Review: Birds of Prey

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Bubblegum flavoured gang warfare.

The villainous Harley Quinn is liberated from her relationship with The Joker, and finds herself free to run rampage on the city of Gotham’s corrupt streets. But in doing so, she inadvertently finds herself in the middle of a plot devised by Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask.

Birds of Prey, also known as Birds of Prey and the emancipation of one Harley Quinn, is directed by Cathy Yan and asides from a single feature film in 2018, this can be considered a debut for her. For many, this film lives in the uncomfortable shadow of 2016’s Suicide Squad by David Ayer; a film that is infamous for marking DC Comics and Warner Brothers as incompetence in translating the source material to film or competing with Marvel and Disney. However as bad as people say that film was, most agree that Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn was the standout performance. Birds of Prey takes her character and little else from the 2016 film.

If one were to compare the two, it is easy to say that Birds of Prey is far better. At least it has a tone and a personality of its own. Is it one of the great comic book adaptations of the genre? No. It still has some problems, and problems that don’t really go away. But for the most part, it is a ridiculous but entertaining film. You just have to leave your brain at the door. Said in the best way possible.

Birds of Prey‘s best quality is its perspective, and its premise. To compare with Suicide Squad once more, that film’s overwhelming problem was its premise: a girl with a wooden mallet and a man with a boomerang were going to save Gotham from Superman? They shouldn’t even have been able to deal with the whole sky-portal nonsense in the finale. Luckily, this 2020 film dials the scale right back to a premise that Harley Quinn could actually be involved with; that being Gotham’s perpetual gang wars, heists, and battles with the police force.
Everything is ground level. We don’t have superpowers, we aren’t referring to posterboy characters (not often, anyway), we are seeing a story that involves nightclubs, grocery stores, corner shops, knife fights and pickpockets. This is a welcome change, especially for the DC Comic films.
The film’s villain, Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor is also a breath of fresh air, especially with the DC comic movies where every one of them is some supernatural supervillain. Roman Sionis is more like a corrupt businessman.

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Which brings me to some unnecessary criticism that the film might garner: is this female centric film “anti-male”? No. Unlike certain mean-spirited films (Ghostbusters 2016) Birds of Prey may have its male characters on the antagonistic side, but they are far from stupid or incompetent. Plus, the female characters aren’t exactly redeemable either; another plus for the film is that, unlike Suicide Squad again, Harley is not twisted into a hero that saves the world. Honestly, in keeping with Gotham’s personality there are very few redeemable characters here!

The only major setbacks here would be the editing. The first third of the film is edited in an over-complicated fashion. With Margot Robbie narrating often, the film leaps back and forth with flashbacks, which had it gone on any longer than it did would have become unbearable. This is probably to evoke Harley’s scatterbrain, but it grew tiresome.
There is also a lot of suspension of disbelief with cartoonish action sequences; such as the easiest takedown of an entire police station imaginable, and enemies conveniently not using or having guns at certain points.

But overall, it is an entertaining movie for what it is. The writing can be clever and the comedy can be on point. The use of colours in scenes and set design can be beautiful at times (there’s a great moment involving coloured smoke). If you didn’t like Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the character, you won’t get anything here, as the portrayal is identical.

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