So, “Birds of Prey.” Right—let me start off with a couple of compliments. It’s a quite fun, if often stomach-turning, dark MCU (Marvel Comic Universe) comic-book movie.
Why is it fun to watch? Because the very Australian superstar Margot Robbie can do a Brooklyn accent better than most American actresses, has the requisite bubbly personality, cheekbones, and owns Harley Quinn the way Ryan Reynolds owns Deadpool.
OK, that’s it, I’m done—let the trashing begin. But first … the synopsis.
In the dark and twisted city of Gotham (which we know is basically super-nasty 1970s and ’80s New York City, writ large), there lives one Harley Quinn. She used to be a nice girl.
She had a Ph.D. and was once a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum who had, as one of her patients, that green-haired madman, the Joker. Then she fell in love with him, broke him out of Arkham, and to prove her undying love, immersed herself in the same toxic chemical bath he did.
So now she looks like a punk version of a 1970s Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. She’s got baseball-bat fight skills that put Bruce Lee to shame.
She’s basically an alcoholic and an unabashed foodie relisher of greasy-spoon fare that would turn you and me into blimps overnight. Why us and not her? She’s a superhero. Or maybe a supervillain like her ex-bf. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. I think she turned bad for love. A virulently codependent love, that is.
Harley referred to her psychotic ex as “J-Puddin”; she’s quite funny, fearless, and adorable. She gives her giant pet hyena smoochies and cuddles. But make no mistake—she’ll kill you dead if you make her drop her excess-oil-dripping, Philly cheesesteak-egg-extra-hotsauce-breakfast-sammidge in the street.
We knew this too-cute psychopath was going to be back, eventually, because of Margot Robbie’s performance. So, is it better than its mothership movie “Suicide Squad?” Oh yeah. But what does that even mean?
Oh wait, I’m not done synopsi-fying yet: Harley got dumped by Jared Leto’s drag-queen-y, green-y Joker. She does breakup-recovery things: She bawls on her couch while snarfing down a whole tube of yellow Cheez Whiz, she buys said hyena, and she blows up the toxic chemical plant that was her and her boyfriend’s favorite trysting place. Her heart healed, she’s now “empowered” and “emancipated.”
Our girl would like to just get on with her life, such as it is, but there’s just one little problem: When she was J-Puddin’s gun moll, she was untouchable. The hordes of shadowy characters that people Gotham’s odious underworld couldn’t touch her for fear of the Joker’s wrath. Now, suddenly, she’s very touchable. And being the stumble-drunk drinker she is, that means touchable in the Harvey Weinstein sense.
One major bad guy who wants a piece of Harley Quinn is Roman Sionis, aka, The Black Hand (Ewan McGregor). He’s a smarmy, velvet-wearing, sleazebag criminal mastermind who devolves into a rage-aholic enfant terrible when he doesn’t immediately get his way.
If he doesn’t like you, he’ll have his goon Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) slice your face off. That is sooo much fun to watch.
The Birds of Prey are a girl gang from the “Batman” comics, which until now has never included Harley Quinn. It was Robbie’s idea to have Quinn join forces with them and add the character Renee Montoya, played by Rosie Perez, for the more moral, cop perspective. Also she wanted to add a mentor situation like the one in “Léon: The Professional,” hence the Cassandra role, the youngest character, came to be.
The Birds of Prey are Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, a professional nightclub singer who has, in addition to superheroic fight skills, a supernormal voice that can shatter stuff.
Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) basically just shoots a crossbow and gets upset at jokes about her self-appointed hero handle. Winstead can’t quite handle the deadpan humor required for the nerdy character.
Lastly, Ella Jay Basco plays teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain, who swallows a giant diamond that Roman Sionis wants. Harley, who acts as Cassandra’s deranged mentor, offers a choice to get that diamond back out of Cassandra: laxative or knife.
Bang for Your Buck?
You will most assuredly get a bang for your buck. Many bangs with a baseball bat, a mallet, and assorted rifle butts.
What we’ve got here is a dark, twisted fairytale of a psychotic, beautiful, addicted, murderous, childlike, amoral, immoral waif, who bashes heads and blows cops away with confetti-filled beanbag guns at close range. A veritable Harlequin-esque (Harlequin, Harley Quinn—get it?), Coney-Island-type fun house of a movie.
It’s been said that Harley Quinn stands for female emancipation, like, from the Joker’s, you know, patriarchy. Emancipated to do what? Swear nonstop, and steal, is what. She robs a grocery store, claiming that “paying is for suckers.” And we find we like all her vehement mayhem. Why? Because Ewan McGregor’s Black Hand is so sadistic when torturing women and children that we need to be able to feel joy when the Birds of Prey even the score in like fashion.
The excess, if “cartoonish,” violence might have a positive message if Harley and her girls figured out that by meting out eye-for-an-eye retribution, the oppressed immediately morphs into the oppressor. But that’s grownup stuff. Who’s the target audience here? Teen girls, presumably. But it’s rated R, which means that teens, tweens, and prepubescents will be lapping this nasty fare up surreptitiously on laptops under the covers at pajama parties and sleepovers when the parents have retired.
There are no morals anywhere in sight, unless you count keeping a hyena trapped in a tiny New York apartment as an act of kindness. (Maybe it was a rescue hyena.)
I should lighten up, you say? Noooo, not today. This movie is such a boiling frog—little girls are going to see cute, murderous Harley Quinn and think all this nonsense is quite OK. I will not lighten up today.
If grown women want to cheer men getting whacked in a variety of ways: getting their knees broken, groins smashed—and my personal favorite, beards set on fire—that’s their prerogative. But parents should put some effort into avoiding having Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey become role models for impressionable, young girls.
‘Birds of Prey’
Director: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong
Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 7, 2020
Rated: 2 stars out of 5