Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
February 6, 2020 9:05 PM - Subscribe

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord. (Note: I thought the title of this was "Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn" but according to IMDB it's not?)
posted by rednikki (35 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I went in expecting to love this film. And...I liked it, but I didn't love it. The action scenes are great. It's very funny. Harley, Huntress and Black Canary are all really great characters, and Renee Montoya is interesting too. Roman Sionis makes a great bad guy and Chris Messina as Victor Zsazs is tremendous.

But there was something missing for me, an emotional resonance, I guess. Harley gets over the Joker and gets her independence, but I would have liked to see her find just a little bit of meaning. Even if that meaning was "I fight villains who do bad things to women." I would also have liked to see some of Dinah Lance's stuff tie in a bit more to her mother and how she died. I felt like we could have gotten more of that story (in a flashback like Huntress) and that would have added the emotional layer I wanted. To a certain extent, I got a glimpse of it with Huntress, when she told Cassandra Cain "You shouldn't have to watch this."
posted by rednikki at 9:17 PM on February 6


Yeah, I liked this, but don't love it. I wasn't expecting much from it, though, so was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Cassandra Cain and Huntress. It was funny, the action scenes were pretty good, I liked the setpieces, and I didn't feel like it necessarily needed to be anything more. It was a good time, but I don't feel like I need to see it again.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:45 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I was really frustrated by the cinematography and editing, particularly during the fight and chase scenes. I can't believe I was bored by a confetti cannon. I also felt like they recycled choreography over and over for the fight scenes.

I felt like the actors, the costuming and the set design were all stellar, but they were all filmed in medium shots with no other coverage. If you're going to do a wacky technicolor cartoon, give me some POW and WHAM. There were giant hands that flipped back on springs and they were just kind of ... left there.
posted by queensissy at 5:10 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Saw it with spouse and her best friend; we all laughed our asses off through the whole thing.

One specific delight was the “I spent my whole life training for one specific thing and thus have no social skills whatsoever” take on Huntress.
posted by FallibleHuman at 2:20 PM on February 8 [8 favorites]


I liked it a lot. It's the first superhero comic-related movie that I've seen since Joker, and for me it functioned in a way that was kind of an antidote to Joker's overweening assumption of its own importance and gravity. Part of that may be because, if Cathy Yan took anything from Martin Scorsese, it was the propulsive energy and absolutely unsentimental attitude toward mobsters of Goodfellas rather than Todd Phillips' stodgy reverence toward Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. You're not going to see fanfic of Black Mask the way you do of Kylo Ren or Loki, because there's nothing cool or sexy about him; when he's having a bad day and a woman is laughing a little too loud in his club, he orders her to dance on a table, and her date to cut her dress off while she's doing so, simply because he can. (And Ewan McGregor, who can be one of the most charming people on the planet when he wants to be, perfectly refuses to give him any redeeming aspects; he is a pure asshole.)

And even the heroines aren't without their flaws, and not necessarily cute ones: someone's already mentioned Huntress' general social awkwardness; Harley's living in a self-generated chaos hurricane means that she can't even remember why some of the guys coming after her after her extremely well-announced breakup with Mistah J have a grudge against her; Renee Montoya tries to rope her ex-girlfriend into her crusade without telling her first; Cassandra Cain (nothing really like the DC comic version) is a pretty typical teenager; Black Canary is OK, but she does work for Black Mask for a while, so there's that. And I liked that approach a lot more than having to necessarily carve out time for everyone's origin story. Harley's and Huntress' stories were relevant to the plot, so we got that; we can find out what Dinah's deal with her mother is, whether Renee becomes the Question, and if Cass does something Batgirly or something else entirely, if/when there's a sequel.

And I hope that there is, and that Margot Robbie is involved somehow, because she's really the glue that holds it all together. I haven't seen Suicide Squad, so I don't know if she's about the same in that one, but here, she's really the glue that holds the movie together. I might hunt down Suicide Squad just for her, and am looking forward to James Gunn's sequel.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:06 PM on February 8 [8 favorites]


You're not going to see fanfic of Black Mask the way you do of Kylo Ren or Loki,

Oh my friend. You're going to see some fucked-up shit with him and Zsasz. But...probably not much in the way of woobification.

It was a little thin in places, but I enjoyed the gestalt, and Robbie as Harley is just a delight.
posted by praemunire at 10:24 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


I mean, Rule 34, of course, and there's some really disturbing stuff around the "death" of Stephanie Brown that I don't even want to think about. (The canon was bad enough.) But I mean the degree of woobification of Kylo or Loki that eventually crept out into canon itself.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:41 PM on February 8


yeah, i also 'just' liked it, and i also agreed that the editing and direction of the fights could've steadily leaned harder on Harley's chaotic energy - like, i really enjoyed more bits of the police station breakout (though the hallway beats were a little too long, enough for me to wonder about guns) than the funhouse fight, when it really should be the other way around. narratively though, it was quite cohesive, and the conceit with Harley's state of mind being reflected in the storytelling makes sense for me, i just wished it would gel together a bit more.

idk why i'm a bit upset with the Cassie Cain of the movie having little to do with the Batfamily, but eh, I'll live. I really do like each member of the Birds of Prey, and I want to see them again, especially with Huntress being the closest to the Hawkeye I wanted to see on screen. Anyway, something about this movie held me at a remove, though it is definitely not insufferable.
posted by cendawanita at 5:13 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]


idk why i'm a bit upset with the Cassie Cain of the movie having little to do with the Batfamily, but eh, I'll live.

Cassandra Cain's creation came in a pretty specific context with her father the assassin and her reeducation by Oracle. Take away that context and they might as well have just created a brand new character with a new name.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:59 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


I really liked it, saw it on opening night with a packed house of mostly over 30yos. I think I had a smile the entire time, Robbie is mesmerizing to me in the same way Ledger was in TDK.

McGregor had the audience absolutely rolling. I thought his comedic bits were okay but not at all on the level the rest of the audience did.

The fight sequences were excellent, they brought some of the John Wick crew over for choreography, but there were moments where I felt like guns were a problem, especially in the precinct but I feel like I should remind everyone, it's Gotham PD, they're basically as competent as empire stormtroopers.

For me it felt like a Burton Batman with just a shade more realism. I absolutely loved the funhouse set.
posted by M Edward at 11:25 AM on February 9


Cassandra Cain's creation came in a pretty specific context with her father the assassin and her reeducation by Oracle. Take away that context and they might as well have just created a brand new character with a new name.

*coughs* Cassandra Cain's mother was (by far) the better assassin; however, "Asian woman = deadly ninja who literally doesn't speak" is a trope that I can understand why they thought it best to leave behind, while still wanting to keep a Cassandra. Actual Cass with Harley would've been hilarious, but I guess they shifted some of that dynamic to Huntress.
posted by praemunire at 11:33 AM on February 9 [6 favorites]


*coughs* Cassandra Cain's mother was (by far) the better assassin;

I know nothing about the character besides what was established in "No Man's Land." Guess I'll have to hit the Cliff's Notes at Wiki.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:04 PM on February 9


I has a big dumb grin on my face from start to finish. Robbie in particular was a delight -- I skipped Suicide Squad so this is the first time I've seen her as Harley, and she's the best successor to Arleen Sorkin by a mile. All the set-piece fight scenes were a great blend of impressive choreography and outright slapstick (which also describes the movie as a whole) and I thought they did right by each of the four major (anti)heroes. Not so much for Cassandra, obviously, but I didn't mind; this movie's version of Cass is to Batgirl/Black Bat as Deadpool 2's Russell is to Rusty Collins. Good character, used well, but very little relation to the superhero with the same name.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:38 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]


Also, my Drafthouse screened this movie with an unlimited supply of sugary breakfast cereal and that was as perfect a pairing as I could ask for.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:40 PM on February 9 [9 favorites]


Comics Cassandra Cain is difficult to do without spending a lot of time establishing a few different layers of Batfamily, and while DC has lightened up a little over the past few years, they're still shying away from disgruntled orphan collector Bat Dad batman.

It'd be interesting if you did Oracle first without Batman (entirely possible: librarian Barbara Gordon stands up for the cause of Good, gets her spine broken for her trouble, she becomes Oracle). Then if you focus on the Oracle mentoring part, you can manage something similar to the comics without batfamily. But as praemunire mentioned, 'silent asian ninja girl' has its own issues.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the movie was that these characters were allowed their own interiority as opposed to just being a foil for the male characters (which you'd think would be a requirement of making them central characters, but I've read enough female-lead comics to not take it as a given). I think the place where it shows the most is Huntress - usually she's just a foil to show how Vengeance Is Bad (but also kinda sexy), and even the broad stroke 'Huntress doesn't people well' feels like a more fleshed out character than you usually get.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:29 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


Even the one detail we did get of her internal life -- she's very attached to the name "Huntress" but never got around to telling anyone else about it -- is great and rings true.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:40 PM on February 9 [6 favorites]


Oracle's story could easily be built into movie #2...the crime-fighting team discovers they could really use their Guy (Gal) in the Chair.

That scene where Huntress was practicing her delivery of the "they call me..." line was hilarious.
posted by praemunire at 2:51 PM on February 9 [6 favorites]


My biggest complaint is that I was expecting a team movie, but the squad doesn't come together until the end. Even the moments prior to that in which they interact are chopped up due to the non linear storytelling.

Thankfully the actors are all absolutely delightful. Their skill really makes the movie.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:18 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


A Gail Simone twitter thread:

I like her, she’s fun to watch, the actress is adorable (Ella Jay Basco) is great in the role. But she bears no resemblance to Cass.
I don’t think of it as an insult so much as a missed opportunity.

posted by 1970s Antihero at 8:55 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I liked this just so, so much. I've read a lot of comments from people who were generally fans that it felt empty at its center, and I don't feel that at all, but I also feel like I kind of want all movies to have "Chaos for chaos' sake" as a central tenet and this filled me with joy there.

Everyone was so good that it feels weird for me to single out Ewan MacGregor, who was at best the fifth or sixth most delightful performance, but who made exactly the right choice in finding a sort of uncanny valley for charm and charisma that is absolutely neither of those things, looks almost like them, and instead makes Black Mask out to be an utterly lame-ass loser.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:30 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]


I saw this again with a friend this week and, while there was no point that I was just deliriously out of my mind with joy, basically I was just pleased all the way through. I think this one will be weirdly rewatchable. (Except a bit at the end where there was a little too much Fog to Obscure the Lack of Budget.)

Also--if you pay close attention to the little animated history at the beginning--Harley is canonically bi! Bring on Poison Ivy!
posted by praemunire at 10:06 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I went to this with a friend last night with almost no information other than the title and that Harley Quinn was the focal character. Going in, she asked me if I'd seen Tank Girl.

I had never liked Harley Quinn, but it turns out that what I don't like is Harley Quinn: Straight Cis Guy's Fantasy, Even The Queer Parts. I really enjoyed this movie because it wasn't that. I loved the narrative style. I loved that we got her perspective on why she kept going back to an abuser, that was very real. I honestly think that a big part of what made her come together for me was roller derby, because I'd always been "who the hell is this person out in the world?" and once the answer includes "derby skater" it all fits together - smart, aggressive, athletic, very dysfunctional, dresses like that? Yes. Every move we see her make on skates would send her to the penalty box (yes, I used to volunteer as a ref) and she's not wearing adequate padding, but eh, movies.

My biggest unreality moment was when Harley is breaking Cass out of jail, and Cass is housed with adult men. Jails have different holding areas by gender, and they'd be planning to move her to juvie asap. She wouldn't be anywhere near adult male offenders.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:04 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I had never liked Harley Quinn, but it turns out that what I don't like is Harley Quinn: Straight Cis Guy's Fantasy, Even The Queer Parts.

If you go back to her actual invention by Timm/Dini, you find a character rather different from the turns she's taken afterwards. (For one thing, fully dressed! In that outfit you see in the animated intro.) This Harley feels much like their Harley, just rated R.
posted by praemunire at 1:25 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


I went in with as few expectations as possible. I was hoping for Huntress and Canary and Montoya being bad-ass, and I got it. Spouse had fun watching it too, and was relieved that it wasn't as badly-written as the WB series.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 7:45 PM on February 21


Just got back from seeing this — I only go to the premium offerings (in this case, IMAX Laser / Dolby) and I'm pretty sure it won't be playing those screens after this week. Also, I freakin hate the misogynist fan boys who don't like girls in their comic book movies — I've gone to see Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel on premium screens, too. I'd have to say this movie isn't as good as those two, but I still enjoyed it a lot.

Most of the fight choreography was outstanding — if some or much of that was Robbie, she must have worked her ass off for it. I felt like her fighting style was completely believable if you accept what you see on the screen: that Harley has world-class, almost superhuman agility.

Between "I, Tonya" and this, I'm sold on Robbie's talent. I've long been a big fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and I love her as Crossbow Killer Huntress.

This movie makes zero concessions to men/boys who need a central male character to identify with. It's awesome.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:44 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed this - more than I expected to. It was big silly action with some very creative fight scenes. Winstead was great as Huntress. Robbie is fabulous.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:39 PM on February 23


I felt like her fighting style was completely believable if you accept what you see on the screen: that Harley has world-class, almost superhuman agility.

My friend (who did a recent podcast on this for Graphic Policy Radio) says that Harley's superpower is that she's a Looney Tunes cartoon, and I think Robbie and the choreographers nail that feel.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:33 PM on February 24 [5 favorites]


she's a Looney Tunes cartoon

Clearly the world needs a cross-publisher fight between SpiderHam from "Into the Spiderverse" and Harley Quinn from this film.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:16 AM on February 25 [4 favorites]


In the last six months, I've seen two movies about Gotham City, and neither one had Batman in it. Interesting times.

I was confused but mostly delighted with this one. It adapted Harley into a salad of mostly non-Harley comics stories, but it hung together just enough to work. Did not expect the Huntress to steal so many scenes! "It's not a bow and arrow, it's a crossbow! I'm not fucking 12!"
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:42 PM on February 25


I'm sneaking out of work today to go watch it for the second time. By myself. Possibly with a breakfast sandwich. I loved every inch of it, and found it infinitely, incredibly, better than Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel and heads and shoulders better than any other superhero movie aside from Into the Spiderverse and Black Panther.

Also, the music videos for the key songs are so much better than they need to be. Doja Cat!!! And the song by Megan Thee Stallion and Normani , which addresses my only criticism of the movie -- that the Diamond dream sequence was too short. I wanted more of that hot pink jumpsuit! But that music video scratched that itch and threw in, as an extra, Harley roller-derbying up to the car of gangsters cut to the beat of the song.

And oh boy, now I get the Normani hype.

I LOVE THIS MOVIE AND I USUALLY HATE CHAOTIC ALIGNMENT CHARACTERS
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:35 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Just back from seeing it, and oh boy, I loved it just as much the second time. It's a bone-deep level of pleasure that I haven't felt with a superhero movie in a long time. Like, the moment in the police station when Harley's face comes out of the brightly-colored fog, and she is just as a brightly and cartoonishly colored?

It's also left me with a lot of thoughts about why, for example, so many people who like superhero movies didn't click with this one. And yeah, a big part of it is blatant misogyny.

But I also think it's because Harley plays to a fundamentally different power fantasy, especially in this movie -- like, when you look at Superman and Batman and Spiderman, there is a specific, repeated theme of divided identity. Each of them has a day persona and a superhero persona, and even though nerds have a lot of fun arguing about which person is the ""real"" one, the contrast is a fundamental part of the appeal. Bruce Wayne is a fun, high-living playboy without a care in the world, BUT HE IS SECRETLY TORMENTED BY THE DEATH OF HIS PARENTS! Clark Kent is a mild-mannered, sweet guy who is sometimes the subject of Lois Lane's contempt, but HE IS SECRETLY SUPERMAN WHO SHE HAS SUCH A CRUSH ON!!!!!! It allows people to enjoy pretending that they, too, are like Peter Parker who suffers in silence while listening to J. Jonah Jameson maligning Spiderman.

Harley is 0.0000000000000% about that. I mean, her origin story is that she is a psychiatrist who falls in love with her patient and abandons her entire professional career and sensible apartment and sensible shoes to engage in bizarre, murderous crime sprees with the Joker. Harley is a fantasy about not having to divide your identity, about giving in to the impulses that tell you to cross boundaries and follow your impulses and doing it in exactly the most wild, ridiculous way that your heart wants.

The movie begins at a point where those impulses, uh, have not been noble ones. And the movie is not about her stopping her impulses. I mean, it ends with her stealing Black Canary's car and roaring off with a pickpocket thief from the foster system and talking about how those boring do-gooders formed the Birds of Prey and are cleaning up Gotham. Instead, the movie is about how Harley learns she has good impulses, too! Sometimes, she wants to do good things! She does want to take care of this kid! She does not want to be alone and terrible and looking over her shoulder forever! She does want authentic human relationships! And she should follow her good instincts, too!

In real ways, the narrative arc of each female character is about her embracing a fuller identity -- Cassandra learns she doesn't want to push everyone away and that she does want to be loved and cared for adults. Maria starts to conceptualize a life outside of murder vengeance. Renee embraces an identity outside of being a cop. Canary steps off the sidelines and stops defining herself solely in terms of what she needs to do to survive.

I love it a lot. Oh my gosh, I am not usually one for redemption stories, but in a way, I don't think this movie is about redemption. It's about people learning that they are more than they think, and I badly, badly, badly want the sequin jacket that Harley wears at the end. It's office-appropriate, right?
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:06 PM on February 28 [12 favorites]


In the last few years, for some mysterious reason, I've really found my preference for resilient characters strengthening. (I wish "resilience" hadn't become a damn bootstrapping cliche, but...) You don't often get that in supervillain types these days, because they're so often just mysteriously unstoppable and semi-invulnerable, always popping up again like a bad penny or a jack-in-the-box, but I've always liked a supervillain that visibly is vulnerable in some weird way and gets shellacked by life but just does not stop (see, e.g., Smallville's take on Lex Luthor). You know:

When your laboratory explodes, lacing your body with a supercharged elixir, what do you do? You don't just lie there. You crawl out of the rubble, hideously scarred, and swear vengeance on the world. You keep going. You keep trying to take over the world.

Captain Marvel played heavily to this, which is one of the reasons I liked it better than Wonder Woman, but although Carol and Harley are 100% complete opposites, they do have this in common. Harley is a total disaster, but she never quite stops. She'll get back on her feet even if she has to feed a lecherous creep to a hyena or blow up a giant chemical factory to do it.

Like I said, totally mysterious why an American woman would find such stories appealing in this day and age.
posted by praemunire at 10:24 AM on March 1 [8 favorites]


I watched a YouTube reaction/review video today and a primary complaint by the reviewer was that she disliked that Harley wasn't planning anything out beforehand, that many of her escapes were just chance. I think where this reviewer was coming from, and with regard to female empowerment, was that this robbed Harley of agency she otherwise would have had.

This would be reasonable to me except that, in my opinion, it fundamentally misunderstands Harley's character.

Harley's superpower, in addition to freakish agility, is that she just does stuff on impulse and it works. That doesn't make her less empowered, in some ways it makes her more empowered—she's like a genius natural jazz musician, always demonstrating mastery in improvisation. Improvisation is her superpower. As it rightly should be, as Harley is all id, all the time.

Harley is like a (violent) manic dream pixie girl who doesn't exist solely to excite/liberate some repressed man, but purely for herself. Or, more generally, arguable the female audience.

I know very little about her comics history and background with the Joker, but it seems significant to me that no one is less in need of a MDPG than him and, in fact, he sort of made her. In this sense he wasn't the male narcissist who sees his own transformation resulting from a woman who he imagines exists for that purpose; but, rather, the Joker is a narcissistic man who attempted to recreate himself in Harley. That creates a conundrum because such a person couldn't possible be happy tethered to him and in his shadow. And she wasn't. It took her awhile to figure that out. Furthermore, she's her own person, not a recreation of the Joker. She's similar to him, but he's angry and she isn't. She is hyper-violent and amoral, but that's not at all the same thing as being malevolent. So yeah, she learns she can do good things, too! Unlike the person the Joker tried to make her be.

And, as a man, I can only come at this tangentially, but it seems to me that this is truly an empowering model for women because, basically, the one thing that really threatens men is for women to truly Not Give A Fuck.

I think her spontaneity is central to this. It really seems significant to me that, typically, the MDPG's spontaneity is always a means to an end for some man. It's really about him, it's almost like the MDPG isn't really a person in her own right. But Harley Quinn's emancipation is all about her being this sort of person wholly for and within herself. And I think her apparently careless improvisation is an important part of that. I was reading some of the EL thread again yesterday, and I can't help but feel that Harley Quinn is an answer to a lot of the feelings expressed there. She's not here to deal with your shit. You're gonna have to deal with her.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:50 PM on March 1 [10 favorites]


When your laboratory explodes, lacing your body with a supercharged elixir, what do you do? You don't just lie there. You crawl out of the rubble, hideously scarred, and swear vengeance on the world. You keep going. You keep trying to take over the world.

"When life gives you lemons you squeeze them, hard. Make invisible ink. Make an acid poison. Fling it in their eyes."

"When you can’t bear something but it goes on anyway, the person who survives isn’t you anymore; you’ve changed and become someone else, a new person, the one who did bear it after all."

Very different character, but similar elements of WILL NOT STOP until they are dead.
posted by happyroach at 11:35 PM on March 2


I know very little about her comics history and background with the Joker,

Always worth noting that the comic version is an adaptation - the character is originally from the early 90s batman cartoon, and only later appeared in the comics. Which I appreciate because a) I like the character and b) I dislike the "but the comics" crowd. This one's not yours, sorry!

Just watched this tonight, and it was fun. It's strange how much my perceptions of DC continuity have been shifted by Arrow. I know several of these characters mostly or entirely from their appearances there, although they've been fast and loose with regard to characterization more often than not. So it's interesting to see them in a version closer to core continuity.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:14 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


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