Okay, I can’t lie. The DC Cinematic Universe has a tendency to be all over the metaphorical map. Wonder Woman… Suicide Squad… The Joker. It seems impossible to try and track the progression of this franchise. One minute they’re riding high… the next, they’ve taken three giant steps back.. I mean, Martha! I was (admittedly!) not a fan of Suicide Squad, so I wasn’t sure what to expect walking into Birds of Prey. Would this capitalize on some of my most favorite elements of the DC Extended Universe? Or would things fall as flat as Superman’s acting on a bad day. Well, here’s what you need to know about Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
Birds of Prey hops right back into the rather infamous universe of Suicide Squad and shows audiences exactly where this world could go as Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) realizes that there is more to life than “Mister J” after breaking up with the clown prince of crime, and decides to strike out on her own. When Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) unwittingly falls into the sights of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) thanks to her pick-pocketing the Bertinelli Diamond, the “Birds of Prey” are suddenly formed. Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jurnee Smollett–Bell co-star. Cathy Yan directs the film from a script by Christina Hodson.
Birds of Prey is an absolutely welcomed breath of fresh air to the DC Universe. In fact, this is the movie Suicide Squad should (and could!) have been. Yan gels beautifully with her team of actors to create one of the most fun, quirky and even human comic book films in recent memory. And… these aren’t terms which always necessarily work in the DCEU.
Birds of Prey carves itself an entirely new spot in the pantheon of comic book movies. We’ve seen women top lining marquees thanks to Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. Heck, We’re starting to see women creators behind the camera who aren’t afraid to toy with the ever-present male gaze. However, this is one of the first times where we’ve seen women completely in the drivers seat and it is refreshing.
Hodson and Yan craft a tone which comes unapologetically from a woman’s perspective. Little moments speak volumes whether it be Harley Quinn giving Black Canary (Smollet-Bell) a hair tie in mid-fight, Sionis finding a tampon in Harley’s back pocket during an interrogation or even… yes boys, sometimes all we care about is getting a good egg breakfast sandwich. Yan doesn’t craft these characters to fit into the unforgiving mold of a comic book woman. These women are real, they are relatable and they kick ass.
That being said, Yan manages to take the usually gritty DCEU and elevates the brutality in the action scenes, showcasing some of the most interesting, inventive and brutal fight choreography of late. Birds of Prey doesn’t pull any punches. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen quite so many bones snapping in all the MCU movies combined. Yan stages an impressive action sequence mid-way through the second act in Gotham City jail which combines some fascinating set pieces with brutal violence, yet a well-crafted dash of Harley Quinn raises things to a new level.
Meanwhile, there are some definite star making turns all the way through Birds of Prey. Jurnee Smollett-Bell absolutely shines as Dinah Lance/ The Black Canary. Her take on the hero is, in a word, fierce. She steals the show throughout, managing to show Dinah’s complexity through even the smallest look. The script doesn’t lay on the backstory overly thick, but it doesn’t have to. Smollett-Bell shows where Lance came from, and who she is as she interacts with everyone else in the world. While the actress isn’t a newcomer to Hollywood, here’s hoping this is the role which propels her over the top.
At the same time, Mary Elizabeth Winstead takes what could be a throwaway character in The Huntress and makes me hope for a cinematic spin-off of her own. Helena Bertinelli was one of the heroes to first open my eyes to comics and watching this portrayal, I suddenly remembered why I liked her so much. While Winstead doesn’t get as much screen time as the others, she parlays what she gets into some delightfully memorable laugh lines, finding a buried sense of humor in a character which can sometimes be a challenge. I need more of The Huntress, please.
While Birds of Prey may not be the most grounded of DC’s cinematic faire, this movie is one of its most human. Cathy Yan manages to bring together a disparate group of heroes and manages to find humanity and camaraderie in the pairings. And this is one of the biggest successes this film. Everything comes together on screen and is an absolute joy to watch. It’s fun, it’s empowering and I won’t lie, it made me feel like I could take on the world.
Will Birds of Prey work with all audiences? Not necessarily. It is brash. It’s flashy, and it is a definite departure from the tone of the DC films as we know it. However, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. It’s tremendously exciting to see the DCEU giving Yan this much room to direct such a fascinating movie. When looking at the scale of the franchise and examining this movie with the work Patty Jenkins already began with Wonder Woman and what’s still to come with James Gunn’s take on The Suicide Squad, there are great things waiting in the wings for the DC Extended Universe. Here’s hoping they can stay on a good path.
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn hits theaters around the country tomorrow.