Sunday, 9 February 2020

Birds Of Prey and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

The Riled Bunch

Birds Of Prey and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
2020 USA Directed by Cathy Yan
UK cinema release print.

Well, this film may not be the greatest action movie that’s been out there in recent times but it’s certainly distracting enough in that it never stops moving and really doesn’t give you any time to disengage from it before the next thing happens. Part of this is due to the flash backwards and forwards structure of the first half of the movie (the better half) and if this seems deliberately entangled to the point of a lack of clarity on the timeline at one point (yeah, I got just a little confused until I realised it wasn’t actually the police that picked up Harley Quinn in the earlier part of the film), I suspect the film would have been somewhat less potent if cut together in a more linear fashion. This structure also allows Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (reprising her role from the earlier Suicide Squad movie, reviewed here) a chance to strengthen her character’s relationship with the audience by seeming to control how the movie plays out and also giving her some ‘Deadpool-like’ ‘breaking the fourth wall’ moments.

Now, we have a fine dramatis personae of strong female characters played by some exceptionally good actresses here... in addition to Robbie we have Rosie Perez playing Renee Montoya, Jurnee Smollett-Bell playing a totally different version of Black Canary to the blonde, fishnet tight wearing version of the heroine I used to read in the 1970s (who was romantically linked to Green Arrow), the always watchable Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain (who I think is running around as a new version of Batgirl in the comics these days?) and the always reliable Ewan McGregor letting his hair down as the main villain, Black Mask.

Now, my only real problem with the movie is that... well, I’ve never read any of the Birds Of Prey comics but the main attraction for me reading one would be the main character Barbara Gordon as team leader Oracle. Now I remember purchasing the excellent one shot/graphic novella The Killing Joke back in the 1980s where former Batgirl and daughter of Commissioner Gordon was shot in the spine by The Joker before he presumably raped her and took naked photos of her writhing on the ground. Unlike many of the more adult and experimental one shots of the day though, this one was firmly placed in Batman continuity so, instead of getting up and walking away, in the comics that came after, Barbara Gordon was confined to a wheelchair but became the eyes and ears of the team which eventually was known as the Birds Of Prey, Oracle. A pretty important character if you ask me but she’s nowhere in the movie and, since Black Canary is also absolutely nothing like the character I used to read back in the day, I think I can safely say that this new movie is about as close to the source material as... insert an engaging metaphor for something being completely far away from the source material as you can get right here folks. Which kinda sucks for fans of the comics but, since comic book continuity for me doesn’t really count for much after the 1980s (it’s just the way I am), then I’m not all that bothered about it either and what that does for me is allows me to look at a film like Birds Of Prey and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (a character who isn’t really in the Birds Of Prey comics as a team character at all) with no pre-judgement on how poor an adaptation it is.

That being said, while the film is certainly clever... I’m not sure I’d agree with everyone who is saying it’s a really fun movie. It might be that some of the jokes weren’t to my taste (I think I only laughed once about two thirds of the way through and I can’t remember what it was I laughed at now) but it certainly wasn’t a dull movie and, if I really wanted to resort to the critical cliché lurking like an elephant in the room then I may even call it a rollercoaster of a movie... I won’t though so I’ll trust the reader to insert their own rollercoaster analogy in here too please.

Okay, let me dispel another bizarre rumour that I’ve read on Twitter over the last few days... this movie is, despite popular opinion on the matter, absolutely nothing like the 1966 Batman movie in tone, editing style or... well, really anything. I don’t know why people are saying that but, seriously, if you are going to go to the cinema expecting something that tonally similar to the good old days of Adam West then, well, I think you’re going to be disappointed. And, yes, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed in the movie but I really didn’t have time to dwell on that because the whole thing moves so fast, to be honest.

So... in a way I feel like this movie is a bit like the new, female Ghostbusters attempt of a few years ago... nicely put together with some nice chemistry between the actors but the humour falls really short of target. Also, I was surprised about the rating the movie has. Over here in the UK it’s a 15 certificate but I think it could maybe have been a 12A. I’m guessing it’s not scenes like cutting people’s faces off and throwing them on the floor in front of their loved ones before doing the same to them which got this film a higher rating because, frankly, as nasty as that sounds (and it’s certainly supposed to be to give Ewan McGregor’s villain a certain threat level), it’s handled in a fairly bloodless manner. I think it’s probably the amount of profanity in the movie that’s got the rating up there somewhere where very few superhero movies have been before.... or masked vigilante movies anyway (since this version of Black Canary has that silly canary scream which they added to the character fairly recently in 1969, I guess it’s almost a superhero movie, to some small extent).

Daniel Pemberton’s score is... I dunno, I couldn’t hear it through the sheer noise of the sound effects foley for the most part. He’s a great composer though and luckily for me they are releasing his score on a proper CD in a few weeks so I’ll be able to hear what is probably another in a long line of works of great musical art from this guy away from the punches, gunshots, revving motors and explosions of the film. Yeah, that’s one thing I will say, this movie is a really noisy experience... I kinda wish I hadn’t seen it in IMAX now but the time that performance was on was the more convenient for me.

And that’s about all I’ve got to say about Birds Of Prey And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn. This is a good movie to distract you from the troubles of the outside world and that’s a good deal of what certain kinds of cinematic art are supposed to do, for sure. That being said, it’s nice if certain stand out moments from a movie stay with you and lurk in the mind for a while afterwards and, frankly, I got out from this just a few hours ago and have forgotten an awful lot. The best thing in this movie for me was Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing Huntress for laughs... so I’m glad the original character was nobody I knew about or was invested in. If you liked Suicide Squad and even DC movies like the recent Joker (reviewed here), then you’ll probably be okay with this one. I don’t know if these will continue to tie up with the DC universe the way it’s going at the moment but... well... time will tell I guess.

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