“Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (Rated C)
Cast: Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime
Somebody’s on a roll!
After a few years of being an also-ran, after-thought, eye-roll worthy, and even laughing stock compared to its surging arch-rival Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has upped its game and is cranking out some memorable, genre-defying flicks.
Looking back at 2019, arguably the best comic book-based films were part of the DCEU.
Sure, Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” broke almost every box-office record. But compared to it and decent but underwhelming productions like “Captain Marvel” or “Spider-Man: Far from Home” (and some other films involving Marvel characters that aren’t worth mentioning), the DCEU releases – the surprising “Shazam!” and especially the controversial “Joker” – were the films that had moviegoers actually feeling something when they left the theater. (And with “Joker” many felt “conflicted”, “distraught” and “disturbed”!)
And it was “Joker” that ended up with the most Academy Award nominations of any film, including for Best Picture, and just won its star Joaquin Phoenix his first Best Actor Oscar. Poor “Avengers: Endgame” didn’t win its one and only Oscar nomination for visual effects.
Plus, anticipation is also running high about what DCEU has in store for 2020, with “Wonder Woman 1984” set for this summer.
And right now, we have…deep breath for this lengthy title – “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)”. A sequel to the not-that-bad 2016 “Suicide Squad”.
Margot Robbie, who stole that previous picture as supervillain Joker’s demented girlfriend Harley Quinn, is back in a film that is superior to the original film in every single way imaginable.
Just how significant was the playful, troublemaking Harley Quinn’s impact on audiences in and since “Suicide Squad”? In an unprecedented move, some theaters are reportedly now listing “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” as simply “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey”, because of the name recognition (and also probably because that title is just too long, and shortening it solely to “Birds of Prey” reveals not enough about what this picture is all about).
In the new film, it’s open season on Harley Quinn when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask, his right-hand/henchman Victor Zsasz and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women: Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya.
Robbie, possibly the most versatile actress around today, heads a fantastic cast, including Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) as Huntress, the legendary Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, 13-year old scene stealer Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain, Ewan McGregor as the evil Black Mask/Roman Sionis and Chris Messina (TV’s “The Mindy Project”) as Zsasz. The actors appear to be enjoying their roles, and the chemistry and comic-timing is notable.
Written by Christina Hodson, who penned 2018’s “Bumblebee”, regarded by some as the best of the wonky “Transformers” franchise, and directed by Cathy Yan, there’s a definite girl-power/female empowerment vibe. But it’s not done as awkwardly and as heavy-handed as last year’s “Captain Marvel”.
While “Birds of Prey” is worthy enough to have been a summer release, within the last decade February has proven to be a good spot to schedule adult-oriented fare against most of the garbage we normally see dumped on the big screen this time of year. “Deadpool”, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and of course the record-breaking “Black Panther” all thrived beyond expectations during this month.
Unfortunately, “Birds of Prey” hasn’t had similar results so far. While it was number one at the box office last weekend, the numbers didn’t match early projections. Hopefully word-of-mouth endorsements will help over the next few days.
“Birds of Prey” is definitely worth-seeing, and has so much going for it – thrilling action/adventure sequences, well-defined characters, a great sense of humor and, of course, Margo Robbie! What more could you ask for?
If DC keeps this up, I might almost forgive them for “Aquaman”!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.