Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

I should preface this with the following disclaimer: I don’t like Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. I think she tries to hard to be “crazy” and it hurts the performance as it seems incredibly cartooney. It reminds me of “crazy” pro-wrestlers in the 80’s who would just sit in the background and pull funny faces whilst their manager spoke. It hurts films like this as she’s essentially a cartoon character in a realistic world, and I personally don’t think those two worlds mesh well together. It’s my big issue with Jared Leto’s Joker too; the instant that character has “damaged” tattooed on himself he’s no longer that character as, it’s done for stylistic movie effect rather than in-movie reality. Basically, it makes it seem like he’s doing everything for the benefit of an audience, and it hurts the character. That’s my issue with Robbie’s performance. So if you’re a “OMG Margot is SOOOO perfect and wonderful” then you might want to skip this review.

I wanted to like this film, I really did. It received a lot of hate for having the sheer audacity to be a film which features women both in front and behind the screen. I wanted to write this review and be like “no, support women in film, go see this movie”, but I can’t (and not just because all the cinemas are shut now). My biggest issue is it reminded me of Suicide Squad, like they didn’t learn their mistakes. The complete tonal mess? That’s present in this film. The fear that the film wasn’t comfortable with silence so filled everything with unnecessary noise? That’s here too. The fact that a group of people go from complete strangers to bestest buddies forever? Yup. The Birds Of Prey don’t even really occur until the final scene. So much of the film is about Harley Quinn that it forgets about the group, and not in an effective way. It doesn’t make me want to see more of them (with the exception of one character who I’ll get to later). Harley Quinn is all over this film, which when you’re trying to use the film to introduce a 3-person group for a future movie, seems like a mistake. You know how people felt Captain America: Civil War was more like an Avengers movie than a Captain America movie? This is the opposite, it feels more like a Harley Quinn movie than a Birds Of Prey one. Actually that comparison isn’t really apt, this is more like if Age Of Ultron was called “The New Avengers” based on the final scene. This is a terrible sign for the future because nobody will go see a Birds Of Prey movie without Harley Quinn now, why would they when the studio has done such a terrible job of introducing the characters? Although considering how little money this is making, that’s unlikely (personally I think it was a huge mistake to market this film towards teenage girls and then have it R-Rated so they can’t go see it).

The lack of characterisation hurts none of the characters more than it hurts the villain. Ewan McGregor is clearly having a lot of fun, but he’s not really given enough to do. His character isn’t given anywhere near enough detail, which is a shame as when he is on-screen he’s terrifying.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend seeing this film, unless you loved Suicide Squad, in which case what the hell is wrong with you? If it’s part of a box set or if it’s on Netflix then check it out, but it’s just not for me. As I said before though, that might be because I don’t like Margot Robbie’s performance in this (LOVED her in I, Tonya though), so that’s definitely tainting my view of the film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is perfect in it though, and is the only reason I would see a Birds Of Prey film. Her performance, her character, everything is just so wonderful.

5 Things Suicide Squad Did Right (And One Thing It Did Wrong)

1. The Look

In a world where the colour palette of superhero films can mostly be described as Fifty Shades Of Grey (only much more painful) it’s refreshing to see such bright colours in a film such as this. Pinks and Greens are all over the place, it’s like a film taking place in a neon nightmare, and it’s brilliant. It gives the film a unique look, you can take a lot of still photos from this and know that it’s this film.

2. The Performances.

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Shockingly, and I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, I’m going to have to praise Cara Delevingne, which is something I didn’t think I’d ever do for two reasons:

  1. Her performance in Paper Towns severely weakened the film.
  2. I can’t spell her name.

But her performance in the first half of this is superb. She plays the part of a woman who’s scared of her internal demons spectacularly. You really see her inner torment, and it’s just subtle enough to not be overbearing and too on the nose. She’s also involved in one of the visual highlights of the film when the thing inside her body starts to come out, and the hands wrap around each other, it’s simple but beautiful.It’s not just her though, Will Smith’s performance almost makes you forget about After Earth.

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Almost

3. The Characters

This is not an easy sell to casual theatre goers. The most well known characters in this film are Batman and The Joker, and they’re in it for a combined total of about 15 minutes. As such the film has to make sure the audience knows who the main characters are, which for an ensemble piece is not easy. Yet by the time the film ends you feel like you know the characters well enough that most of them have enough background that a solo film wouldn’t be out of the question. Special mention must go to El Diablo, as played by Jay Hernandez. He’s the only character I didn’t really know anything about, I knew about Harley Quinn from various Batman comics, Deadshot from video games etc. Yet his character is really smartly set up, his reluctance to fight makes complete sense  considering his back story. His character is one with real emotion and heart.

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4. Music

Iron Man changed the game when it came to music in superhero movies, when they used AC/DC it set a new standard for the genre; no longer could they slack off in the music department, they needed popular rock songs by established bands, and a few classic rock songs in their too. This was perfected in Guardians Of The Galaxy, which had one of the best soundtracks of 2014. This film continues in that tradition, with songs from Black Sabbath, AC/DC, The Animals, CCR littered throughout the film.

5. The Joker

Leto is completely terrifying in it. Just like the joker should be. He owns every scene he’s in and carries a genuine sense of danger and does it in a way that’s completely different to the way that Heath Ledger did it. Heath Ledger’s Joker always seemed uncertain in his own skin, like he was made by his vulnerabilities. Leto’s one is completely different, he’s confident, he’s calm, he’s in control of every situation.

The Bad

1. Yeah But….

Everything I mentioned on the plus side? They all come with caveats. The still shots look fantastic, but the way it’s edited? Holy hell do they make some of the most basic editing mistakes ever. The shots are not given enough time to leave an impact, there’s quick cuts between different things in scenes which should be slow paced. Whilst Cara Delevingne performance in the first half is awesome, the second half is awful. She seemingly forgets the meaning of “subtlety”, and she does a weird thing with her body that makes her seem like a wooden marionette. The characters bond and start talking about being like “a family” without any reason or bonding moment. Whilst El Diablo’s sacrifice (oh, spoilers), was noble, it made no sense, it would be like you sacrificing your life for your classmates on the first day. Yes there is a lot of good music, but there’s also A LOT of music. There’s so many moments where you sit there thinking “jesus, another f*cking song? We get it, you’ve got an impressive record collection. How about actually working out how to match the music to the scenes?” The Joker is good? Shame he’s only in it for about 10 minutes. Now I’ve seen people complain about people complaining about this. Saying things like “you could tell he was only going to be in it for an extended cameo”. Really? Tell the advertising campaign which was HEAVILY focused around him, or even the posters which had Jared Leto as the second billed actor. He was billed higher than almost all of the main characters. Now, if you were following press releases etc then yes, you knew he wasn’t going to be in it for long. But the majority of cinema goers aren’t people who spend all the time online looking for details about this film, they’re people who see the trailer, see the poster, and decide to see it.

And that, ultimately is the biggest problem, it’s hard to say something nice about this film without having to quantify it. And as with most modern films, the plotting is all over the place. The opening half hour is nothing but blatant character building, with someone sitting there literally telling you about the characters. There are way too many shots of Harley Quinn that are blatant fan-service (and a scene where an entire group of people manages to climb stairs quicker than a lift travels up 5 flights). That, added to the length equals a film which, despite being almost sold out when I went to see it, had nobody stay through the credits. The second the closing credits started,everyone left, and with a film like this that shouldn’t be the case, and it’s disappointing that it is

In Summary

If you go cinema a lot, go see it. If you only go to the cinema a few times a year, and going is a true event, then don’t make this one of your visits.