Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020) Movie Review

details
Original Title: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
Universe: Worlds of DC (DC Extended Universe).
Rated: R.
Director: Cathy Yan.
Screenplay: Christina Hodson.
Release Date: 2020.
Runtime: 109 min.
Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Crime, Science-Fiction.
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, and many more!
Budget: $84,500,000.
Opening Weekend USA: $33,010,017.
Gross USA: $72,529,015.
My Overall Rating:★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10).

thoughts

No one should live constrained within an abusive and deranged relationship. Although it is easier said than done, these situations foster toxic habits and leave the victim in a perilous state where their health, sanity, and integrity is at risk. Even when you’re free of them, a passionate, violent, and cathartic trip is what you need to rebel and unleash your deepest desires. Directed by Cathy Yan, written by Cathy Yan, and co-produced by Margot Robbie, the latest more-or-less stand-alone movie in the World of DC line-up explores Harley Quinn’s rebirth through grim heroism. Despite excellent reviews from various sources and a stellar international box office performance, the R-rated sequel to Suicide Squads (2016) continues to garner severe criticism in its attempt to stand out from the rest of DC’s repertoire. Although its original peculiarly-awesome movie title, a poor box office performance in the United States brought Warner Bros to issue a name change to better capture the movie’s focus, now calling itself Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. While adequate from a marketing perspective, the movie’s appeal all comes down to what viewers are looking forward to in this trip down Harley Quinn’s insane mind.

What is Birds of Prey about? Plunged in a frustrating depression after Jared Leto’s Joker breaks up with her, the deranged ex-Arkham-Asylum-psychologist Harley Quinn frivolously lives her life in the city of Gotham. Having accumulated countless enemies over the years, she quickly becomes everyone’s favourite target and has nothing to lose anymore until Ewan McGregor’s kingpin Roman Sionis a.k.a Black Mask enters the picture and prepares to put Harley under his well-known torture séance. Quick on her feet, Harley Quinn proposes to solve one of his greatest problems regarding a lost diamond, which will lead her to hunt down a young girl and thus begin her psychological transformation as she weighs her options and evaluates the best course of action in hopes of discovering a purpose to her life filled with zany and criminal behaviours.

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Although the movie initially seemed to lean towards a brand-new street-level team-up movie featuring Harley Quinn as the key character to tie things together, it is better to dive into this feature-length film as a Harley Quinn movie that inconsequentially introduces the Birds of Prey to the Worlds of DC universe. In that regard, rest assured that Margot Robbie absolutely nails her iconic role as the Cupid of Crime. Every sequence featuring her character is a glorious ovation of her character’s brutal yet melodic approach at life. Recuperating from her incredibly damaging relationship with the Clown Prince of Gotham, she now exudes independence and pride like never before while also accentuating her comic traits in a truly fashionable and quirky manner. Her action choreography is also the most crucial and fabulous feature throughout the movie as she showcases some of the most astonishing and creative fighting skills since Ben Affleck’s warehouse sequence in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) while cinematographer Matthew Libatique does a phenomenal job through close-ups, slow-motion sequences, and clever camera angles to capture the colourful and hypnotic action scenes.

With Harley Quinn also serving as the narrator throughout the movie, sort like Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool, the movie also quickly establishes itself as a spontaneously eccentric story told through her perspective—this can be especially noted in the unnatural narrative structure that completely flips around the exposition and incorporates countless flashback sequences to introduce characters. Although it perfectly captures the character’s messy story-telling abilities, it still remains incredibly distressing in assuring any flow or momentum, putting a strain on the viewer’s own ability to be invested in the story. On top of the deficient structure, the plot holes are abundant and destructive to the overarching plot revolving around each of the key female character’s quest for emancipation. Although the feminist agenda was clear from the movie’s initial pitch as an all-female team-up—which it does much better than the last movie with such a political edge, the disastrous Captain Marvel (2019)—it still barely gives the rest of the squad apart from Harley Quinn, the chance to truly gel and deliver their own personal victorious moments.

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Speaking of characters, there’s no denying that Margot Robbie was given the opportunity to further cement her role as Harley Quinn with this movie, but can it be said the same for the rest of the crew? For those who have a special place for shows and movies that respect the source material for any adaptation, this one might hurt a little. Then again, it is by steering away from the source material that some of the most genuine and creative pieces are created but Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey was close to falling into its own trap here by looking to tick off a list of popular social justice concepts that are omnipresent in our various sources of entertainment today. That being said, the movie has looked into embracing some major changes that will probably not bother many non-comic-book-readers. Besides excluding one key member of the Birds of Prey (Barbara Gordon), several of the members in this movie went through unwarranted transformations that either worked for or against the overall superhero partnership.

The one that truly hurt was Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain who was reduced to a young girl with pickpocketing abilities whereas the original character is a mute daughter of assassins who either became Batgirl or Orphan. Then we have the ethnic change of Dinah Lance/Black Canary which would’ve been considered unnecessary but Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s performance was truly admirable despite the little emphasis on her backstory to make this change fairly irrelevant. Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya was also decent in the vein of portraying an older female character trying to prove her male colleagues of her value as a detective—although I had a harder time imagining her character taking on the potential role of the Question in the future. Furthermore, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s The Huntress was a joke in itself as her mean and ridiculous demeanor delivered an unmemorable and cringe-worthy take on the hero. Finally, Ewan McGregor brilliantly displayed a very unusual and disgustingly-narcissist Black Mask that worked well for the story arc presented here, especially in the hopes of potentially having these women take him down by the end of the journey. To accentuate his unjustified gay attributes was Chris Messina’s psychotically desperate Victor Zsasz for whom it’s safe to say that he was a mere tool for women empowerment more than anything else.

Despite the flaws that pirouetted onto the viewers, the movie succeeded in its ambitiousness and remains entertaining from start to finish. It is also one of the better action-oriented films delivered by DC so far and gives fans hope that the Worlds of DC universe isn’t ready to die just yet.

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020) is an exquisitely stylish and kooky cinematic story delivering its carnivalesque tale of female empowerment albeit its less-than-stellar substance.


EXHIBITA

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020) is now out in theatres.

Have you read any Birds of Prey comics?
Have you seen Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020)? Will you? What did you think about it?
Share your thoughts with me!

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30 comments

  • Oh man, I feel like DCU has died a long time ago and what we see now is just rigor mortis setting in… It’s like the Frankenstein’s monster, revived time and again just to garner some additional money from the voyeurs addicted to the flashy and mindless and willing to pay time and again for their next fix 😛
    I had some hopes for this movie, but after reading your review I have none left 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, with the US box office results for this one being a fail, I think DC should understand by now that this kind of movie might be counter-productive for their business. It’s a bit odd that they’re keeping the DCEU alive despite having no plans for Batman (besides the non-DCEU Robert Pattinson Batman) and Superman…

      Hahahah I would still love to hear your thoughts—or rant—on this one! 😜

      Like

    • Thank you so much, Nicki! You don’t even need to see Suicide Squad to enjoy this one too. Hope you have a fun time with it in due time! 😂 And yes, I discovered that after she exploded in fame with Wolf of Wall Street. She does an interesting faux-Brooklyn accent as Harley Quinn too. Some people however can’t tolerate it hahah 😂

      Like

  • Great review, but I doubt I’ll watch this one. I’m not all that familiar with the character or story, and I never got that deep into any of the Batman/Joker stories, either in comic form or movies. I’ve heard good things about many, and have watched a few, just haven’t been drawn to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Todd! I appreciate the honest thoughts. I feel like many do feel somewhat the same as you regarding superheroes in general. I have a fondness for them, since there presence in my life as a kid and discovering comic books have allowed me to appreciate them even more over the years hahah Hope you’ll still be able to check out some films that can be appreciated without any real knowledge about the characters (like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker).

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      • Yeah, I’ve heard great things about Joker, so that is one I may try. Who knows, I may even try this one some day. I have enjoyed many of the comic book movies, but looking back I think I read far more Marvel than DC as a kid, so I find myself more drawn to those movies. I am feeling a bit of overload though. I think Marvel is now doing with the movies what I hated them doing with comics, just pumping them out as fast as they could, sometimes pushing 2 issues of the same comic in a month, for as long any anyone would consume them, and trying to tie them ALL together so you had to consume them ALL to get the entire story. That ended up killing my interest in comics for many years, and I’ve found myself avoiding super hero movies lately, likely for similar reasons. DC doesn’t appear to have gotten there yet, though, so maybe I should give some of theirs a watch.

        Oh, and on a semi-related tangent, I did recently watch the Watchmen movie. I enjoyed it much more than I recall enjoying the comic in the day. So thanks for your review a while back! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, well, well! I’m really glad to know that you actually know your comics and the issues with the big two companies regarding their publishing schedules! It really can be killer but it’s a lot of fun, for now, to try and find those story arcs that actually stand out hahah

          Oh man, I’m really glad to gear that, Todd! It’s a precious adaptation. Have you tried the new HBO TV series though?

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          • I’m not familiar with the HBO series, so that’s a no. 🙂 I don’t currently subscribe to any of the big tv/movie networks (other than Netflix) so there’s a lot I’m likely missing. I do try to keep recommendations in the back of my mind, though, in case I ever get access and time.

            Liked by 1 person

  • Super interesting review Lashaan. I am not much of a DC fan and I basically know nothing about that universe, but this movie intrigued me, mainly to see Margot Robbie’s performance in what seems a very complex role. However, I tend to get very annoyed when movies – or directors – try to tick off a list of things to “please” the fans (social justice concepts, popular music or references, etc.) so I think I would be disappointed by this one! And this is why reading your reviews is so entertaining and useful! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Juliette! 😜 I’m so glad to hear that those very things annoy you as well. I feel like there’s an unfortunately heavy political accent to the story that I sort of don’t like executed as it was here. It still remains fun and especially very cinematographically beautiful, but if you’re looking for more substance rather than style, I feel like this one barely succeeds! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha I don’t always look for substance rather than style, but as I didn’t enjoy Suicide Squad that much I don’t feel to keen to try this one, but I’m sure the aesthetics are really great 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  • Now here’s a rarity – a new release, A DC film no less, you’ve since that I haven’t! I did originally plan to see BoP when it came out and I was enthused by the positive early reviews (and before that, bringing in the John Wick fight choreographer to handle the action reshoots) – but then I started to hear, from trusted sources, some more mixed things about the film. Your review is definitely one I trust Lashaan and I feel that my opinion will most likely align with yours, I think Margot Robbie is perfect as Harley and the action scenes sound great but a shame that the Birds of Prey themselves are sidelined. I still look forward to checking it out though, but at this point I’m going to wait for the digital release. Stoked for WW84!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahah it is indeed quite rare! And at least it is absolutely understandable for this movie. I had my reservations regarding this movie since the day they announced it, thinking that it was almost like a power move forced by actors–ahem Margot Robbie ahem–to get a movie focused on her character. I mean, I would’ve preferred her getting the Gotham Sirens movie rather than mixing herself into the Birds of Prey… But, as you’ve noted, the action scenes and the cinematography is quite excellent in this movie. It’s just that I felt like it was a typical case of style over substance. I definitely look forward to WW84! I do hope Cheetah won’t be the new Martha for DC though!

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  • Fabulously-written review! I’ve seen her in Suicide Squad(which I kinda left off halfway for reasons I forgot why) but your take on Harley Quinn’s character and fight choreography in this has made me interested in watching it.

    Liked by 1 person

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