Review: Birds of Prey (2020)

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Rating

Director

Cathy Yan

Screenplay

Christina Hodson

Length

1h 49m

Starring

Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Bosco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina

MPAA Rating

R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material

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Review

The future is here and it’s female. Birds of Prey: Or the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn brings DC well ahead of their Marvel counterparts with a female-helmed, female-written, and female-led ensemble. It’s a film that is not only symbolically important, the end result is something future historians can look back on with some confidence in establishing the potential for such products even if the studios won’t see it that way in the immediate future.

The first female superhero to have her own movie was Supergirl. That colossal failure in 1984 ensured that female-led superhero films would remain “risky” for more than three decades when Wonder Woman finally picked up her Lasso of Truth and wrassled up a box office hit in 2017. That film’s success finally led studios to believe that women could indeed lead superhero films. Captain Marvel was announced shortly thereafter and Wonder Woman 1984 is right on the horizon, as is the Black Widow movie everyone’s been clamoring for since the character was introduced in Iron Man 2 ten years ago. The Russo brothers even teased an all-female Avengers during the final film in the massive 10-year story arc last year. It won’t happen, but it was a nice, if modestly condescending moment.

Birds of Prey, like Wonder Woman before it, is DC’s attempt to start a new revolution and prove an all-female superhero film can succeed. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. did some poor marketing and no one knew it was part of the DC Extended Universe and was an indirect sequel to Suicide Squad. Yet, Birds of Prey is one of the best films DC has ever produced, right up there with Wonder Woman. Margot Robbie is a terrific lead as the ex-lover of the toxic villain Joker. She meets up with four other disparate individuals who have no ties to one another and certainly no love for each other, yet they eventually come together to take out the rampant misogyny of spurned rich kid Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and his serial killer henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina).

With the help of Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Ali Wong, Robbie leads a brilliant cast in the most thrilling ensemble piece since X-Men: Days of Future Past. Cathy Yan’s superb direction and the terrific, complex screenplay from Christina Hodson help make this a fine example of how putting women in charge of the top level positions on a film allows them to subvert the cinematic form and buck tradition to convey a compelling voice. The film may be rough around the literal edges, but its figurative impressiveness more than makes up for any minor quibbles. The rotting production design of a city in decay is perfectly fitting for a film with bubble-gum pop sensibilities baked into a city rife with political and social struggles.

Birds of Prey does nearly everything right. Its female protagonist isn’t a paragon of virtue, she’s still the same batshit crazy psychopath she was molded into by the mental abuse of sociopath Joker (a mercifully excluded Jared Leto in this particular timeline). For all her negatives, there’s something charming and uplifting about her challenge to other women trod upon by their misogynistic surroundings that you don’t have to like each other to support one another. It’s the most potent feminist message one can take from the film. It’s an outlandish, insane, and gloriously violent endeavor and it’s one that I wouldn’t take any other way.

Review Written

May 25, 2020

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