Title: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Written by: Christina Hodson
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco & Chris Messina
Produced by: Sue Kroll, Margot Robbie & Bryan Unkeless
Reel Talk - Birds of Prey (2020)
Birds of Prey: And the Fatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is not quite the rainbow glitter riot that you would have hoped for but more fun than you might have expected.
After breaking free of her abusive relationship with Joker, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has to learn to survive Gotham’s seedy underbelly on her own—or with a little help from some new friends.
Birds of Prey is an attempt to salvage—and cash in on—the only redeemable part of 2016’s Suicide Squad, i.e. Margot Robbie’s straight-off-the-comic depiction of DC’s beloved Maiden of Mischief.
“[…] she puts the skinned face of her ex-Puddin’ on Suicide Squad pal Deadshot so that she can carry on one last conversation with him… how’s that for closure?”
Unfortunately, there is some perfunctory lip-service to feminism—quite literally in one scene—that will feel like pandering to some and preaching to others while neither Christina Hodson’s script nor Cathy Yan’s direction are as bold as the Cupid of Crime herself. Nevertheless, as she did in Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie and some of her gal pals save this film from total failure.
Hodson’s script—a liberal adaptation of DC Comic’s 2011 revamp of their superhero line-up, The New 52—reduces one of the most independent-minded comic book characters to a passive and reactionary contradiction. Even when she is beating up bad guys, Harley Quinn feels like she is just along for the ride in someone else’s story. The only moment that Quinn exercises some agency of her own is when she decides to leave Joker… and that isn’t even depicted on the screen.
“[…] Margot Robbie and some of her gal pals save this film from total failure.”
The darkly humorous Huntress, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is, perhaps, the only female character who is depicted as empowered—or, to borrow a word, emancipated—in this film. That would be forgivable if the title of this film was “Birds of Prey: And the Bloodtacular Vindication of One Sociopathic Little Girl”. Alas, that isn’t the title. To her credit, however, Margot Robbie does well to fill-out a character who was, in her first outing in Suicide Squad, the Lady of One-Liners.
As constricting as Hodson’s script was, Yan’s direction was equally non-committal. Birds of Prey waffles between a G-rated comic book movie with campy action and an R-rated female-driven Deadpool rip-off… but with glitter. In the comic books, Harley Quinn travels to some dark places after her break-up with Joker—she puts the skinned face of her ex-Puddin’ on Suicide Squad pal Deadshot so that she can carry on one last conversation with him… how’s that for closure?
For some inexplicable reason—the film already has an R rating—Yan never fully embraces the darker side of Harley Quinn or DC Comics, preferring to hint at it and keep anything “unsavoury” off camera and away from the central action. This leaves Birds of Prey in a strange, unmarketable milieu that goes too far for younger audiences but not nearly far enough for its mature viewers.
Birds of Prey’s underwhelming performance at the box office has been attributed to a lack of interest in a Harley Quinn solo film and on the coronavirus outbreak alike. While both reasons may be true, Yan’s wavering direction will also have had an impact.
It’s definitely not a great addition to the litany of superhero films but, if you can lower your expectations, you can enjoy Birds of Prey… there’s a glitter-bomb shootout!