12 Feb 2020

Movie review - Birds of Prey

From At The Movies, 7:33 pm on 12 February 2020

Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn is a mostly all-women comic-book movie with Margot Robbie both producing and starring in the tale of the Joker's ex, writes Simon Morris.

One of the big questions on the lips of hardly any women I know is "why shouldn't women make big, violent comic-book movies too?"

I mean, no reason at all except, why would they want to? I might be the one person in the movie-going world who's getting good and sick of all these garish, pointless blockbusters, but I suspect not.

No caption

Photo: Supplied

However, you can't argue with the box-office, and the fact is Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, the various female Avengers and Harley Quinn, the one good thing in the dismal Suicide Squad a few years ago, have dictated this is the direction the big studios are going.

Me Too, to coin a phrase.

DC Comics' Suicide Squad was supposed to be the light-hearted riposte to the expected blockbuster Justice League - a group of male baddies pitched against a group of male goodies.

Well, that didn't happen. Both films ran into a ditch, apart from two unexpected breakout stars - Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and former Neighbours star Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

To the credit of the usually hapless DC Comics movie department, they saw which way the wind was blowing and gave each of them their own movies.

In the case of Birds of Prey, subtitled The Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie is also the film's producer.

The cast and crew of Birds of Prey are almost entirely female - journeywomen director and writer Cathy Yan and Cristina Hodson, and the five members of the ad-hoc hit-woman squad nicknamed the Birds of Prey.

But there's no question whose show this is, and whose it isn't.

Suicide Squad's Joker - played by the annoying Jared Leto - didn't exactly cover himself with glory, and you can hear the glee when Birds of Prey points out at the start that Harley Quinn and Mr J are no longer an item.

Now it seems Harley is cast adrift in the criminal underworld with no protection.

I'm not sure that's precisely what the traditional Harlequin is, but let it pass.

The story opens with Harley - all painted face, broken high heels and random tattoos - on the run from the various bad guys and gals she's wronged recently.

Turns out there are other women anxious to join forces to take on the bad guys. Women like busy singer Black Canary, who also drives gangsters' limousines and acts as a police informant between gigs.

There's disgruntled cop Renee Montoya, sick of the guys taking all the credit, there's Cass, a teenage Asian pickpocket, and Huntress, played by the delightfully out of step Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Leading the bad guys - and representing the LGBTQ community because why not? - is Roman, played by Ewan McGregor, and his significant other Mr Zee. Their hobby is capturing people and stripping their faces off. Yes, this is definitely a DC Comics movie.

It's dumb, it's far too violent, the story takes off in so many directions it often resembles herding birds of prey.

And there's no real reason to make it, except, I'm sorry to say, this is the only sort of film that Hollywood understands and respects right now.

Can women make big, stupid, reasonably profitable, tent-pole movies like Birds of Prey?

Sure they can, here's one. So how many more do they have to make before they're allowed to make something better?

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to At The Movies

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)