This movie’s title is wrong. Instead of ‘Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),’ it should be ‘Harley Quinn (guest-starring the Birds of Prey)’ (I dare you to say that sentence five times fast). I suspected as much after 99% of the advertising was Margot Robbie centered, but it’s still disappointing. This movie has an excellent cast that had me hoping that wasn’t going to be the case.
Harley Quinn (Robbie) and the Joker (Jared Leto) have broken up, something that’s odd after ‘Suicide Squad’ glorified their relationship. He spent the whole movie trying to rescue her. Most versions wouldn’t do that. Also, while the animated and comic version of ‘Mad Love’ was an uncomfortably realistic look at domestic abuse, ‘Suicide Squad’ noticeably toned down that quality of their relationship.
Harley’s not the only “dame in Gotham looking for emancipation.” We’ve also got Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett), aka Black Canary, a nightclub singer with a “killer voice.” Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), aka Huntress, a vigilante in the middle of a revenge mission. Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a detective not given the respect she deserves. And Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young pickpocket who needs protection, unlike the badass vigilante she is in the comics.
All of our lovely ladies wind up getting on the bad side of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), aka Black Mask, a crime lord who’s Black Canary’s boss and all-around reprehensible human being. He’s sexist, entitled, not nearly as sophisticated as he thinks he is, and has a massive ego that only thinly veils deep insecurity. All of which reminds me of a current politician I probably don’t even have to name.
Another thing about Roman is that he is heavily queer coded. Despite his possessiveness of Black Canary, he’s highly flamboyant in both dress and mannerisms. Plus, Roman seems much closer with Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) than your typical villain-henchman relationship. Montoya’s a lesbian like in the comics, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag makes it clear that Harley goes both ways. So with that in mind, why couldn’t this movie have made Roman gay or bi while making it clear that it has nothing to do with why he’s evil?
While we’re on the subject, my biggest question about ‘Birds of Prey’ was McGregor playing a cutthroat gangster. That’s not quite as out of leftfield as Kristen Wiig’s casting in ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ as McGregor has played the villain before, but that role relied heavily upon his gentlemanly demeanor. I tried to keep an open mind for both of them. After all, not many people probably saw Heath Ledger as a supervillain either, and saying that worked out is an understatement. So my final verdict is—he does what he’s supposed to, which is still much better than Enchantress (Cara Delevingne).
I walked into this movie expecting a raunchy, R-rated action-comedy like ‘Deadpool,’ and they do that a little. There’s a fight scene where Harley gets a boost off some nearby cocaine, but there should have been more like that. My biggest criticism of this movie isn’t that they went too far, but that they didn’t go far enough.
While ‘Captain Marvel’ has the main character battling misogyny on a more subtextual level, here, the leads deal with it much more overtly. The most stomach-churning part of the film is when Roman humiliates a woman in front of his entire club over nothing.
On a minor note, I was hoping this movie could clear up what exactly Harley ever saw in the Joker. I mean, despite the makeup artist’s best attempts, it’s still pretty boy Jared Leto, but his portrayal severely lacked the magnetism of other incarnations, like ‘Mad Love,’ where the Joker does seem just that charming and manipulative.
All in all, this is a fine superhero movie. It’s nice to see a female-led team – especially one this racially diverse – in a genre that women usually get shut out of. The success of this movie, along with that of ‘Wonder Woman,’ ‘Aquaman,’ and ’Shazaam’ should make it clear to DC that their films don’t always have to be so serious.