Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Birds of Prey: A Review


BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN)

I genuinely don't know what to make of Birds of Prey, this addition to the DC Extended Universe. It's colorful, loud but it is also repetitive and unnecessarily long despite being less than two hours long.

Our unreliable narrator Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) tells us that after her breakup with the Joker, she finds herself hunted by everyone whom she has wronged now that she is no longer under his protection. That's a lot of people in Gotham, but it ultimately narrows down primarily to two. One is Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a Gotham City Police Detective who despite cracking major cases always loses credit to her male partner.

The other is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), criminal kingpin who also goes by Black Mask. His psychopathic nature gives Harley a run for her money, but now she is the one on the run. To save herself she offers to return a teen pickpocket, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), to him. She stole the Bertinelli Diamond from Roman's right-hand man Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), unaware of how important the diamond is. 

Etched in the diamond are the account numbers of the exterminated Mob family, which will give the owner a mass fortune. Sionis wants it to rule Gotham, but his plans are now up against not only an unstable Quinn and relentless Montoya but Helena Bertinelli aka The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who seeks revenge for her family's execution. Into the mix is also Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett), a singer at Sionis' club who has been shanghaied into being his driver. 

With Sionis now after all of them for various reasons, it's up to this ragtag group to join forces.

I figure Birds of Prey screenwriter Christina Hodson was attempting to echo Harley Quinn's voice through the rambling narrative, flashbacks and eccentric worldview. However, she and director Cathy Yan didn't know when to rein things in. The lengthy stream-of-consciousness manner to Quinn's voiceovers takes on less of a demented manner and more of a dull one. It takes a full eight minutes before we actually start the film, and that's after a three minute self-consciously cute animated opening where we hear Harley talk about her abusive childhood and bad romance with Joker.

Birds of Prey soon takes on a convoluted manner where things seem to spin wildly out-of-control. We have Harley for example about to raid the police station to get Cassandra, then pause to get her narrating of what happened prior involving the stolen diamond and Dinah's rescuing of Harley from being taken advantage of. Yes, I know it comes from Quinn's crazed point of view but soon it becomes rather repetitive. I felt taken for a ride as I had to sit through yet another tangent.

Add to that a certain repetitive nature in the fight scenes. It seems that every time someone was about to get into a brawl, it had to be accompanied by a song and slow-motion. Yes, at times it was visually arresting, such as a deliberately cinematic fight at the police station with the sprinklers going off and the battle at the theme park ride The Booby Trap (which I figure was a pun). However, again it becomes rote and predictable. One or two fight scenes with this kind of set-up would be fine, but why did almost all of them have to have them?

In terms of performances they vary wildly. Robbie knows Quinn well and delivers a strong performance as our unhinged yet weirdly peppy criminal. Anyone who can shout "YOU KILLED MY SANDWICH!" with intense sincerity is going for gold. You can also see flashes of Harleen Quinzel pop out, particularly whenever she adopts a calm tone to psychoanalyze the person's motives or actions. On the opposite end is McGregor, unleashing his inner camp demon as the wildly theatrical Roman Sionis. With no filter to hold him, McGregor is relishing the outlandish over-the-top cartoonish nature of his villain.

I would think McGregor was playing a spoof version of a villain, but there it is. 

The other Birds of Prey were on the whole well-acted, even if Winstead's mob version of Grand Duchess Anastasia seemed a bit blank. Perez did well playing it mostly straight (and no that's not a bisexual joke). 

I think a major issue with me is that for a film called Birds of Prey, the actual creation of the Birds of Prey seemed almost an afterthought. As I have little to no knowledge of comic books, I was surprised that the Birds of Prey were a vigilante group which Harley has contempt for. I thought it would be her own Legion of Doom, but the mixing of the anticrime Birds of Prey and the master criminal of Harley and her new apprentice Cassandra seems a curious mix.

Birds of Prey is a bit too violent for my tastes and while one can appreciate the effort to be that mix of wacky and whacked-out, it didn't quite pull it off for me. It's a bit of a letdown, especially as it takes over an hour for all of them to finally come together. Lots of noise, lots of color, lots of tangents but not a lot there.   

DECISION: F 

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