If Marvel Studios called dibs on Christmas, Yule, Flag Day, Homecoming, Kwanzaa, International Women’s Day and Easter, then DC Films has nabbed Mardi Gras with a woman emerging from a party backdrop.
“Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation … )” brings back Margot Robbie to play fan favorite Harley Quinn after the character’s film debut in the 2016 “Suicide Squad.”
“Birds,” five minutes in, is acrobatic in terms of how many things it accomplishes, seeding a definitive, concrete and tragic personal backstory for the film’s anti-hero that builds on her story as adapted from the 1990s Batman cartoon. The film also addresses its lack of Joker and Batman cameos without much exposition or derailing the narrative from focusing on the main protagonist. This Gotham City is grounded as a place of normalized organized crime, that Quinn enthusiastically ruled over with her “Puddin’,” the Joker. Or at least until they broke up, and thus, the story turns Quinn’s existence upside down.
Since DC’s failure with “Justice League” in 2017 (it was bad, very bad), the team comprising DC Films and Warner Bros. has apparently taken the exact opposite approach Marvel has taken. The films that make up the main-line DC Extended Universe are in-continuity with one another, but unlike Marvel, they are mostly self-contained franchises that have distinct tones and styles. Yet, you will rarely see a cameo or direct narrative connective tissue between DC films these days. In fact, DC’s “Joker” and “The Kitchen” — yes, that was a DC film based on the Vertigo Comics imprint — both out in 2019, were in completely different continuities; the former being what comics fans call “elseworlds” stories.
Wait. Wait, wait, wait, I need rum if I’m going to do this review justice. Hold on a moment. (Cliff goes to the kitchen to get rum, with Ice and Artisanal Hibiscus Juice he made himself.)
OK, I’m back.
This is not just a feminist film; this is a fuck-yeah feminist film that drives right past the tropes of women in film and presents women whose liberation is all their own. Hell, this was just a stylish, fuck-yeah film in general, with societal commentary, grit and fourth wall breaks. Hey, folks, what’s up ;). There’s a reason why “emancipation” is in the title. Neither Batman nor the Joker are necessary in this story at all, despite it, yes, being a spin-off.
To all the so-called woke men, including the jackass writing this — jeez, he’s pretentious: This film will certainly make you question how much you’ve internalized patriarchy with each scene that subverts our expectation of media depictions of women’s traumas and/or a hostile patriarchal world. Moreover, one need only look at the villain to see this.
The main villain of the film is Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask, a major crime boss and street-level human supervillain from the comics. While Black Mask is known for his criminal grudge with the Joker and his confrontations with Batman, in the comics in the last several years he has had an intense hatred and several confrontations of Harley Quinn. McGregor doesn’t just present a compelling psychopath — after the acquittal of Donald Trump in the Senate by his homeboys, it will be very clear who inspired this depiction of Black Mask. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Black Mask is the Trumpian villain.
“Birds of Prey” itself balances the character development of each supporting character with Harley Quinn magnificently as well. The characters of Black Canary and Huntress, played by Jurnee Smollet-Bell and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, respectively (Cliff looks over his shoulder for flying daggers), are so very good that the former eclipses her small-screen Arrow-verse counterpart! Moreover, Smollett-Bell presents a kick-ass, deep, witty and conscientious anti-hero that makes Venom, Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly or … Star … Star-Prince … Star — dang, I forgot who I was talking about — long story short, she’s amazing. She’s up there with Daredevil — the Netflix version. And of course, the folks at Marvel Studios are kicking themselves for not casting Mary Elizabeth Winstead as either a rebooted Rogue or Jean Grey right now; Huntress is as cool as her name implies.
If I go through each character and go on to praise Rosie Perez for her engaging and brilliant performance or Ella Jay Bosco’s complex, fun and endearing performances as Renee Montoya or a re-imagined Cassandra Cain, then we’ll be here for another 500 words and I gotta get to bed.
Oh wait, did I mention that Harley Quinn went above and beyond tastefully breaking the fourth wall throughout the film? Yeah, she does. It looks like Deadpool may have competition, and in fact, when it came to the scenes in which she broke the fourth wall, it wasn’t just to move the story along but was grounded in the character that the comic was adapting. As alluded to before, the character Harley Quinn originated in the 1990s acclaimed “Batman: The Animated Series” as a side-kick and very problematic love interest to the Joker. Since then, she’s been featured across DC’s media. Part of her character is her insanity intertwined in her brilliance. She was a practicing psychiatrist in the comics. Thus, the fourth wall breaks don’t just reflect the chaotic nature of her psyche; they also served as a fun wink-and-nod to the audience amidst John-Wick-level violence. Oh, did I mention that this film has an R-rating and has the fighting and action choreographer from “John Wick”? Yeah. That’s for real.
All in all, this was a brilliant ride that will make DC fans cheer and Marvel fans want to give the Extended Universe another shot. As we begin 2020 with the Senate seemingly not caring at all about Constitutional Democracy (takes a sip) and with the child-in-chief seemingly content with continuing his petulant and vicious behavior, we’re in for a quite an election year. Just like Harley, perhaps we can all find a little emancipation from those who think of others as “their things.”
P.S. Kudos to the real Shero here for taking mercy on a broke lecturer and supplying him with “inspiration juice.” I love you more than you know, M.
Read the full Feb. 12-18 issue.
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