Movie Review – Birds of Prey (2020)

It doesn’t stink, but it could have been better.

BQB here with a review.

I might be the only one who doesn’t think this movie was a total stinker, and the theories as to why this one bombed at the box office are running rampant.

The set-up?  Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) breaks up with her infamous boyfriend, The Joker.  Alas, this means that she is no longer under the protection of the most fearsome criminal in Gotham City, and to the many, many, many people she has wrong through her assholish behavior, it’s open season on her head.

Amidst this chaos, the Black Mask (Ewan McGregor of Obi Wan Kenobi fame) and his henchman Victor Zsaz (Don’t feel like looking the actor’s name up) seek a diamond and a kid, both of whom are important for reasons I’ll let go at this time so as to not spoil everything.  It falls on to Harley to protect the kid, with the assistance of Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), collectively “The Birds of Prey.”

Sounds like a pretty awesome set-up, right?  Well, you’d be wrong.  Sure, the film has its moments.  Margot Robbie gets to ham it up as Harley in this go around whereas she was a bit more subdued in Suicide Squad.  There are some humorous moments as Harley, the last person you’d ever want to take care of a kid, ends up being the world’s worst babysitter.  There’s plenty of action as well.

Ultimately though, the flick fails, so first, let’s talk about why it didn’t.

Feminism run amuck?  Eh, not really.  Sure, this movie is all about girl power, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s all in how it is handled.  The recent Charlie’s Angels reboot tanked because the angels openly lectured us about the virtues of third wave feminism.  In essence, you were told that if you have a dick then you are inferior, and then also if you are a dick, you are an asshole if you didn’t like this movie.

There wasn’t much in the way of man bashing in this movie, nor was there any lecturing or claiming that we should all live under vaginal rule.  The best female action flicks just have their heroines kick ass without claims that a snootch causes one to be a better ass kicker, ergo Buffy, Ripley and Wonder Woman will always maintain their claims to fame.

It wasn’t that men rejected this movie either.  If anything, I’d wager men were well represented in the audience because many of us are dorks who will see any comic book movie.

So, why did it bomb?

The unnecessary R rating.  Look, I’m no teetotaler.  My ears won’t burn if I hear the F word.  But let’s face it.  Comic book movies are by and large the domain of the young, whereas adults will go to these things if they’re uber nerds or to bring their kids to them.

As I watched this movie, it dawned on me that what caused this movie to get an R movie wasn’t the sex (there wasn’t any) nor was it the violence (there was a lot but not more than Suicide Squad, which always surprised me with its PG 13 rating.)

What put this movie over the top was the naughty language.  The F word is used gratuitously and while I’m not against a well-placed swear for comedic or dramatic effect, the swears flowed like water here, for no real reason other than the actors were allowed to say it, so say it they did – a lot.

I got the impression maybe the producers thought they were making a female version of Deadpool, which attracted adult fans by the boatload with its dirty jokes.  The big difference though is Ryan Reynolds is a Rembrandt who can paint a hysterical picture with obscenity, whereas the F word was just repeated over and over again here for a sense of faux-grittiness.

Long story short, had they cut out all the unnecessary fucks, this movie could have been PG-13 and its teenage fan base could have been allowed to attend in droves.

My second complaint lies with branding, marketing, or really, how DC has handled itself throughout its recent attempts at comic book flicks.  Love or hate Marvel, but they created a cinematic universe.  Their stories built toward something.

DC, on the other hand, has taken a lot of characters we know nothing about and smashed them together quickly, largely out of the fear that they needed to churn out product quickly before the comic book movie bubble bursts.  It’s a shame because if they’d followed the cinematic universe strategy, the films really could have built up to something.

I’m not saying that Marvel is the gold standard, just if DC had a different idea oh how to do it better, they didn’t break it out.  Wonder Woman and Aquaman are the best flicks DC has put out as of late, and that’s because those movies actually took the time to introduce us to who their characters were and what makes them tick.  And as we saw with Marvel, the beauty of taking the time to make those singular character based movies means we understand those characters a lot more when they get slapped into the broad, ensemble pieces and only get a few minutes of screen time.

In other words, why not a Huntress movie?  Why not a Black Canary movie?  Or, better yet, why not a Harley Quinn movie?  Harley is a star, after all.  Only a handful of nerds know what “Birds of Prey” means.  The rest of the public probably thought this was a movie about killer birds.  It probably should have been marketed as “The Harley Movie: All Harley, All the Time.”

Also, I don’t know why DC seems adverse to bringing Harley and Mr. J together.  True, their rocky relationship is domestic violence times a thousand and in this age of #MeToo, the last thing people want to see is a comic book couple that acts out their differences by shooting at each other, slapping each other with cartoon mallets, attempting to feed each other to hyenas and what have you, but it was funny in the comics, and the right writers could have made it funny here.

Which brings me to the writing.  There were flash forwards and flash backs.  I think there might have been a flash sideways.  There was a flash back that was so long I forgot it was a flash back because it takes up half the movie.  Harley narrates and fills in the blanks with great omnipotence.

Finally, and maybe this is a comic nerd complaint, but there are some great characters that are thrown away.  Victor Zsaz, a psycho serial killer in the Batman universe, is wasted as two-bit henchman here.  At one point, he tells a victim, “I will end your suffering,” i.e. his classic tagline as in the comics, he believes all life is suffering and thus he doesn’t believe he is killing his victims but saving them from pain.

Similarly, Harley has a pet hyena but the hyena never gets to chase anyone or anything fun.  There are many points where it feels like the writers are like “Hey, we read the comics, nerds!  Here’s a brief nod but we aren’t going deeper.”

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  I still think it is worth a comic fan’s time, but like many DC movies as of late, it was only OK when it could have been great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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