Image description: A close-up photograph of Harley Quinn’s face, as she pouts and faces the camera, her gaze looking over the lens. In front of her face fly small versions of various birds, as well as characters from the film. These characters have bird wings, and hold various weapons.
By Rashdan Ramli
Three years after Suicide Squad (SS), can this new crusade bring an epic team-up film into the DC Extended Universe (DCEU)? Well, kind of.
The story follows an emotionally-distraught Harley Quinn. She’s broken up with The Joker after the events of the last film.
This has led to some tension with a few former allies; in particular, Roman Sionis, a.k.a. ‘The Black Mask’, played by Ewan McGregor.
First and foremost, I had a pretty good time watching this film. BoP (Birds of Prey) has some solid action sequences; they are well-shot, engaging, and “comic-book”-style. And, rather than completely retconning, BoP does a good job of poking fun at its past in a more tactful manner, with its small, witty references throughout.
Something I noticed about BoP is that it’s not really a movie in its own right, but, arguably, a setup film or a prequel. And it functions well as a set-up film by using a familiar character; a classic move in film franchises. Of course, most of us have already seen Harley in SS, and one of the things this film does really well is course-correcting – unlike some other multi-franchised film trilogies *coughs Rise of Skywalker*.
That being said, whatever you thought of SS – good or bad -, one of the few things it had spot on was casting Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She makes the character believable – from her small quirks and nuances, to the emotional depth of her character. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also a really entertaining version of Huntress to watch, even though she’s not in much of the movie. I have to say I was a little disappointed by this, as I found her story arc the most compelling.
I liked that this movie gives us a more in-depth glimpse of Gotham City as a whole; a significant portion of the story takes place during the day. That’s kind of unusual for a franchise notorious for serious and dark settings. Sadly, Ben Affleck’s departure has made seeing more of Gotham City difficult. It may be some time before we get an opportunity like this again, as 2021’s The Batman and last year’s Joker are set to be independent film arcs that share no relation to the present DCEU, outside of being a potential parallel universe.
On the matter of The Joker and The Dark Knight, the absence of their characters is definitely noticeable in this film. Despite many references being made to Leto’s run as The Joker, a lot of the camerawork intentionally hides his character, leaving it open to potential change.
Affleck’s Batman was almost never mentioned, nor to be seen throughout the film, due to Affleck’s departure. One would think at least some sort of mention or reference would be made to justify Gotham’s only protector being completely absent from the story. How can Gotham exist without Batman?
That being said, the film shines in its final act. The team-up and action sequences make for a visually-satisfying and enjoyable spectacle. This was the tone that I yearned for in SS’s final act, which was pretty choppy, and had a very lackluster team-up that felt unearned. In the last act of BoP, however, the team dynamic that we get in many of these big superhero team-up films emerges.
However, the biggest let down has to be the villain. Now, don’t get me wrong – Ewan McGregor acts fantastically in his role. He rarely gives a disappointing performance. In fact, initially, I really liked the character. He’s eccentric; menacing; has the possibility of a decent backstory; and McGregor is a good actor. What more could you ask?
Black Mask, however, suffers from wasted character development syndrome. There are genuine moments where McGregor is more animated, and I really enjoyed that. In some ways, that makes the disappointment even worse; it just gave me hope that maybe Black Mask would be done right. And then, he isn’t.
I find that the best villains are the ones that make you question where your sympathies lie. Having seen the emergence of more complex characters, such as The Joker and Eric Killmonger, in recent years, BoP’s non-substance villain just detracts from the film. I feel the film started with what could have been a very good antagonist, but, by the end, reduced his significance and actual presence for the sake of the BoP’s overarching theme.
Films like these are meant to be re-watched over and over again. That’s where this genre thrives. I don’t know if this is that kind of film. As much as I love watching Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Ewan McGregor, this film just really didn’t hit me like previous entries from the DCEU did.
Three and a half mallets out of five.
Image courtesy of Warner Brothers