Movie Review – Birds of Prey
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Last year, Joker (2019) made $1.071 billion in the worldwide box office, putting it in the top ten highest-grossing films of that calendar. Joaquin Phoenix won the Oscar for playing that titular character, which was inspired by the DC Comics villain. It’s the second time that an actor has won an Oscar for playing that character, following Heath Ledger’s win for The Dark Knight (2008). Clearly, Joker is a popular villain. In 1992, during Batman: The Animated Series, the character was given a girlfriend named Harley Quinn. She was basically supposed to be the female equivalent, although perhaps not as psychotic, but more of a lover than a fighter. However, she’s still a great fighter. The live-action adaptation of her occurred in Suicide Squad (2016) and she was played by Oscar-nominee, Margot Robbie (I, Tonya and The Wolf of Wall Street). Joker is known as the clown prince of crime. Harley Quinn is therefore the clown princess. Yet, unlike Joker, she doesn’t seem to want to instigate crime, but rather she likes to hang out in the criminal milieu. She seems to have fallen in love with a criminal mastermind and latched onto him becoming akin to Bonnie and Clyde. But the question here is: without Clyde, what does Bonnie do?
We’re given a sense of what Bonnie will do without Clyde in Suicide Squad. Harley and Joker are separated in that 2016 film. She basically thinks that he’s dead. In his absence, she joins a team that works for the U.S. government to save the world. She joins an unlikely group or a ragtag bunch to do something unselfish. Essentially, she becomes a hero who ultimately does a good thing. This film, written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee and Unforgettable), doesn’t acknowledge any of that stuff from the 2016 film. Hodson basically ignores the 2016 film because she basically wants to reset and have Harley go through the same process all over again of teaming up with an unlikely group, ultimately to do something unselfish or that’s arguably good. She wants Harley to go through the same character arc all over again. This time though, instead of being a group of mostly and in fact all men, except her, it’s a group of all women.
Rosie Perez (Fearless and White Men Can’t Jump) co-stars as Renee Montoya, a police detective in the Gotham Police Department. It seems to be present day, but Renee is the only female police detective in her unit or at her precinct. She feels frustrated on the job, due to the fact that she’s been passed over for commendation or credit. It feels like sexism at work. However, she has a knack for solving cases, including what looks like an extrasensory perception of how crimes occurred just from being at a crime scene. She’s even more frustrated because she’s trying to build a case against one of the city’s biggest and most elusive mobsters, but she keeps hitting roadblocks. She also hits roadblocks with her lesbian lover, played by Ali Wong. Unfortunately though, the lesbian part of her life is virtually ignored.
Things change when Renee finds out that Harley is no longer connected to the Joker and therefore no longer under his protection. Renee thinks that she can get to Harley. It just so happens that Harley is now mixed up with the mobster that Renee wants to catch. It’s rather convoluted as to how she’s mixed up with the mobster, but Harley has a list of grievances that she was able to have with impunity. That impunity came because she was the Joker’s girlfriend. With the Joker gone, she no longer has that impunity. Yet, she’s given a reprieve from retribution, if she can help the mobster get back a diamond that’s been stolen.
Jurnee Smollett-Bell (True Blood and Friday Night Lights) also co-stars as Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary. She’s a singer at a nightclub that’s owned by the mobster in question. She has a very powerful voice that can shatter glass, as well as literally blow a group of men off their feet. Why she’s singing at that nightclub and why she doesn’t have a huge record deal aren’t explained, but she’s compelled to work for the mobster, probably out of fear that he’ll kill her. She’s a fantastic fighter though and she saves Harley when she’s in trouble.
Ella Jay Basco plays Cassandra Cain or Cassie, a foster kid who lives in the same building as Dinah. Cassie can’t fight but she is a really good pickpocket. She’s probably the best at sleight of hand. She’s the one who steals the diamond that the mobster wants. She swallows it in order to protect it when she accidentally gets arrested. The mobster wants her and whether she’s caught or escaped becomes the thrust of the action of the film. Cassie becomes a walking-talking MacGuffin, a veritable damsel in distress.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Gemini Man and 10 Cloverfield Lane) plays Helena Bertinelli, aka Huntress. She’s a well-trained assassin who likes to wield a crossbow. She’s out to kill the mobster and the men who work for him whom she feels are responsible for murdering her entire family. She’s a socially awkward bad-ass. Her characterization isn’t complex. It’s rather thin, but she’s still a more compelling character than most of the supporting characters in Suicide Squad.
The film doesn’t spend enough time with her. She’s not allowed to interact with Harley, Dinah, Cassie or Renee until the final act of the film, which isn’t enough time to build up the kind of rapport that one would want for this team up. However, it works fine enough. The film instead devotes a lot of time to the mobsters in question who become the true villains here.
Ewan McGregor (Doctor Sleep and Moulin Rouge!) also co-stars as Roman Sionis, the aforementioned mobster who sucks up a lot of the oxygen in the room. He’s known as the Black Mask, a vicious and brutal killer, or at least he’s built up to be this scary monster. Yet, the most we get of him is acting like a child having a tantrum. The film culminates in a showdown or face-off between Roman and the women of this film or at least him and Harley. Sadly, that showdown ends up being quite lame. It’s meant to be anticlimactic perhaps, but it’s not as effective at being anticlimactic as the ending to Captain Marvel (2019).
Chris Messina (Sharp Objects and The Mindy Project) plays Victor Zsasz, the right-hand of Roman who is just as if not more of a brutal killer. Messina gives an amazing performance as this sexy psychopath who has this loyalty and perhaps attraction toward Roman. The film spends so much time building him up but he is dispatched rather anticlimactically too.
Director Cathy Yan does craft compelling action scenes. It’s cool how she stages some of the fight scenes, particularly the one at the end in a fun house. Even though it might, it doesn’t seem to have a lot of edits. The camera zooms around the various women in combat, acting and reacting in a choreographed fight that feels like it’s happening in real time and not cut to within an inch of its life. At moments, the fight feels incredibly choreographed but that ends up being entertaining enough.
Rated R for strong violence and language and some sexual and drug material.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.