Friday, June 26, 2020

That Harley Quinn Birds of Prey Movie

I had much the same reaction to Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn as to Suicide Squad. There's low-rent fun to be had here in this crass tale of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) striking out on her own after leaving the Joker. Robbie reprises her role from Suicide Squad, but is forced to carry much more of the story this time around. The script makes Harley the film's narrator, often telling events out of order or forgetting key points. The idea is fun for a few minutes, but this isn't Rashomon or Memento. It's a B-movie with delusions of grandeur.

On the bad side of mob boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), and no longer under the Joker's protection, Harley finds herself working off a debt by tracking down a young street thief (Ella Jay Basco) in possession of a diamond far more valuable than anyone realizes. She's also got to stay one-step ahead of Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), the film's cliched one good cop in the city.

Like Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn offers some fun moments, lots of violence and trash-talking, an impressive style, and a host of plot problems that can never completely be rectified. For example, even the film's best sequence in which Harley take out an entire police station makes zero sense as the police are the cops are Three Stooges level incompetent (those that even try to stop her). On top of the dumb-action premise, it does have a strong girl power message, even if it's only as half-baked as the rest of the film. It's also curious that for all the film's bluster it's far less crazy and bloody than DC Universe's animated Harley Quinn series which relies on many of the same plot ideas (stemming from life after Joker) but with far more flair.

I'm not sure why the character of Black Mask was chosen for the story when the plot refuses to put McGregor in the comic book villain's mask for 90% of the film. It's his name! And by the time it does bring the mask into play in the closing minutes you are wondering what's the point? McGregor could have played any number of Gotham scumbags so the choices for his character here are perplexing on multiple levels. Teaming him up with a poor man's Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) certainly doesn't help sell him as a legitimate criminal figure in Gotham.

Equally bizarre is the casting of Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the haunted vengeful Helena Bertinelli. Don't get me wrong, I love Winstead, but this is amazingly bad miscasting (I mean we're talking Tara Reid as an anthropologist or Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist casting level blunder). Haunted and vengeful are not two characteristics that scream out when you think Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Throw in downgrading Cassandra Cain from arguably the DCU's best hand-to-hand combat expert to a pickpocket with no sense of self-preservation, and you've got some character problems.

Of the rest of the cast, Jurnee Smollett comes off best as the more modern Black Canary (less bad-ass crimefighter and detective trained by a who's who of DC heroes and more lounge singer). Eventually, Harley's path with cross with both Canary and Huntress as the trio will look to team-up against Black Mask in order to survive. While far removed from my favorite version of the character, Smollett at least offers someone else interesting on screen to take some of the load of Harley who is stretched pretty thin over the course of the film.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is available on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K, and various streaming services.

No comments: