Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), isn’t your standard comic book movie made in this day and era. Liberties are taken with the source material. What comes out of that, is a rather 90s to mid-00s-estic approach to comic book films. Some of it works, and one element so much doesn’t.
What works? Well, Margot Robbie continues off one of the few good things Suicide Squad (2016) gave us, in her delivering an exceptional performance as Harley Quinn. There’s a nice middle ground we’re given with her that feels like a dab of the various creators who worked on the character. A little Dini. Some Conner/Palmoitti. A pinch of Kesel and even throw Lieberman for good measure. There’s a lot of Harley from all them and then some.
Because let’s face it. This is a Harley Quinn movie with the “group” being an origin and second focus. So that by itself is people are going to accept or just not.
Out of the lot of quartet, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) has all the beats of her comic origin intact. Really, she was my favorite character of the entire film. Given this is Gotham, you’re about as had it with the justice system as Montoya is given the hoops she has to jump thru or deal with trying to solve this daunting case that just keeps getting crazier. I’m glad the payoff for her character is only half the journey.
That seems to be the case with every protagonist introduced in the movie. We’re only given half. Well, that is exception Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who’s given a complete arc, but uses her so darn sparingly in the movie. I get why, but there’s still a few moments that I’m still scratching my head at. Like, okay so she found out where Harley and Cassandra are hold up at. And– she’s the one who tips off everyone? Then she just up and disappears until the climax– because? It just feels like a scene or two with her character was missing in-between.
Finishing the trio of Birds is Jurnee Smollett-Bell‘s Black Canary/Dinah Lance. Much like Harley, there’s a lot of Bell’s Canary that I saw a lot of inspiration from the comics. Simone, Dixon, and surprisingly a lot of Fletcher. Much like Montoya, we see how much Gotham has taken a toll on Dinah, and how much she wants out the city/job with the heavies of the film. The thing is though, out of the three, Bell feels like the secondary character of the film, but is kind of introduced nonchalantly (and because of that like Montoya is the real secondary lead of the film). I mean I get it. This film is via Harley’s perspective, and her perspective is about as random as an article written by me. It’s all over the place. Still, Dinah and Montoya get the actual meat of the character arcs throughout the film. Though again, for one it’s a half journey we see into her becoming the Black Canary.
The villains of the piece? Black Mask and Mr. Zssaz (Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina) are just nastiness incarnate. Like Windstead’s Huntress, the movie uses McGregor’s big bad sparingly, but when he’s used. McGregor just keeps you transfixed on his variation of Roman Sionis, and there’s just an unsettling element about him in every scene he’s in after we see the sort of measures he does to his enemies). If anything, I was kind of wishing we’d see more of McGregor in the actual full-on mask. It happens only twice in the film, and I kind wish it was in the other moment when we see Sionis as he is, not the facade as he entertains his patrons.
The same with Messina’s Zssaz, but sadly he like Winstead he just feels underutilized. Like, during the start of the climax there’s a moment were he starts to come onto his own bit of variant, but just when you’re thinking we’d get more. I just wish we got more of this version of Zssaz, but it just comes too little too late for the movie.
Then there’s Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Now, I fully understand the motives the people behind the camera were going for here and why they chose such a deviation from the character from the comics. The problem is, the creators deviate a bit too much, and what we get in the film doesn’t really translate the heart of what the character in the comic is.
Basco the actor is amazing as Cassandra, being a nice moral compass and crux of the film. The thing is, the character bares little to no markings of the actual character. Yes, there are homages to various things from the comics the character is in. But this is a completely different character, and resembles more a character that was in an arc from the first Harley Quinn comic that Lieberman wrote.
And in that regard, it hurts. Like it literally does. Because well, you know how I preach and love the character. But there’s changing the character’s origin slightly (which Shadow of the Batgirl did amazing) and then there’s the variation we get of the character here in the movie. It just feels so muted and because of that the fans of the character got really robbed here.
The thing is though, this sort of thing could have been easily handled in the movie, by showcasing the character not being able to read when Harley and her raid the supermarket. Showcase, again just how bad Gotham has treated this version of Cassandra. That literally the street has been her upbringing. But nope we don’t get that. That really is the problem for me with the movie.
Okay, so you’re giving everyone else their moment, or showcasing the character from the comics. But for Cassandra we never really get that moment. As I said before every character feels like a half journey, and for Cassandra’s character it doesn’t even feel like we’re even halfway there. That’s really a disservice to the character. But then again, given what the company that owns the character has done for the twenty years the character has existed. This sort of thing isn’t new. It just feels so wrong, that everyone gets their character moment or beat but Cassandra. Instead, this just feels so off.
That’s really the great negative about the film I can say, because everything else is really flawless. The fact this movie has all these characters, and crammed all these beats is pretty astonishing. But director Cathy Yan pulled it off almost flawlessly.
The other amazing thing about this movie is just the action scenes in general. There’s just an utter brutal pop and crispiness to them. Each are perfectly paced and never exceed their time (unlike say a few times in 2018’s Aquaman). It also highlights each character and their style. With Harley it’s all over the place, for Renee it’s with whatever she’s got, with Huntress it’s lethal brutality, and with Black Canary she’s agile but packs a heavy punch.
Birds of Prey is yet another stellar entry in the DC catalog of films by Warner Bros. But, much as before the product just ain’t perfect. Well, save Wonder Woman for me. That seems still the diamond in the DC movie rough. There are two elements of the film you can either take or will not. For me one element didn’t bother me at all, but the other? Yeah, it kind of ruined my fun with this movie. Hopefully, if we get another entry (since it is making money no matter how much of a “bomb” some claim it to be) or if that Batgirl spin-off film does happen that Cassandra Cain fans kind get their moment. Cause we sure as heck didn’t get it here, even if the filmmakers did have good intentions for all the characters involved here.
3 out of 5