REVIEW: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Every once in a while, there comes a film so abysmally bad, that it makes you want to retire your blog, which is aptly named The Movie Dweeb, acquire the £7 a month you spend on the domain, and use that money to buy enough gasoline that you can burn down every cinema, drive-in or home threatening to show it.

Luckily for Birds of Prey, that was not one of those films. In fact, it was its predecessor, Suicide Squad. But – at risk of summoning the devil himself – I shall simply refer to it as ‘SS’.

Back in January 2016, Warner Bros. Pictures promised us a zany, wild thrill ride in the form of SS, as its trailer dropped, and Freddie Mercury’s iconic voice could be heard singing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ over helicopters being shot down, epic car chases, and fiery explosions. What we got was Cara Delevingne jiggling her belly as her mascara ran down her face, and a blue beam shot from her arse into the cosmos.

That is the power of editing, ladies and gentleman. I don’t know who edited the SS trailer, but whoever it was deserves every raise imaginable.

And then Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) came along, taking note of the praise and hype SS‘ trailer, and was, frankly, everything that the film promised to be. It was violent. It was brutal. It was camp. It was funny. It was bonkers.

And it was fucking brilliant.

Following on from David Ayer’s SS, Birds of Prey sees two-time Academy Award nominee, Margot Robbie, return to the role she was born to play – Harley freakin’ Quinn. I don’t care how great she was as Tonya Harding; her performance in Birds of Prey made I, Tonya look like Jared Leto’s SS Joker. And that’s saying something.

Fortunately for anyone with sight, hearing or, frankly, any of the senses, Jared does not return as the Clown Prince of Crime. I assume he’s busy getting some super cool, super edgy ink, like lyrics to his favourite Paramore song, or a dreamcatcher above an arrow.

Instead, Harley leads a female ensemble – breaking the mould of the superhero genre. And I cannot stress this enough when I say I love the film for it.

(And I’m not just saying that because I’ve seen the combat sequences in the film, and am fully aware the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead could beat me up if I slated it.)

From the outset, Birds of Prey adopts a much more unique tone. Whereas SS was dark and brooding – and, in turn, awful – BoP almost has a flair of Tarantino to it. We are introduced to Harley Quinn, a supervillain in the Batman universe, through a bizarre-yet-charming animated sequence. This isn’t because Warner Bros. had forced Disney employees to draw the first act for them, otherwise they’d subject their loved ones to a SS movie-marathon, but because it’s actually Harley who’s telling the entire story of Birds of Prey, and just like her and her thought process, the film is never tonally consistent; it’s just over-the-top and wild. During one scene, Harley hysterically sobs as she loses her bacon sarnie, to dramatic orchestral music. That is what it’s like being Harley.

When you first see Birds of Prey, you’ll notice that the film jumps forwards and backwards in time. No, this isn’t like Looper, which took my Dad at least 18 viewings to try and fathom before he said “Fuck this. Let’s watch Taken 2 again”. It’s just another genius way Cathy Yan illustrates the nonsensical way in which Harley attempts to tell the story.

Whilst some may be wary of such pacing, it perfectly encapsulates Harley’s persona, which – let’s face it – is what we’re watching Birds of Prey for, isn’t it? Everything about the film is madness – as she drives a tank truck into a factory (as seen in the trailers – don’t @ me!) the resulting explosions pop in a series of whimsical colours, and fizz into the distance. Whilst SS attempted to introduce its most roster of characters with a name tag, it became all to repetitive when the same neon effect was used for every single inmate. Birds of Prey opts for a similar approach, but uses different visual designs for different aspects and characters, keeping it fresh and new.

And do not get me started on the choreography. (Please do. It’s something I have to talk about…)

The fight sequences in Birds of Prey are unbelievably enjoyable to watch. Not only are they brutal and fast-paced, but the added effects make them all the more – you guessed it – Harley-esque. During some scenes, sparks fly off of character’s heads, as Harley whacks them with her mallet, reminiscent of cult classics such as BoP co-star, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. In the final act, we’re treated – and I use the term “treat” to its full effect, here – an all-out fist fight, featuring the Birds of Prey ensemble, to the tune of Heart’s ‘Baracuda’. It’ll easily go down as one of modern cinema’s best fight scenes… Now to decide the winner, all we need is Harley Quinn vs. Colin Firth’s Harry Hart from Kingsman.

And of course, we all remember the faceless, nameless dust creatures from SS that would shatter into rubble as soon as they were kicked in the shin. How could I forget? They’re my sleep paralysis demons. But fast forward to just three years later, and with Birds of Prey‘s R-rating, we now get to witness actual blood and gore, as knees are broken and arrows pierce chests. At one point, the villain – Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask – actually slices his enemies’ faces off. (That shouldn’t be a selling point to go see the film, but weirdly, for me, it is. I know. I’m concerned too.)

Speaking of, what’s beautiful about Birds of Prey is that it’s not The Margot Robbie Show* – this is very much an ensemble piece, and all of the other cast get just as much time to shine. Naturally, one of the stand-out stars is Ewan, who could have very easily opted to play Black Mask (aka Roman Sionis) – a ruthless crime lord – very straight-laced, with a strong drawl, as he waved a cigar in the air. Instead, he went in the complete opposite direction, and it was utterly charming. He was flamboyant and camp; he squirmed at the sight of a “snot bubble” as one of his foes sobbed at the thought of dieing at his hand; he often got botox; he swanned about in floral gowns. Ewan embodied this extravagant character so well, he has frequently been asked whether or not his character was in a homosexual relationship with his henchman, Victor Zsasz.

* Would 100% watch, by the way.

Not to drag SS too much, but… Screw it. It’s getting dragged. SS dove headfirst into the cheap laughs. Don’t get me wrong – if I can get a chuckle at a raspberry I make, pretending it to be a passerby’s fart, then I’m going to town on that. But I didn’t spend $175 million to make said joke, did I? Everything about Birds of Prey’s script is great – Twitter applauded the film for it’s moment where Harley Quinn offers Black Canary a hair-tie during a fight – but it’s its sense of humour I appreciated. It wasn’t as in-your-face as SS; it was a lot more subtle in places. One highlight was how, throughout the 109 minute runtime, the cast points out how Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a Gotham City police officer, only used lines often heard in cheesy police dramas. If you’re not sold, look out for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Bernie Sanders reference.

Birds of Prey can be pretty cleaver too. I thoroughly enjoyed the Joker break-up backstory, and it’s genius how they managed to resolve the issue with Harley’s impractical hot pants-situation, which cursed SS. Harley dons elaborate, bonkers costumes in Birds of Prey, which she puts down to being able to wear what she wants; and being able to express herself, rather than being dressed by Mr J. That’s not to say it’s always perfect, however. I appreciate that it is in the same universe as SS – quite often, good things are in the same universe as shit; just look at Tom Hanks and herpes. But the frequent nods to SS were unnecessary. As Harley recalls her time with Joker, we are haunted by a flashback to one of the weirder, more surreal scenes from SS, using actual archive footage. And as she breaks into a police station, she sees Captain Boomerang’s mugshot and quips “I know that guy”. Who was that for really? Wouldn’t it have just been funnier – and less PTSD-inducing – to have had that mugshot be of a completely random criminal?

All is forgiven when you get to feast upon Birds of Prey, though. Put seatbelts on your ears, because they’re gonna be taken for the ride of their lives. The film’s soundtrack boasts some incredible performances from the likes of Normani, Megan Thee Stallion and Halsey. It would have been too easy to just slap those songs in, willy-nilly; play the hook and then be done with it. (Ahem, Charlie’s Angels. Ahem.) But each song is used quite cleverly, to fit the tone and setting of the scene, allowing for songs to play out for longer. Doja Cat’s ‘Boss Bitch’ is a David Guetta-like anthemic banger, which could only work in a club. So, naturally, that’s where were hear it; as Margot teeters around the room, downing shots and throwing up in handbags. (I’d also like to apologise to my co-workers as it is because of Birds of Prey that you are now hearing me play Doja Cat’s ‘Boss Bitch’ on repeat, endlessly, from now until the day I die, where an acoustic version of the same song will play as I am lowered into my grave.)

Some blokes are going to complain on Twitter. They did when DC released Wonder Woman. They did when Brie Larson was cast as Captain Marvel. And now they are with this. But fuck them. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to watch it. I don’t think we needed 2 Girls, 1 Cup, frankly, and I haven’t watched it. I still survived.

So for all of the creepy blokes who are whining into their Kleenex because Birds of Prey isn’t sexy enough for them, can I suggest that, erm… You wank to something else? It’s pretty simple, really. Birds of Prey wasn’t made “to be sexy”. It was made to be a great, fun, enjoyable film. And it accomplished that.

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