FilmGator A private user reviewed Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
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Since Wonder Woman that the DCEU has not missed a beat. Even though the latter is still my favorite of the universe, I have mostly a positive opinion about Justice League, Aquaman, and Shazam! Yes, these are not the greatest comic-book movies of all-time, but I would be lying if I denied that I was entertained. Birds of Prey follows the same path: it's fun, action-heavy, and it boasts a phenomenal cast. It has some issues regarding the actual plot and a few characters, but I'll get there.
First of all, let me get the mandatory compliments to Margot Robbie's performance out of the way. If there's a DC character better than Harley Quinn for Robbie to portray, please let me know, because I think she's absolutely perfect as a lunatic, over-the-top psychiatrist-turned-psychopath. Suicide Squad might be a total mess, but I doubt anyone denies how Robbie fits seamlessly into the Harley persona. From her looks to the way she speaks and from her physical movement to her facial expressions, there's just no better casting.
She embodies the whole film's chaotic vibe and even contributes to the (very) colorful set design. However, she's not the only one who delivers a spectacular performance. Jurnee Smollett-Bell offers a surprisingly captivating display as Dinah Lance / Black Canary. Even though Harley Quinn is the main character, I found myself caring a lot about Dinah. Her way of living suits the character's personality like a glove, and she's undoubtedly the best-written secondary character of the movie. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the others, and this is one of my biggest issues.
It's a film packed with cliches and attempts of making the characters aware of those cliches, which is also, well, something pretty overused. What's more generic? Having the bad guy telling the hero their masterplan or having the hero stating how the bad guy is incredibly dumb by thinking of doing that? At first, I laughed, and I thought it was funny the way Christina Hodson was avoiding to write straight-up cliche characters by making everyone else aware of the way these talk or move.
But the whole "I know you're cliche, so you can get away with saying or doing cliche things" only works for a couple of scenes, not an entire movie. This is why I wasn't able to connect with Renee Montoya or care about her narrative at all. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of my favorite actresses, but she has the least screentime of the entire cast. I never criticize a film for not giving an actor/actress I like a more important role (unlike other people, I believe it would be unfair to do so). Still, I do complain if I think a particular character should have been given more screentime, which is the case of Huntress.
I find her backstory way more exciting and emotionally investing than Rosie Perez's character, but sadly Huntress' personal story serves only as a not-that-surprising third act twist. There are several past-present transitions in the storytelling, most work, but some feel extremely abrupt. Nevertheless, Winstead is outstanding every single time she's on camera! Ewan Mcgregor offers a good performance as the villain, but he leads me to my other major issue: the central plot. Trivia time: a MacGuffin is an object, device, or event necessary to the narrative and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself.
The thread that connects every single character is based on one of the most overused MacGuffins ever. Now, don't get me wrong: a MacGuffin is NOT a synonym of bad writing or of a bad plot! It's merely something that leads to nothing. Having in mind that Birds of Prey is a character-driven movie, a plot centered around a MacGuffin is not unusual. As long as every character works, the primary story can simply be a passenger (Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood applies this method). However, in Birds of Prey, not every character has an interesting story...
Basically, Christina Hodson's screenplay isn't exactly bad, but it isn't great too. Just like the film, it has its ups and downs, and I saved some of the ups for last because I do want to end this review on a positive note. Finally, a DCEU movie where the action isn't overwhelmed with CGI, but with detailed choreography and long takes instead! Thank you, Cathy Yan, for bringing some of the best action sequences in this universe. Even if the third act gets a little sloppy due to the amount of characters, it's still a very satisfying ending. The score beautifully accompanies the action, and the visuals are truly gorgeous to look at. The comedy bits are on-point, I laughed quite often, but my final remark goes to a topic I rarely address...
Birds of Prey is a filmmaking lesson on how to produce an incredibly diverse movie without it feeling forced or unnatural. Only AFTER leaving the theater, I acknowledged the fact that the cast and characters are from various races, cultures, and have different sexual preferences. Why? Because this film doesn't waste its runtime by having its characters mention how black, white, Latinas, Chinese, gay, or whatever they are. They simply are what they are, and we all have eyes to see them. Congrats to Yan, Hodson, and everyone else who decided to treat the characters as if they're humans like every one of us.
In the end, Birds of Prey (and the ridiculously long subtitle) continues DCEU's streak of (at least) good movies since Wonder Woman came out. With a phenomenal cast led by an outstanding Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Cathy Yan delivers some of the best action of the entire universe in a genuinely entertaining superhero flick. A colorful, chaotic, and fun vibe is present throughout the whole runtime, as well as a pretty neat score. However, Christina Hodson's screenplay lacks creativity. The main plot revolves around the most overused MacGuffin ever, and some characters are straight-up taken from the book of cliches. It's a generic comic-book film with a formulaic narrative, but one that possesses enough fun and entertainment to overlook the typical story.