The ultimate extension of fantasy for a ‘female’ nerd like me is to get the opportunity to kick some balls and smash some evil jaws with a baseball bat! Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn was the perfect example of that fantasy. I am one of those few people who enjoyed Suicide Squad; no it was not a great movie, but a mismatched patchwork of visuals and potential narrative. I loved Harley Quinn the most because Margot Robbie was living her character. We all know how hard DC is finding it to crack into the cinematic business, so after the darkly delicious Joker, it most probably has increased the standards for its next ventures.
Harleen Francis Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn, is a character I grew up watching on television, she was this crazy girl who could unnerve Joker and annoy the hell out of Batman. So it was really cool to find the movie opening with the animated origin story of this antagonist. Recently dumped by Joker and trying to find her way in this crime-ridden city is not an easy job. Harley is a mess, is the perfect exaggeration of the crazy ex-girlfriend trope and a mockery to the post-breakup scenes from rom-com. She is partying hard and drinking more, chopping her hair in rage and crying alone, and once the news of her break up with Joker is on air, life becomes pretty hard.
Did I enjoy watching Harley the break legs of Roman Sionis’ chauffeur? I sure did! I mean we all love a crazy without a cause; like Missy from Doctor Who, Harley of Birds of Prey is bananas. She pets a Hyena and names it Bruce after that ‘Hunk Bruce Wayne’ (was that a shout-out to the next Batman, the extremely good looking Robert Pattinson? I hope it was).
This cinema was definitely a movie about girl-bonding, but it was never intended to be so. Harley is following her own tune, while Dinah Lance aka Black Canary is trapped as Roman’s little bird; Renee Montoya is the detective trying to climb the ladder of a very sexist police world; and Helena Bertinelli aka The Huntress is plagued by revenge, though throughout the cinema they try to build up her identity through omission and misnaming her as the crossbow killer, it was really not a hard to discover her true identity.
It took me a while and two re-watches to type this review, first of all, life threw me a curveball of massive depression and second, I really didn’t want to over-geek about it, but this movie cheered me up so much. As a viewer, I went to watch this cinema with very limited knowledge of DC Universe. Sure, I know the main timelines and character origins, but my love for DC grows from the Animated Series that I gobbled in the late '90s and early 2000s. My study of this movie happened in correlation to what I remember. How do you see the world of Gotham, a city that is more popular than some of its villain characters? What is Gotham without Batman and Joker in focus?
This movie is the underbelly of that "What", Harley lives in that part of the city, as Joker’s girl, and picking fights with petty criminals, and not being Joker’s girl has its consequences. A woman without a support system and connections will always find it hard to survive and to make an impression in her chosen profession, be it as a Police Officer or Crime Lord. Four parallel stories run in the movie–Revenge, Redemption, Rebellion, and Reconnection—and they are all narrated whimsically by Harley, who uses the classic trope of ‘woman as unreliable and distracted narrator’ to full potential. There was never a dull scene. The brightest moment was when Harley in lucid moments of sanity becomes her psychiatrist self and utters psychologically profound advice.
I read too many reviews over two months calling this movie a rollercoaster of feministic zeal. Some labelling it at as so dull and others just ranted about it being a woman-centric movie! Duh! Did we watch the same movie? Roman Sionis is the crazy villain, aka Blackmask! He is ruthless and insane and most of all a psychotic bully. Black Canary is his little bird to manipulate, all because he saved her from the streets! Worst is Victor Zsasz who keeps egging Roman to become much crueller, and he is incompetent in his own work too, as he keeps losing a diamond or misses out on targets. He is crueller, hates women, and he manipulates Roman into becoming worse than he already is. Especially the scene where a harmless laughing Erika is made to stand on the table and tear her clothes because Roman thought she was mocking him, and Victor kept adding to this misinterpretation. That was a powerful scene because the lenses of power have been reversed. We see the bully getting excited from his bullying, but from the angle of the victim.
What this movie lacks is not male-centric narrative but the male gaze. No pushup bras and tight t-shirts for Harley! No uncomfortable costume for Black Canary that makes one worry about her nether regions, and Huntress's awkward personality with a cool functional costume. And Renee Montoya’s knuckle busters are glamorously scary, and Harley’s shorts have pockets! And the most important part was Harley offering Canary a rubber hair tie while fighting the thugs; do males have any idea how difficult it is to fight with a head full of long curly hair?
There should be a special call-out for Cassandra Cain, played by Ella Jay Basco, the street smart orphan kid in and out of foster care not trusting a single adult. Cain is breath of fresh air, she is a terrible kid and her relationship with Harley is fun to look at. And her costume was so sensibly done; oftentimes I see young actors are put into clothing which is not age-appropriate and often caters to an audience who should be in jail.
The action scenes were so fun to watch; there is no shortage of action, from Harley fighting random dudes on the street, to being chased by a car, to Black Canary saving a Drunk Harley, to Huntress popping in and out with a crossbow, and Renee moving around the city in anger. The final action sequences were hilarious to view on the big screen. And that ending was so good that my partner and I kept yelling from our seats. If you haven’t seen Birds of Prey yet, you must.
And I understand the pain of not being able to eat that one cherished cheese sandwich too, Harley. I do.