Film Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

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Bird Watching 

Warning: This review alludes to the film’s ending.

This spin-off from Suicide Squad, with Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn, has a plot mapped out like a toddler’s doodle. It takes most of the two hour-plus running time to get the titular Birds into the same room, and having done so, gives them a single thing to do together before they go their separate ways.

The parent movie was also a structural misfit – it had one act drawn out over two hours. Perhaps, to adopt the tiresome metacommentary that’s heard throughout Birds of Prey, that’s unfair – maybe the plot better resembles the giant target on Harley’s living room wall. There’s a single idea at the centre – teen pickpocket steals diamond coveted by crime lord and new free agent Quinn is told to bring her in or be killed – and lots of concentric story circles that orbit this centre, thereby enlarging a story that told straight would barely fill out a ten minute short.

Cathy Yan’s movie is full of sound and fury, but it’s an empty and overcooked spectacle that manages the unforgivable double whammy of being witless and boring. Your eyes grow weary of the DayGlo colour scheme, reminiscent of that other DC-inspired disaster of yesteryear, Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies.

Schumacher at least, exerted full control over his material, even if that material was toxic. Yan’s coarse, cokehead sensibility, makes for a disjointed and dispiriting film about nothing; a movie with dubious feminist credentials that ultimately amounts to a group of thin characters, who never transcend their signature traits, piling pain and physical injury onto a succession of psychopathic males.

Maybe women will cheer, but this male audience member felt like he’d had a mobile phone kicked at his head, or his legs broken, or his groin pummelled, and was left without a single joke or memorable sequence that he could point to that had alleviated the gloom.

The world of Gotham is supposed to be a depressing place – through irritatingly in the DCEU it’s just New York redressed, but Birds of Prey, content to be nihilistic and mean-spirited as an end in itself, gives the audience not one character it can engage with emotionally or psychologically, leaving them adrift in a world of sensory overload and fetishized violence. In short, it’s trash, and deserves to sink without trace, like Ewan McGregor’s body parts.

Directed by: Cathy Yan

Country: US

Year: 2020

Running Time: 109 mins

Certificate: 15 for Ewan McGregor's gruff but still terrible American accent, glitter bombs, and the absence of Jared Leto.

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