Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

"Your protection is based on the people are scared of you. And Mr. J. But I'm the one they should be scared of. Because I'm Harley Quinn."

What a wonderful surprise. And what a well-needed dose of vigor for the DC extended universe. It’s no secret that cinematically, DC has been lagging far behind Marvel for the past several years (with the exception of Wonder Woman.) But there is one thing DC comics has on screen that Marvel doesn’t have locked down- and that is a continuing focus on a wealth of strong female leads. This movie capitalizes on that.

Here, DC took two of their own very different, but wonderful ideas and melded them into a cohesive movie with a strong theme and execution. I think that’s why this movie succeeded where Suicide Squad failed. The title says it all. 1) Birds of Prey, an all-female hero team-up and 2) the emancipation of Harley Quinn from the Joker. That is, coming into her own character, no longer to be used as a prop for the Joker or comic relief. Take note, Gotham. Harley’s not a “joke” anymore.

The rest of this review contains SPOILERS so don't read past this kitten if you don't want to be spoiled...



There were many things to love about this movie for me. I’m going to geek out for a minute- Birds of Prey is comic book canon. All of these characters are featured in the Batman universe. They eventually got their own comic book line titled, of course, Birds of Prey. And it was pretty freaking awesome, especially when Gail Simone was at the helm- one of DC’s most legendary writers. She’s written characters as popular as Wonder Woman and set a new standard for how women shine in DC comics. This movie definitely took a few pages out of her playbook.

I was surprised by how faithful to the comics this movie was; except for a few minor changes. In the original BoP comics, Oracle (a.k.a. Barbara Gordon) is the third permanent team member. Here they switch her out with Montoya, who in the comics is featured either in law or on the police force in Gotham, which was fine by me.

I particularly loved how they portrayed Dinah here; though it is quite a departure from her mainstream character. BoP is not the first cinematic vessel to capture Black Canary on screen, and she is usually portrayed, in both the comics and the screen, as more of a do-gooder than she is here. In the comics she has sat at the JLA table. The fact that she was ferrying Black Mask around of all people was somewhat of a shock, but I felt like it opened her up for a more interesting background and major character development. In the comics, Dinah’s mother wore the mantle of Black Canary before she did and the fact that Montoya vaguely hints to that, with Dinah parrying that her mother’s death was the reason she didn’t trust cops, was more realistic and hard-hitting for me. I like this new rendition of Canary. The actress is absolutely gorgeous too. Her singing “It’s A Man’s World” in Black Mask’s club was very fitting.



Huntress (a.k.a Helena Bertinelli) was very likable as well- maybe even more so than she is in the comics. In the comics, she has tension with Batman because she doesn’t agree with his no-kill rule. It was fun to see her running around exacting justice on some very bad guys without him harping on her all the time. The fact that she was yelling back at Dinah that she didn’t have rage issues was humorous and parallel to the comics- and that was right before she takes out a goon in the slide (and Harley says to her “You’re so cool. :) ). Renee was tough, resilient and smart as well, working hard to deliver justice in scummy Gotham, even in spite of being screwed over by her department and watching her promotion be handed over to her male partner.

However, I was unsure of whether I liked such a huge change to Cassandra’s character. In the comics, Cassandra is the new Batgirl after Barbara becomes Oracle. She’s very skilled in martial arts- no surprise, considering who her mother is: Lady Shiva, who very well could be the best martial artist and assassin in the DC universe. I have a soft spot for Cassandra’s Batgirl from the comics; she and Shiva are two of my favorite DC characters. And even though this Cassandra was enjoyable in her own way, her becoming Harley’s apprentice was a major, MAJOR rewrite of her character. Harley and Shiva couldn’t be more different. Though they’re both technically morally neutral, (or yes, evil on their bad days) Harley’s an anarchist while Shiva adheres strictly to combat rules and etiquette. So the jury’s still out for me on whether I liked such a huge change.

In other news, I am absolutely thrilled that DC Comics has, in effect, acknowledged their error of chaining Harley to the Joker for so long. That part at the start where she’s saying she was the brains behind many of Joker’s operations but that of course he wouldn’t tell anyone about it, was sobering and refreshing. Harley has been a fan-favorite for a long time. She’s fun, interesting, strong, bold and complicated, and deserves her own storyline. ANY woman deserves her own storyline, apart from a man, honestly. It’s interesting that they decided to move her more from evil to chaotic neutral alignment. DC must have recognized how much fans loved her and figured we’d like to see her a little less as a homicidal psychopath. They were right, as far as I’m concerned. Always fun to see her inspiring anarchy though. (Bean bag grenades, anyone?) Margot Robbie is just genius in this role.

On the subject of villains, in the comics, Roman Sionis, or Black Mask, was a run of the mill villain to me and in this movie, Ewan McGregor made the most of him. He was menacing and yet eerily charming, and in some parts, even made me laugh. I had no idea Black Mask took his victims’ faces though. I’m going to quote him and say, “Ew.”

I cannot overstate how good the action is, either. The director asked for tips in the fight scenes’ choreography from John Wick’s director, and it shows. I have never, ever seen women fight like this in a movie- that is, fight like men. Because certainly they’re capable of it, you just never see it on screen. Usually, you see them pulling hair or at the very least, holding back. Not in Birds of Prey. They are executing razor sharp martial arts moves and using weapons such as baseball bats and mallets to take out men bigger than them, and it’s realistic. I had a huge smile on my face during most of the fight scenes. The final scene where they’re all standing together, looking down on their handiwork was just awesome and a major girl power moment, after a minutes long montage of them kicking ass and working together. It felt like a turning point in cinema to me.

Which leads me to what I loved most about this movie. In my opinion, DC, while struggling with the takeoff of the DCEU, does one thing so much better than Marvel- and that’s feminism. DC isn’t afraid to continuously put women front and fore-center. Captain Marvel, while very good, doesn’t hold water compared to Wonder Woman and Birds of Prey. Both movies are infused with a love for women, and it shows. BoP gently and quietly points out the problems women face in today’s world while celebrating what makes women… well, women. From Montoya missing out on the promotion to her male colleague, to most of Gotham only taking Harley seriously because of her ties to the Joker, to a few scenes that felt imminent with danger of sexual assault, to Black Mask calling our heroes “little girls” several times.

And then, in response, it makes our heroes shine, not just because of their amazing fighting skills and take-no-crap attitudes, but because of who they are. As people, and as women. I absolutely loved scenes like Harley stopping to look at a pretty purse during a chase scene, painting Cassandra’s nails, and talking about getting cosmos right before they’re about to take down a whole squad of henchmen. I loved them sitting around and having margaritas and tacos after defeating most of Gotham’s baddies, even more. Girl’s night on steroids. I also loved how they were lifting each other up as well; instead of getting entangled in competition and jealousy against each other. It’s so important for women to lift each other up.

“See?” You can almost hear the movie saying. “It’s possible to be a badass AND a woman both.” Hear, hear!

Interesting details and tidbits:

Harley cut her hair off with scissors after her break-up, and immediately started crying about it. Funny, and something a lot of women who have been through a bad break-up can relate to.

Harley kept running into people who had grievances with her. There were too many to keep track of. In the list of grievances Black Mask had against her, there was “spoiled lots of movies” “interrupted him once” and “peed in his Brita” among other things. There was also “have a vagina” and “voted for Bernie.” I’m guilty of those last two as well.

The outfits were stunning and chic. Dinah’s gold pants were something, and Helena had purple feathers on her cross-bolts (NOT arrows). She wears purple in the comics. Harley was in a chase scene in a blinding glitter and caution tape sweater. Wouldn’t that make it kind of her hard for her to get lost in a crowd?

I really liked how the women wore sexy yet practical clothes without it feeling like they were being objectified- a problem that has persisted in a comic book world that at times has felt like it’s drawn by men for men. Any woman I know would roll her eyes at the thought of fighting hand-to-hand in fishnets or a leather catsuit unzipped to her waist. :)

It was great seeing Harley driving a minivan, shopping at a grocery store, and griping about the price of fancy bottled water. That felt like a shout-out to the moms in the crowd. And all our heroes took care of Cassandra in the final fight scene, like a bunch of pseudo-moms.

Why would Dinah have her phone laying out on the dash like that, complete with the messages coming up fully displayed on the lock screen? Yes, I know, plot device. Zsasz had to find out somehow. But still. Why wasn’t it in her pocket? Or at least, the messages locked?

It was implied Black Mask and Zsasz were romantically involved. I’m not sure if that’s canon, but it was definitely interesting. Zsasz even seemed jealous of Black Mask’s fondness for Black Canary.

Renee has questionable taste in women. Her ex was kind of a bitch. Ratting her out like that.

Do tranquilizer darts wear off that quickly? Harley regained motor function awfully fast. That scene of her jabbing Zsasz with the dart was laugh out loud funny.

Glad that a movie finally acknowledged that no woman with long hair would be in a fist fight or play sports without her hair tied back.

Doc betraying Harley was sad. And the fact that Harley didn’t do anything to him shows how much it hurt her. I’m glad that even when Harley was betraying Cassandra, the worst she meant to do was just to tape her to a toilet. She’s definitely turning over a new leaf. Although it was only the burrito that did the job. 😊

The men who leered at Harley paid for it; one went into a wheelchair and the other was fed to her hyena. Could have saved themselves a lot of pain and treated her respectfully. I bet the others will now.

We got to see Roman as his comic book persona, Black Mask, in the final fight scene, with… well, the black mask, and everything.

Huntress speaks Taiwanese, and pretty well at that. And she was raised in Sicily by assassins.

Cassandra was in foster care.

Montoya was drinking liquor out of a flask and packing up her things at her job in the final scene, with “nothing to prove”. Good for her.

Canary’s scream was majorly cool. It looked a lot like a page right out of the comics. In the comics she doesn’t pass out like that, but I understand why they did it- she would have outpowered everyone else and there would have been no movie. And now they’ve set us up for a true BoP movie, where we’ve moved past the origins. Can we have it, please? Maybe this time, with Lady Shiva? It’d fit right in, since Cassandra has already been introduced.

It’s nice that DC is bringing some of their lesser known characters to life on the silver screen. They have so many great ones, other than just Batman and Superman and the over-done rotating set of three or four villains, a la Joker, Two-Face and Lex Luthor. If you haven’t, try Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey: Sensei and Student. It’s one of my favorites.

Memorable quotes and moments:

Harley: “Don’t call me dumb. I have a Ph.D.”
You tell him, girl.

Harley: “I agitate his already delicate sense of mental equilibrium. That, and his obsessive compulsive need to be the center of attention.”

Black Mask: “Why don’t I own this crossbow guy? I like crossbows!”
The way he said this made me laugh out loud. But of course he would assume it was a guy.

Dinah (to Cassandra): “Someday you’re going to pick the wrong pocket, sis.”
*Two minutes later… Cassandra picks the wrong pocket*

Harley: “I named him Bruce after that hunky Wayne guy.”
This was interesting. Were they just trying to slip in a Batman reference or does Harley have a crush on Bruce Wayne?

Huntress: “Okay. I feel like I just walked in on something I don’t give two shits about. This guy’s dead so I’m just going to get out of your hair. Cool?”

Harley (in the middle of a fight): “Hair tie?”
Dinah: “Yeah.”

Cassandra: “He your ex or something?”
Harley: “You don’t know who that is? Clown prince of crime? My former partner in madness? The harlequin of hate? The jester of genocide?”
Cassandra: “Well, he sounds like a dick.”
Understatement.

Renee: “What’s the point of the badge when it means fuck it all anyway?”
This felt painfully relevant to our social climate.

Harley: “A harlequin’s role is to serve. We’re nothing without a master. No one cares about who we are, beyond that.”

Dinah (over margaritas and tacos): “And Huntress, yeah I really love that name.”
Huntress: “Really? Oh. I really liked.. um, how you were able to kick so high in those tight pants.”
This was just a delightful scene.

I’d love to see a sequel.

Three out of four crossbows (NOT bow and arrows),
Valkyrie

10 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Welcome to the site, Valkyrie! I haven't seen this movie yet, but your review makes me want to see it.

sunbunny said...

Billie, there are some...particularly violent moments you might not like. I loved it but it’s definitely an R rated flick more in line with Deadpool than say Wonder Woman.

Hi Valkyrie! Great to have you join us. I have so much to say about this movie so buckle in. First of all, I’m a massive Harley Quinn fan and have been since I was a kid but I’ve also never read a comic in my life.

I almost volunteered to review this one but I find my lack of comic book knowledge is a substantial hindrance. I did but merch though! I have Harley’s shredded Harley Quinn shirt and her Bruce dog tag necklace. So yeah I loved this movie even if it was a BIT violent for me. Harley is just so freaking chaotic and fun. I loved the roller skates. I loved the hair tie. I loved the “when did she have time to change?” bit and I loved Bruce the Hyena. She named him after that hunky Wayne guy.

I like the Joker even though I seriously dislike Jared Leto but DC’s leaned on him as a villain for far, far too long. DC’s best claim over Marvel is that their rogues gallery is fun and colorful but all we ever see is the same dude. It’s frustrating. Anyway, I’m glad the movie worked around him instead of including him. It worked well.

Ewan McGregor certainly had fun in his role. This is coming across as super spazzy but I’m trying to watch the Inauguration as I’m typing so...

In agreement with you about the state of the DCEU. It’s been a massive disappointment aside from Wonder Woman and to a lesser extent this movie. Still have to see the second Wonder Woman oops. It’s disappearing from HBO Max in like four days so I better get going. Including the upcoming Suicide Squad, Harley will have had three movies and romanced Poison Ivy in exactly zero of them. This is unacceptable.

One quibble with the movie: at least in BtAS Harley was a psychiatrist not a psychologist. She doesn’t have a PhD she has an MD.

Great review Valkyrie and once again welcome to the site and sorry for the rambling.

Valkyrie30 said...

Thank you Billie! I’m so glad to be here! :) I definitely recommend it, though it is pretty violent. My husband and I saw it in the theater but on rewatch, we fast-forwarded through a couple scenes. The action sequences are just gorgeous though!

Thank you so much sun bunny! I totally agree with you- I love Harley and I think the roller skates were badass. I’d love to see her with a reboot of Poison Ivy because they’re pretty much iconic now and that’s a great relationship.

That’s so interesting about the Ph.D vs the M.D. Isn’t BtAS a wonderful show? I do know characters tend to get tweaked a bit as they pass from writer to writer.. I wonder if the Ph.D was part of the reinvention of her character?

Happy Inauguration Day! :)

Mikey Heinrich said...

Generally, screenwriters can't even consistently remember that psychologists and psychiatrists aren't the same thing, so I expect it's just somebody not doing their homework.

Great first review, Valkyrie! Welcome to the site. I may in future lapse into just calling you Val, as I've just discovered that I can't consistently spell Valkyrie correctly, would that be ok?

I also can't consistently spell 'Calendar' correctly either, for what that's worth.

Welcome!

Mikey Heinrich said...

And yes! Bring on Poison Ivy and Harley romance!

Samantha M. Quinn said...

Cutest spoiler kitten EVER!!!

BoP may be at the top of my list of DCEU movies, it has exactly what I wanted (which is mostly Mary Elizabeth Winstead being awesome), Huntress and Harley and Canary coming to life in wonderful ways. It wasn't perfect, but you outlined my personal quibbles with the film.

Is this really your first review, great job!

I really hope we get more with these characters and actors, but beyond Harley Quinn returning in Suicide Squad I haven't heard about anything with the rest of the Birds of Prey. Though they really should give Huntress her own movie.

Thanks for the review!

Josie Kafka said...

Samantha is right. That is truly the cutest spoiler kitten.

It is effulgent with spoilery goodness!

Valkyrie30 said...

Hey Mikey! I looked it up and saw that she has played a psychologist and had a Ph.D in the comics, so I don't know if that was a conscious change, or like you said writers just skimming details. Calling me Val is just fine, I was thinking it would happen anyway :)

Thank you so much Samantha, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I agree, Birds of Prey is just awesome, definitely my second favorite DCEU movie after Wonder Woman. I really hope we get a sequel focusing more on the team, maybe with Shiva as a supporting character! But hopefully the next Suicide Squad will be better than the last one lol.

Thanks Josie! :)

Chris said...

I haven't seen this one, but it's nice to hear it was good. Margot Robbie was easily the best part of Suicide Squad (though my favorite Harley still remains the B:TAS version, can't beat the original), so it's great we are getting more movies with her.

Ewan McGregor is also awesome, as is Mary Elisabeth Winstead.

Regarding the other DCEU movies, while I agree with your general assessment, I feel the need to defend Shazam's honor a bit. That movie was a lot of fun, too. :-)

Valkyrie30 said...

Chris, Ah yes Shazam! You’re so right, I don’t know why I forget about that one. It was a lot of fun and Zachary Levi was stellar in the role :)