Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Another Psycho Heroine

Happy sixth day of Christmas, everyone. I'm trying to catch up a little on 2020 movies so I thought I'd give Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn a chance. I had no intention of seeing the movie because the trailers look like they took the delightfully sadistic skank and turned her into hippie who bears a positive message of empowerment. But then a friend of mine said it was actually pretty good. Thirty minutes into the film, I was ready to admit the trailer had left me with the wrong impression--here, at last, was the delightful psychopath we were promised in the original Suicide Squad trailer who didn't appear in the Suicide Squad film. Unfortunately, after those first thirty minutes, Birds of Prey gradually sinks back into being the indistinct, colourful gruel that has distinguished most of the DC cinematic universe so far.

The filmmakers handle a lack of desire to work with Jared Leto by giving us an animated prologue detailing Harley's (Margot Robbie) breakup with the Clown Prince of Crime. This works just fine and I enjoyed watching Harley live it up with booze and mayhem, filtered through her disjointed narrative, culminating in her theft of a pet hyena from a man she brutally murders.

There's also an amusing scene involving her favourite breakfast--the greasiest, most heart-clogging, cheap configuration of cheese, egg, and bacon you can imagine. It was at this point I thought the film was a bit like watching Jodie Foster's character in Taxi Driver become a supervillain.

Things start to go south when the film tries to justify the "Birds of Prey" title. Black Canary and Huntress are somewhat awkwardly worked into the story--Canary a little more naturally than Huntress. She works as a singer and driver for the film's villain, Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor who succeeds in making the character thoroughly repulsive.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell delivers an unremarkable performance as Black Canary, slowly persuaded to fight for justice despite a world that's continually abused her and her loved ones. Rosie Perez plays a cop (a character from the great animated Batman series) whose use of movie cop cliches is directly referred to by Harley in the narration, I suppose under the theory that all cliches are forgivable if the film demonstrates awareness of them.

Huntress, meanwhile, is played by the usually good but, here, dreadfully miscast Mary Elizabeth Winstead whose running gag is her attempt to get people to actually call her Huntress, like Peter Quill tries to get people to call him Star Lord. Just when I think comic book movies have gotten past insecurities about their basic nature we land right back in the same joke X-Men used when Wolverine called Professor X "Wheels". It's ironic since the film's climax wants us to accept an extended fight sequence in an impossibly labyrinthine abandoned circus.

The fight choreography is pretty good and, like the fight scenes in Batman v Superman, looked like they were taken directly from Arkham Asylum. Some of the ideas in the fight scenes, though, ones likely originating in the script, are unsatisfyingly implausible while not being funny enough to justify their implausibility, like when Harley lights a guy's beard on fire when he's in the act of strangling her. I liked a scene later in the film where she's on roller skates, something that's used for a few good kick ideas, but then she takes the skates off for no reason when it seems like they'd be very useful in the climax.

It's a better movie than the first Suicide Squad but not by much.

Birds of Prey is available on Netflix in Japan.

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