Birds of Prey and Harley Wrestle With Their Past

First I want to say that I greatly enjoyed Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. I also want to say that this review will be as spoiler free as possible. I might let a detail slip here or there, but I have no interest in ruining anyone’s fun. What I will talk about is the movie making, and the themes of the film. Beyond woman power (which is something I wrote about here), there is heavy focus on the personal histories of the characters. Birds of Prey and Harley is about many things, and has a lot of good action, but at it’s heart it is about the characters wrestling with their past.

The picture shows a poster for Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.

Harley’s past is most on display, which makes sense. She’s the biggest character in the film, and she is the POV character. And then of course there is the whole Joker thing. Here’s a mild spoiler: Joker is not in this film, and he and Ms. Quinn are no longer an item. It’s this breakup that sets things in motion, and also establishes the need for Harley to reflect on her actions. She is a product of her past actions, as we all are, and she needs to come to terms with that. As we all do. Here’s another mild spoiler: if you’re worried this means Harley grows up and gains a heart and all that, don’t be.

Detective Renee Montoya is another character in the Birds of Prey and Harley show who is trying to reconcile her present with her past. However, instead of an ex-lover screwing her over, it was her ex-partner. Now, she’s older and gets no respect from anyone. She’s good at her job, but that doesn’t matter. After all, she’s past her prime and an alcoholic.

Birds of Prey and Harley Kick Ass and Forget the Past

The next character to discuss from Birds of Prey and Harley is Black Canary. Here is a woman with a mysterious and violent past. We don’t know much about her, except that she’s suffering. She’s made some poor choices and is now reckoning with them. This connects her to the rest of the characters, but Canary’s story is a little different. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t say how it’s different. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

Finally, Huntress. Her whole arc is predicated on a horrific event in her past. She’s not trying to overcome it or process it. No, she desires vengeance.

Even Black Mask, the villain, is defined by his past. He grew up rich, traveled the world. Then his parents cut him off and he made himself a fortune. All of these characters are connected thematically because their actions are made in response to historic moments in their lives. This is the stuff of superheroes and superhero comics. Additionally, it adds dimension to these characters who don’t always feel fully realized on the screen.

Privilege Comes in Many Forms

In a subtle bit of commentary, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn addresses privilege. The first stop is again with Harley. As Joker’s gal, she can pretty much do whatever she wants. This is privilege gained through association and fear but it’s still privilege. In fact, it’s white privilege. Now, the movie doesn’t put it in these terms, but that’s what subtext is for. Furthermore, this idea becomes one of the many plot threads that run through the movie. Harley is positioned as powerful, not because of what she can do, but because of who she knows. Yet another obstacle for her to overcome.

Black Mask is uber-privileged as well. He’s a rich kid turned gangster. He has money and control. Again, his power comes from fear, but a whole lot of cash money doesn’t hurt either. In Black Mask we see white male privilege. He sees something he wants and takes it. If he can’t have something he wants, he throws a fit and kills people. Oh my god, he’s Donald Trump!

Interestingly, Renee Montoya is a victim of privilege as well. Her ex-partner, a man, stole her glory. Now, her partner was black, so this isn’t white privilege. But, he is a man, so this is male privilege.

All of this portrayal of privilege embiggens the story, and helps make the movie feel a little important. Granted, there’s not a deep dive into these issues, but they’re there. And I think Birds of Prey and Harley is better for the inclusion.

The Review Type Stuff

The Good: he performances. Yes, we all knew Margot Robbie could play Harley Quinn, but the rest of the Birds of Prey were great, too. Rosie Perez as Montoya was fun. Jurnee Smollet-Bell was a breath of fresh air as Black Canary. Mary Elizabeth Winestead was a great Huntress, even if she had a diminished role.

But the real scene stealer was Ewan McGregor as Black Mask. He was at turns funny, smooth, manic, and always terrifying. McGregor brought menace to the role that really made the character feel scary and gross. Because Black Mask is scary and gross. McGregor was an inspired choice here.

Beyond the performances, the character interactions were amazing. Everyone had excellent chemistry with one another, which made the movie a joy to watch.

Speaking of joy, the action was fun as hell. There’s lots of punching and kicking and other martial art moves. And it’s all well choreographed, easy to see, and fun to watch. If you like to see sexy women beat the hell out of sexy and unsexy men, then this movie is for you.

Also, the whole look of the film from the lighting, the costumes, and everything else pleased me. I loved the look. I understand it may not be for everyone, but it was definitely for this kid.

The Bad: While I did like this movie a lot, there were some things that bugged me. Mostly, the parts that didn’t make a lot of sense. There was one scene near the end that was especially egregious. I have an issue with nonsensical things in movies because they can so easily break the illusion. And that’s what happened in the scene I’m talking about. It didn’t ruin the movie, but it did sour me for a minute.

Harley Gets Development but the Other Birds Of Prey Feel Lacking Sometimes

I know I said I liked the characters, and this whole post has been about how the filmmakers fleshed them out. However, I still take some issue with everyone not named Harley Quinn or Black Mask. These two get the most screen time and the biggest character arcs. That’s understandable as they are protagonist and antagonist. However, Canary, and Huntress especially get the short shrift. As does Montoya, but her character is so familiar to viewers that we don’t require much development of her character.

Some might say that the shortened running time is responsible for the lack of depth in some of the characters. However, I don’t know if that’s it. I think the movie used the characters how they wanted, and would have probably done the same even if they had more time. The lack of depth in some of the characters was not a deal breaker for me, but I did notice it.

Overall Verdict: I liked this movie. It’s not the best movie ever, but it was quite enjoyable. It’s got action, humor, drama, and more. A note on the humor: there’s lots of jokes, but they don’t often undercut the dramatic tension. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they enhance it. It’s really a well-made film.

If you liked Robbie as Harley in Suicide Squad, see this movie. If you love the Birds of Prey comic, see this movie. It’s true the versions of the characters are different, but they are worthy. Does the idea of watching good looking women beat up on people and form a bond of friendship appeal to you? See this movie.

Have you seen Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

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