Birds Of Prey (& The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn)

‪A glittery, bonkers hard-R ‘90’s indie doubling as a comic book-antihero comedy, BOP brings together the iconic female gang in one of the funniest, most violent, & boldly-original CBM’s – despite a miscast Black Canary & Cassandra Cain. 7.9/10.‬

Plot Synopsis: It’s open season on Harley Quinn when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask, his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz, and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women — Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Review

The Birds Of Prey

The Iconic Girl Gang Of Comics Since ’96 Finally Gets Their Cinematic Debut (w/ Some Added Dosage Of Harley Quinn For A Fizzy Mix)

Birds Of Prey. Batgirl. Black Canary. Huntress. Harley Quinn? One of the most iconic superhero groups and definitive girl gang of comic books since their violent debut back in 1996 has been needing a big-screen cinematic debut for decades. Though Black Canary & Huntress got fantastic portrayals in the DCTV Series Arrow, playing huge role in skyrocketing the now mega-franchise by their massive Emerald Archer connection backstory-wise, everyone knows (or should know..) films have a level of freedom and budgetary limitlessness TV never could (wherein even a 8-10 hour-long episode season at a modest blockbuster budget of $100M every 1-2 hours would bankrupt a studio). The Birds are finally here; add in a cinematic superstar & one of the world’s top actresses in Margot Robbie reprising her show-stealing performance as Harleen Quinzel, wildcard director in Cathy Yan, and pedigree-DC villain in Black Mask & you get a canvas unlike anything ever done in comic book films before. ‪A glittery, bonkers hard-R ‘90’s indie doubling as a comic book-antihero comedy, BOP brings together the iconic female gang in one of the funniest, most violent, & boldly-original CBM’s – despite a miscast Black Canary/C.Cain & not enough Birds/Sionis.

The Plot Structure & Bird’s Eye View Of Gotham Any Comic Book Junkie Will Adore

‪The story opens into a breakup of Joker x Harley Quinn (expertly handled so that we don’t have to see cameo of Jared Leto’s awful Clown Prince Of Crime as they phase him out of the universe, and following a fantastic comedy sketch opening by Robbie). A universally-relatable character arc learning to pick ourselves back up after a toxic relationship breakup or down-in-the-dumps point in life leads to the severance of Quinn from Joker – and his resources/protection so that the many people she’s pissed off over the years with an axe to grind can now come out of the woodworks after her. This brilliant screenwriting premise allows the film to take a.. bird’s.. eye-view to Gotham City and a canvas of fan service and Easter Eggs beyond what was expected – fitting in tons of classic DC villains and characters, as well as introducing the iconic girl gang in an organic dazzling crossover plot structure that works beautifully in fulfilling its purpose: bringing together the team.

Bringing Together The Birds

The plot motif allows for a villain-focused storyline that Birds can be found cameoed all-throughout. Dinah Lance is a cabaret singer in a club owned by Black Mask (will get to that later!), Cassandra Cain a pocket thief robbing rich bystanders on the streets (including Victor Zsasz), HQ learning the trickiness of independence in a city that’s lost its tolerance/politeness towards her sending goons one-by-one her way, Montoya a cop suspended for actually doing something in the GCPD, and Huntress lurking in the background with her own hidden agenda. A lost diamond and power struggle Roman Sionis/Black Mask sets into motion beautifully melds all these storylines into a fantastic, rootable girl gang that reminisnces back on simpler, ’90’s sleepover parties and sisterhood bond films any female will likely adore and has to use/lean on each other in a symbiotic relationship to get out of this dangerous life-and-death situation they all find themselves in – a script I would not change anything about story-wise.

The Comedy & Hard-R Violence

One Of The Funniest & Most Adult CBM’s & Films Of Recent Memory – & Margot Robbie’s (Continued) Absolute Perfection As HQ

Birds Of Prey is one of the funniest comic book films ever made – rivaled only by Shazam! and Deadpool (perhaps even in front of them). I thought 2016’s Deadpool was the heights of CBM comedy, but BOP gives it a run for its money. Literally from the opening seconds of the film in a zygotic fertilization gag, adult R-humour is the focus of the film – led by Margot Robbie’s (continued) absolute perfection as Harley Quinn: one of the greatest castings and hero performances in genre history, finally given a good script to work with and showcase her talents as well. It’s difficult to even put into words how perfect she is, getting the theatricality and nuance of HQ down to even her bodily movements, demeanor, vocal work, and dichotomy it is an indescribable pleasure to watch her do things like storm a police station and take out legions with a ‘Fun Gun’, snort coke for ‘superpower’-fueled rages, obsess over the perfect omelette/sandwich, and bone-crunch anyone who wrongs her in expressly-brutal fashion in the brilliant carnival set. Indeed, BOP&HQ deserves massive praise for also giving Harley Quinn her own story & legacy stepping outside of the shadow of Joker into her own (feminism-done-right) spotlight – in glorious fashion.

‘Fun’: From Dirty Word To Actual Adult Entertainment As Energizing As HQ Gaining Coke-‘Superpowers’

Everyone knows how we feel here about the word ‘fun’ as a descriptor of comic book films – soiled by its too-often use as a copout by Marvel fanatics and misguided critics to justify the absensce of any sort of stakes, intellectualism, darkness, or seriousness as long as it’s packed with childish jokes like Ant-Man charging into battle with a colony of ants (that’s not fun, more lobotomy-worthy). This is that ‘fun’ concept done right – an adult version that feels almost Tarantino-dashed and the opposite of pandering or condescending/kid-focused, like the genre is being liberated (or emancipated) from its constraints to satisfy its real biggest fans and ones paying the tickets to come see it. Going hand-in-hand, the violence is as intense and hard-R as you can possibly get – showing DC still hasn’t lost any of its bite or dark edge that endears it to many of its fans, while broadening the appeal and palatability beyond Snyder-masochists who treat any humour or heart like its sacrilege against the church. The action scenes are viscerally-thrilling, quick-cutting, expertly-choreographed, and balls-to-the-wall in pacing of this canvas of femme fatale-badassness leading up to that final act confronting the man of the hour: Black Mask.

Black Mask

Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis steals the show – making history as the first LGBTQ supervillain on the big screen, but handled so expertly that it matters nothing to the story beyond fantastic representation (the whole film skillfully avoids stepping on SJW/feminist-landmines that have doomed many-a-franchise in this modern wave of box office bombs). Chilling and ruthless beyond his sexual orientation, with a fascination on identity and the face just begging for psychiatric and psychological analysis – even going so far as to deprive those who have wronged him of their faces by cutting them off with the help of his #2 (and equally-storied DC/Batman villain) Victor Zsasz. McGregor’s bone-rattling mercy-deprivation to those challenging his power & lust to prove daddy wrong and get to the top of the mafia/mob food chain is a classic Bond villain feel, also juxtaposed with a new innovation in CBM villainy: amusing dichotomy having fun with the premise of how messed-up and insane a villain like B.M. has to be in the head, while not losing any of his bite. Narcissistic personality disorder, spoiled rich kid diatribes, paranoia, and a whim of great jokes like talking to the never-ending (wackadoo) collection of heads/masks in his apartment – leading into the finale’s full-fledged Black Mask (adorned with a gorgeous suit and mask ensemble), ’50’s Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, and legions of armed thugs with murderous intent arriving to the party to end the Birds putting wrenches in his plans.

Wild Idiosyncrasy & Flamboyance In Set & Costume Design – & M.E.W.’s Badass Huntress

The Costume & Set/Production Design of BOP is absolutely stunning. Bleeding stylism and wild flamboyance in idiosyncrasy-riddled color palettes and ’90’s flair, it is one of the most fashionista ones to ever grace the comic book genre – and one that should be a perennial favorite in the category next awards season. Cinematographically, it succeeds just as it does design-wise in achieving a visually-arresting canvas of slow-mo, inventively-filmed, and bonkers shots in spectacular locations like the Founders Pier, Ace Chemicals post-detonation/fireworks, and Black Mask interrogation room for a film that maintains DC’s dominance in ocular artistry. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also deserves massive praise delivering a stoic, strength-exuding badass performance as the crossbow-wielding Huntress – given a brilliant backstory rewrite training after a tragic family event to return home to cross names off a list (wonder where we’ve heard that before; exactly the premise of S1 Arrow – why it works!) to make her more heroic/antihero-like as a vigilante portrayal that would make the purple-clad comic book version proud.

One Of The Best Soundtracks In Any CBM (Or Pop. Film Continuing Suicide Squad’s Biggest/Only Triumph)

The soundtrack in Birds Of Prey is one of the most sensational I’ve heard in not only CBM’s, but pop. films in general. This should be of little surprise considering Suicide Squad – despite its laundry list of other problems as easily the worst DCEU film and objectively-awful in nearly-every way – did boast a legendary soundscape of iconic songs from the hard trap/dubstep of Skrillex x Rick Ross to a career-making, record-breaking twenty one pilots-ballad called Heathens. In BOP, the auditory accompaniment is even more diverse – blending everything from classic ’80’s Heart’s Barracuda to electronica jazz-modernizations by K.Flay to booming hip-hop by Megan Thee Stallion. Not only that, it boasts some icon sequences and homages to film history like a Harley Quinn x Marilyn Monroe reference (as pictured above) spliced between shots of violence – and tons of fun orchestral themes as stylistic and idiosyncratic as its set pieces & costume design.

Flaws

Miscastings & Not Enough Birds/Sionis

Flaws in Birds Of Prey center on its castings – and more Roman Sionis/Birds. Indeed, Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask is one of the highlights of the film, and most fascinating villain portrayals of recent memory. So, why is he only featured sparingly – with little to no action of him in-mask beyond sending henchmen, no big showdown with the Birds, and no final epic sequence beyond a monologue, then explosion at the docks? The film is briskly short at a 2-hour time slot that does go by nicely not overstaying its welcome – but could’ve easily fit maybe 15-20 more minutes of development and backstory arcs to flesh out its big bad.. and big 3. I wish the film had more of the Birds – it balances them well in a storyline that fits every character nicely on paper, but feels more like a Harley Quinn movie (with some Birds Of Prey) than a true BOP movie in execution. Black Canary, Huntress, & Batgirl (of some kind) deserved more spotlight as a trio fighting crime than a seconds’ cameo in the ending HQ monologue, even if most were horrifically miscast.

..Black Canary, Is That You?

An Inexcusable Miscast Of One Of DC’s (& Comic Book History’s) Most Iconic Heroines Of All-Time – A Larger Problem In Hollywood

That brings me to the castings. Black Canary’s casting in BOP might be one of the worst I’ve ever witnessed in comic book media – as well as indicative of a larger problem in Hollywood that needs to be addressed. One of the most iconic and greatest female superheroes of All-Time (just under Wonder Woman for probably #2 All-Time in heroines), why did WB & co. decide to cast a nobody who literally looks and feels nothing like BC in such a consequential role? Don’t get me wrong, as a Person Of Color myself, I am all for diversification of roles and a level-playing-field in giving POC important film representation and access to major roles.. but they have to be EARNED and *accurate* to the character. Did WB learn nothing from Starfire’s controversy in Titans, or see what’s going on by a society fighting back against tokenism or checklist diversity? Even if they wanted to blackwash (whitewashing has been rightfully maligned, so why is this any different – especially when the Birds already have ethnic diversity in Montoya (latina), Cain (Asian), & Huntress (better choice for a race-change if needed being a less iconic character than B.C.)), this isn’t casting Rihanna, Beyoncé, Lupita N’yongo, Kerry Washington, or big names/fantastic black actresses – why pick such an unknown, shakily-line delivering, uninspired, too-out-there nose-pierced/dreadlocks-bearing choice in actress for this *massive* a role?

Cassandra Cain & Montoya

As a huge Canary-fan, I was extremely disappointed in her portrayal here – in casting, persona, look, acting, and even in how disposable she was as a character throughout the film barely having any lines or fight scenes or canary cries beyond one singular shot already in the trailers. Beyond that, Cassandra Cain is also miscast – a chubby teen version nothing like the Batgirl of comics’ lore or anything in the atmosphere of (again, maddening by the casting department’s inadequacy when there are millions of phenomenal Asian actresses who could’ve nailed the role either pre or full-Batgirl completing the Birds comic-accurately. Finally, Montoya plays wayyyy too big a role in the film itself – again, hurt by casting a woman 20-30 YEARS too-old who looks more ready for the retirement home than fighting off legions of 6’7/270-lb thugs.

Conclusion

‪A Glittery, Bonkers Hard-R ‘90’s Indie That Doubles As A Comic Book-Antihero Comedy

One Of The Funniest, Most Violent, & Boldly-Original CBM’s – Enjoyable By Its Real Audience

Overall, Birds Of Prey is a subversive innovation. A glittery, bonkers hard-R ‘90’s indie doubling as a comic book-antihero comedy, BOP brings together the iconic female gang in one of the funniest, most violent, & boldly-original CBM’s – despite a miscast Black Canary/CC & not enough Birds/Sionis. DC has again expanded its portfolio to wildly-different palette options going to the antithesis of most blockbuster formula flair – artistic, femme fatale-ish, indie-flair, and comedy/airiness in a distinctly-mature package adult fans should rejoice in. Here’s to the (inevitable, given its budget and positive buzz) sequel – wherein, I’ll bet, the Gotham City Sirens are coming to town.

Official CLC Score: 7.9/10