Comics Movie Reviews
Birds of Prey the Movie
By Hervé St-Louis
February 10, 2020 - 09:46

Studios: DC Films, LuckyChap Entertainment, Kroll & Co. Entertainment, Clubhouse Pictures
Writer(s): Christina Hodson
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Produced by: Sue Kroll, Margot Robbie, Bryan Unkeless
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: 7 February 2020
Rating: R (Restricted)
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures

Harley Quinn has broken with the Joker and seeks her emancipation from the Prince of Crime. Embroiled in a diamond heist stolen by Cassandra Cain, a young pickpocket, the villainess is trying to stay alive long enough to serve her new boss, Black Mask. But other slighted women in Gotham City are also trying to rebuild their lives. Will Black Canary, the Huntress, and Detective Renée Montoya stop Harley Quinn or join her?

This movie is a sequel of sort to 2016’s Suicide Squad featuring mostly Harley Quinn while the other Birds of Prey are merely supporting characters. This is different from the comic book’s Birds of Prey where at most, Harley Quinn has been an opponent, not a member of that group. Calling this movie, the Gotham Sirens after Gotham-based female group in the Batman universe might have been a better bet. Harley Quinn, along with Poison Ivy and Catwoman are the core members of the Gotham Sirens and are usually opposed by Batgirl and Zatanna, mostly in the Bruce Timms comics and cartoon universe. As the characters in this film, except for Montoya were presented as villains a movie titled around the Sirens or featuring them would have been a better fit.

While in the comics, Black Canary started out as a villainess too, it was revealed pretty early on that this was a sham played by the character who used a modus operandi similar to the Green Hornet and Robin Hood, She pretended to be bad so that she could get close to her villainous target and defeat them. But this is something the senior Black Canary did. The Birds of Prey in the comics are good gals. The core of their team is indeed composed of Black Canary and Huntress. For various reasons, the third seminal member, Oracle/Batgirl was not available for this film. This is not an issue.

The real issue is the misuse of Black Canary and Huntress in the film to highlight Harley Quinn. Some reviewers have argued that Black Canary and Huntress are minor characters in comics. That is incorrect. While they are not A-listers, they are certainly not C or D-listers. Both have had series of their own, years before Harley Quinn was unveiled to the public in the Batman Animated Series. Black Canary is one of the few female characters at DC Comics who is not modeled after a male character. She is like Wonder Woman, while not having the same stature. She was a member of both the Justice Society of America in the original 1940s comics and an early member of the Justice League of America in the 1960s. She was the second woman to Wonder Woman in those comics. The Huntress was created at first as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, and newer versions made the daughter of a crime family in Gotham.

Both Black Canary and the Huntress have appeared extensively in the Arrow television series and the universe build around that series on the CW television network for several years. These characters are not unknown or minor, as some reviewers have argued. They have extensive fanbase and followings in comics, cartoons, and television. In the Birds of Prey movie, they were nothing but accessories. Black Canary faired better but the Huntress was barely in the movie and had few lines or things to do.

Instead of burning the name Bird of Prey, Margot Robbie and Warner should have named the film Harley Quinn. It’s really what it was. The movie’s revenge fiction against male characters will destroy opportunities for the characters to have their own solid film without Harley Quinn. I dislike revenge fiction be they about taking it out on men like in Birds of Prey or evil Nazis, like in Inglorious Bastards. These are gratuitous and unpleasant. Margot Robbie fell in a typical trap in fiction featuring women trying to stand alone against their related male characters. Often, the big mistake is to feature the male characters as absolute jerks and the women as Mary Sues. Funny enough, Black Canary’s first mini-series published in 1991 did just that. In that comics, writer Sarah von Byam transformed Black Canary’s boyfriend, Green Arrow into a jerk that pushed away the heroine. This ploy was out of character for Green Arrow but was seen as useful to establish independence from the male character. Well such attempts at independence are in name only as the characters emancipating herself does so only in opposition to the male character. Hence, she continues to be defined by that male character even as she defies him. She is but a shadow of this character.

This conundrum is well known in social theory and why feminism, much like Marxism are often referred to as being critical approaches who criticize an orthodoxy and a hegemony as opposed to just charting their own path. What’s worse in the movie is that the Joker’s presence was only hinted at. I understand that Jared Leno did not want to be used in this film but there were no real threats or consequences of him trying to dump Harley Quinn from his life.

This kind of weak narrative is found in other aspects of the film. Black Canary was not a singer in Black Mask’s club because she was undercover as a double agent, which would have been in continuity with her past. Actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell said in interviews that her character, Black Canary did not want to help the police or use her powers because of what had happened to her mother, presumably, the first Black Canary. Well, this motivating factor was not apparent in the movie and it felt like she was more afraid of Black Mask and Victor Zsasz. This of course, did not make much sense as Black Canary is supposed to be a superior martial artist and hand to hand combatant. In the comics, she’s one of the best.

But that aspect of her character was not apparent in the film. Margot Robbie reserved all the best fight moves to herself, and to follow the film, you would think she is the better fighter of the two. Margot Robbie was selfish as a producer and barely allowed the other characters to shine while allowing men to be bashed at every turn. I lost count of the number of crotch shots taken during the various fights. Crotch shots are often a test of poor, uninventive, and anti-male action moves in films. Speaking of hand to hand combat, it seemed that Harley Quinn’s only move was to flip a guy around on his back during a fight, when he wasn’t being shot in his crotch.

The colours and the cinematography were much better but they were often reserved to highlight Harley Quinn instead of the other cast members. I was unsure about viewing this film. I went to the first showing available as I had time to kill that Friday afternoon. While the movie is not boring and has enough action, it seriously delegitimizes men and barely use the rich characters it featured, except for Harley Quinn. I read that this was supposed to be DC’s answer to Deadpool. Well, I dislike Deadpool for much the same reasons. I dislike revenge movies where the main character thinks she or he is too smart. Such films make transform their characters into Mary Sues who cannot get hurt (permanently) and always win. If you resisted seeing this film, I cannot blame you.

Rating: 6.5/10

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