled!
I will structure this spoiler-y review through three sections: The Good (good things about the movie), The Not So Good (not so good things about the movie) and The Ugly (things that bug me, but they might be my own specific bugs - beauty and ugliness are both in the eye of the beholder, after all).
- From the trailers I had thought I was probably going to like Black Canary, and yep, you betcha, I loved her. Her character was not as fleshed out as I'd hoped it would be (give her a movie, maybe???!!!!!??!!!?!), but I still got very emotionally attached very quickly. At the time of writing, I have seen the movie twice, and I have almost cried each time at the Canary Cry. They did very well in imbuing that moment with much significance. I've never been interested in Black Canary before, but Jurnee Smollett-Bell's version has so much potential.
I didn't think that I'd like Huntress much, but boy, she was a delightful surprise. Hilarious and extremely hardcore. Her backstory was fleshed out a lot more than Black Canary's, and it is, to be honest, a fairly typical backstory, but who she has become is fucking cool (as her new friends rightly point out!).
I liked Renee Montoya, even if she didn't have a heck of a lot of fleshing out. The running joke that she was a clichéd cop was probably necessary to avoid that very accusation from moviegoers. But she has a lot of potential, so hopefully she will get the opportunity to explore that potential in future movies.
Cassandra Cain is another one full of potential (and diamonds). I know a lot of comic book fans (those who have seen the movie, and those who haven't...) have been really grumpy with this version of Cassandra Cain. I don't know much about her characterisation in the comics, but from a quick glance, she has been given a very different story. But given where she ends up at the end of the movie (an apprentice of sorts to Harley), I think it is safe to say they have plans for Cassandra that might bring her closer to her comic origins, or will at least develop her current brand of bad-assery further. In the movie, she manages to vex our own quite vexing Harley, and they make a cute combo!
- I've discussed the action somewhat in my link
, but it is worth mentioning again that the action in this movie is brilliant. Great chase scenes: I loved Harley's on-foot egg sandwich dash, complete with a call-back to Harley stealing a bag in 'Suicide Squad' - girl cannot resist a sparkly bag! And the Huntress-aided roller-skate pursuit was fucking AMAZING.
The fights were equally awesome, jam-packed with sooooo many kick-ass moves. I love Harley blasting through the police station, the fight in the cells and then the glorious 'Black Betty' sequence. This series of connected fights really emphasised Harley's violent creativity. I love the deranged look on her face when she sets the guy's beard on fire. Light 'im up, Harley!
Black Canary and Huntress both have some solo fight action and they are as brutal as Harley. Huntress's restaurant slaughter was an awesome introduction, and possibly my favourite character introduction in the recent DCEU. She. Does. Not. Fuck. Around. And Black Canary beating the crap out of Harley's would-be abductors was extremely satisfying. Also loved how she barely stopped talking as she kicked their butts.
Another highlight was, of course, The Booby Trap Battle. Fighting on a trampoline. Brilliant. And that slide moment with Huntress was even better than it looked in the trailers.
- I was really pleased to see that 'Birds Of Prey' respected Harley's 'Suicide Squad' roots in the right ways. Obviously, Harley wearing pants and doing less teetering around in stilettos was a big change. There were no shots of her butt this time! And obviously again, getting rid of the Joker was another way to shed the weight of 'Suicide Squad', and while I would have liked to have seen Jared Leto's Joker in the movie, getting on with a more forward moving narrative was also important.
But there are also some cute nods to 'Suicide Squad' throughout the movie, including another bag snatch, a brilliant Captain Boomerang "cameo" and Harley's sweet sentimentality about her "Daddy's Lil Monster" shirt. So while 'Birds Of Prey' does quickly move on from 'Suicide Squad', it isn't disrespectful to anything except her aggressive sexualisation, and even then, she just puts on new clothes and moves forward.
- Black Mask and Victor Zsasz are very interesting villains as a duo. Their dynamic is very fucking weird and I love it. It is a real shame this dynamic was not explored further, and now, of course, can't be, barring a Black Mask prequel.
I will admit, it took until my second viewing to appreciate Roman Sionis. His freakout when he finds out the diamond has been stolen is brilliant. He needs a prequel, for sure. I do get the feeling an actor as big as Ewan McGregor wasn't too keen on signing his life away to yet another franchise, so I suspect Black Mask's death was part of the deal (as well as barely wearing the mask, I also suspect. Smelled a lot like the Will Smith/Deadshot mask situation in 'Suicide Squad'... don't wanna cover up that money-maker!) for McGregor signing on. But what a death. Well worth the R-rating, if you ask me.
Use Of Music
- While most of the music used in the movie is not what I would listen to normally, all of the music fits really well when it is used. Although, to be fair, it is probably impossible to use 'Black Betty' poorly.
The Not So Good
- There are some very fucked up moments in 'Birds Of Prey' that could have been leaned into a little harder. The first example is when Sionis hits Harley and she slips into the Marilyn Monroe hallucination/psychological break. I fucking loved
that sequence, as it showed
Harley's fractured psyche, particularly in connection to men's violence (I emphasised "showed" here, as I it connects to my next point about how they handled Harley's mental health, so see the next section for more detail on my thoughts there). That sequence was chaotic and dark, but sadly, this is the only such instance of a Harley break-with-reality that we see. I thought such a break might reappear when she makes the decision to hand Cassandra over to Sionis (a decision she found very distressing), but unfortunately they didn't take the opportunity. I also thought the glitter and colour sprays in the police station shoot-out would turn out to be a Harley-tinted lens over what was actually blood, but that didn't seem to be the case. As a result, the Monroe sequence kinda sticks out as an anomaly, when really it should be more deeply woven into the experience of a Harley movie (and perhaps it would be if this were indeed a solo Harley movie).
Another moment that is somewhat anomalous is the scene where Sionis makes the woman in the club dance and take her dress off because he thinks she was laughing at him and his plight. While this was very, very in-keeping with his character, I think this was another example of inconsistent tone. This was a dark moment in the movie and a dark moment for the character, but all the previous dark moments had been treated with humour (ie the face peeling scene and the snot bubble). I don't mean to suggest that all scenes must either be dark-funny or dark-dark, but just that perhaps that earlier scenes where treated perhaps with so much levity that this scene then stands out as anomalous. We move through Sionis's story kinda laughing along at his flair for the dramatic, but, and I think this is perhaps the key, you don't sympathise
with him, because he is arrogant and pretentious and revolting. So when are suddenly reminded that he's actually very, very nasty, we haven't undone 'sympathy' (a classic movie-watching experience); we've just seen the silly man do something cruel without a punchline. My rambling point is, give us a little more of the really fucked up Sionis, just to more evenly spread what a threat he is through the movie.
So overall, I would have liked to have seen them play up the more sinister aspects of the movie. Lean into the nasty!
- One thing that in some places kinda detracts from the movie is the Harley voice over as the main insight into Harley's craziness. As I mentioned earlier, the best example of the movie showing
us Harley's mental state, rather than telling
us (mainly through voiceover) is through the Marilyn Monroe sequence. This was a quintessential Harley moment (Quinn-tessential...!) and a powerful way to pull us into Harley's internal chaos. These moments could have been peppered throughout the movie to great effect.
Another example that I think perhaps gets a little lost in the movie is the use of Bernie the Beaver. Bernie is relegated to an easter egg for comic fans, but even then they kinda mess that up. Harley responds to Bernie a couple of times in the movie, but I'm not always sure that is super clear to a non-comic reading audience. Perhaps a longer 'conversation' between the pair would have helped clarify for general audiences who Bernie is, while also showing
Harley's psychological chaos.
- I don't know what in the holy hell Warner Bros thinks they are doing with DC movies right now, but yikes. Firstly, I don't really understand the early February release date. In New Zealand (where I live), the release week was the first week back at school after the Christmas/New Year break. So 'Birds Of Prey' dropped at a time where people are getting back in the swing of things for the year. Plus, it literally released on one of two national holidays were people typically do not do things like go to the movies. So the NZ release was accidentally a bit of a disaster. I'm not sure exactly how this works out in other markets, but it does seem that, globally, February is a dud month for movie-going. So I'm not sure what the thinking was there... But it has been seriously compounded by the lack of promotion of the movie. The trailers worked well, but the continued reliance on tv spots to do the marketing hard yards is bizarre. The target audiences for 'Birds Of Prey' are typically not watching live tv and watching the ads without skipping through them. Despite being all up in 'Birds Of Prey's' business, I haven't had any targeted online advertising thrust in my face. I have seen two billboards around town and one of those was an electronic one that cycled through other advertising. And the only poster I've seen out in the wilderness was being removed two days after the movie's release
. There are literally still old 'Cats' movie posters up around the place. So Warner Bros has not invested in general marketing. The DC crowd has been marketed to well, but this just means it limits the audience, rather than expanding it. I know people who loved 'Suicide Squad' and Harley Quinn, but they had no idea 'Birds Of Prey' was even in development, let alone that it had been released.
The marketing we have had has been awesome, but has been undercut with how they have used it. I love all the posters (A LOT), but the movie has been seriously lacking character promotional photoshoots (which they have clearly done, because we are getting some low quality variations of posters and key art) and promotional stills from the movie and its production. 'Suicide Squad' had a glut of content (none of which spoiled the movie) before release, and continued to release content after the movie released both in theatres and on dvd/blu-ray. Heck, director David Ayer is still releasing behind-the-scenes photos. But 'Birds Of Prey' content has been inconsistent and, in many cases, low in image/video quality. This then makes it hard for fans to share the content and build online fandom promotion that extends beyond the DC echo chamber. Seriously, the number of times I've started a new tv show or watched a movie or listened to a new musician/band because of a cool gif or interesting piece of fan art...
One smart bit of marketing that Warner Bros has still managed to fuck up was releasing an album in connection to the movie. This was a really cool idea, because they could release music videos that acted as promotional material for the movie, the album and the artists featured. Win-win-win, right? Well, not really. The album, and individual songs on it, are doing pretty well, but the release of the songs and music videos in the weeks ahead of the movie's release was a shambles. In a fit of complete stupidity, rather than letting each artist use their own YouTube accounts to post the videos (where they typically get the most plays), everything was released through the Atlantic Records account. Now, the Atlantic Records account has about 10 million subscribers, but these subscribers will be a very wide audience. So maybe if you have Halsey release her own song to her 8+ million subscribers who are definitely interested in a Halsey song
in order to actually hit the most people who might actually interact with the content. Letting the artists participate a bit more in their own marketing could have really helped launch the movie and its music more widely. Some of the artists seemed to be given incorrect or at least confusing information about the release of their own music or music videos. And don't even get me started on poor old Daniel Pemberton and his abused Original Score release. The release of the Original Score has been shifted around all over the place, with no marketing, and now the poor guy is pretty much self-promoting it on link
- I'm not-so-secretly hoping that this movie sparks some discussions about the classification system for movie and other content. I've seen people complain that the R-rating was not necessary and the movie should have just aimed for the PG-13 rating (as a side note, people whined that 'Suicide Squad' should have been R-rated... the grass is always greener...). I personally think the issue is with the rating system, not movies. 'Birds Of Prey' contains a lot of swearing (nothing those under 16 years old won't be saying on an hourly basis), lots of violence (nothing those same under 16 year olds won't be watching on tv or playing in video games), an excellent view of a total body explosion (which is a step further than 'Suicide Squad's' head explosion), and some drug use (Harley definitely inhaled!). Technically, 'Birds Of Prey' does jump over the line, as it is currently drawn, of PG-13 movie into R-rated territory, but not by a heck of a lot. This, I think, has probably annoyed people who were hoping for the blood and guts and sex of 'Deadpool'. For me, that is definitely a problem of the classification system. There isn't anything in 'Birds Of Prey' that should be restricted, which isn't to say it is kid-friendly. We need to take a closer look at what content we restrict and why.
- After my first 'Birds Of Prey' viewing, I couldn't figure out why Zsasz wasn't doing it for me, but everyone else loved him. He is creepy and manipulative and I did love his dynamic with Sionis. But something about him was driving me nuts. Then, about halfway through my second viewing, and still struggling with him, it clicked: He talks like Elmer Fudd. Once I figured that out, I was much better with his character. I still hear Elmer Fudd when he talks, but I can like the character now that I know what it was that was bothering me.
Overall, the issues I had with the movie were mainly about how Warner Bros has approach it. The movie itself is amazing, a huge amount of fun and very badass. I really hope it is a platform for more DC movies that focus on women, like the rumoured 'Gotham City Sirens' and 'GCS VS BOP' progression, and the potential for at least a Black Canary movie.
So that's my spoiler-full review! Feel free to comment below with your own thoughts and feelings about the movie.