Prologue: DC and the Incorrigible Pickiness of the Comic Book Fandom
Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn is my favorite DC Film. Specifically, it’s my favorite DC film from their current film continuity, but to say that invites a lot of snarky comments from Marvel stans or general DC haters who will tell you “iS tHAt ReaLlY sAYinG a LoT?”
Frankly, if I opened it up to the wider superhero film genre, I would probably rank this film higher than a lot of them, even counting the MCU. But why would I do that? Why does anyone want me to do that? Seriously? Birds of Prey isn’t a superhero film. Harley Quinn isn’t a superhero. She’s either a villain or an anti-hero vigilante depending on the era.
I think that’s the biggest curse of being a comic book movie. Everyone will just compare you to superhero origin films, team-ups ranging from colorful to dreary, or whatever the fuck Batman vs Superman was supposed to be (I still enjoyed it though tbh). People want to rank the DC films but then a hot take is invalidated because – suddenly – none of them are really that good?
How about this: I consider Birds of Prey to be the best comic-book-based film from DC within the cinematic initiative started in 2013’s Man of Steel. This is not limited to just stuff within a shared universe. This includes stuff like Todd Philip’s Joker and the upcoming Matt Reeves film, The Batman.
Why? Because after 23 consecutive Marvel films existing within a shared universe, building up some of the most admittedly monumental cinematic events in history, I think we have limited our imaginations and lied to ourselves about what our brains can comprehend. Why exclude Joker and The Batman from this comparison? Because they aren’t set in the same universe as the others?
That’s kinda bullshit right out of the gate. James Wan’s Aquaman is only set in the same universe as Justice League on the condition that you ignore completely different costume design, set design, writing styles, color grading, and The Abuser Amber Heard’s drastically less bright wig. There is a commonly cited phenomenon in the DCEU’s growing up phase where each critical or financial failure prompted a huge shift in focus.
The narrative fundamentally misconstrued the issue of what DC was doing wrong. It wasn’t about “dark and serious grey films” vs “bright and colorful Marvel rip-offs.” The problem was that the cinematic universe had no planning and more so, that the films being greenlit were lacking creative freedom and vision. This is partly because of creative decisions by directors and writers and largely because DC kept interfering, cutting up the films, and not letting original or intriguing ideas slip through the cracks.
Oh, and just so I cover all my bases…
Wonder Woman was the first DC film that was almost universally loved and critically praised AND made bank. It was the holy trinity. After that, Joss Whedon’s Justice League… sucked… but then we got Aquaman and Shazam, two films that weren’t just colorful, but were clearly a director’s vision of a story and a character. Aquaman being an utterly cheesy but undeniably pretty globe-trotting fantasy. Shazam, on the other hand, felt like the coming-of-age films of my youth brought into the modern superhero market. It was a genre film, something more comic-book films could stand to be.
I mean, what the fuck even is a superhero film? Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Is it both? Is it political? Does it have a message? Turns out, having an incomprehensive label for a whole bunch of movies that are probably – and should be – different, is a bad idea. But making a film that is a love story, or a war story, or a fantasy epic, and making it about comic book characters can breed all kinds of unforgettable tales.
DC’s films started to become a viable source of genuine cinematic enjoyment as soon as they started embracing creative freedom and letting directors do what the hell they want. Joker might not be connected to anything else, but it likely wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for DC taking risks.
And DC still isn’t perfect. It took them four years to give us a version of Justice League that felt like a true film worthy of the source material. Even then, the controversies over racism from higher up spawned vocal movements demanding change within the company. The only downside is that the most vocal parts of that movement are Snyder cultists, and they don’t even appreciate all of the great things DC has given us since 2018.
Marvel is cool. I like the MCU, but my favorite films are often the cinematic events cashing in on years of buildup, or genre films that could stand alone as exceptional character studies or action films. Winter Soldier is still my favorite film in the entire franchise because it’s essentially a spy film that also functions as a perfect Captain America story about a hero out of time.
And that’s where we find ourselves at Birds of Prey. It is a film that only just managed to make its money back internationally, despite positive critical reception and even a fairly balanced Rotten Tomatoes score between both critics and fans. It takes one of the more positive aspects of 2016’s Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn, and gives her a snarky, frantic arthouse treatment in a full film.
I have friends who hate this film and other friends who I want to watch it but who probably never will. I have been in arguments over the film’s artistic merits, in which comparisons were drawn recklessly, characters were accused of being poorly done, and my own consistency as a critic was brought into question.
Were it not for how much I love these people, I would have likely committed a murder the night of this disagreement. And it seems like so much of the core reasons behind why the film is so polarizing seems to hinge on some important factors. 1) the film’s subjective quality. 2) It’s merits compared to the rest of the superhero genre. 3) The apparently political topic of women being treated like shit in real life.
This is a film with feminist themes and subtext, characters whose bonds are defined by their shared traumas related to patriarchal society, and male antagonists that are narcissistic, shallow, and materialistic. But I believe that I can offer an assessment of this film divorced from specifically touching upon those topics, be they thematic or subtextual. That’s not to say that those topics aren’t worth bringing up because, you know, they are. They should be brought up and you should think about them. But just for the sake of being “apolitical,” here is my review of Birds of Prey.
Part I: A Review; Unpoliticized
Birds of Prey’s opening scene set off early warning lights when it started with an admittedly well-animated intro expository sequence. It was charming and colorful, but it also brought to mind two other films I’d reviewed prior to it: The Kid Who Would Be King and Dolittle, two films that did the same thing. Neither of those films was what I’d call great and I’d call the latter a pretty egregious watch.
So… nothing substantial to damn the film out of the gate, but experience taught me to be wary. Thankfully, as soon as the film commenced properly, it quickly set the tone well. Harley and the Joker broke up. Harley experiences a painfully relatable post-breakup lifestyle of crying, seeking constant distraction, filling the void with addictions, and switching from wanting to move on versus wallowing in the past (within seconds of each other actually).
Harley can’t seem to convince herself that she’s truly free. For one thing, she hasn’t even told anyone that they’ve split. After all, the threat of Joker’s wrath kept Harley under his protection. For another, people who do know about the breakup are convinced she’ll go right back to him, craving that codependency.
So she has to rip the bandaid off, and does so in explosive fashion, destroying the iconic Gotham locale where their love story began: the abandoned Ace Chemicals. But doing so, without much forethought, brings the whole city down upon her. Notably, Roman Sionis, AKA Black Mask, sees her defenselessness as an opportunity for revenge for a number of grievances.
“Grievances” alone is a kind of fantabulous euphemism for how screwed Harley is. It’s used through slick motion graphics to paint a picture of what Harley has done to each of the assortment of Gotham City denizens who come hunting her. But no one – of the characters featured in this film at least – has more grievances than ole’ Roman.
Ewen McGregor as Black Mask is one of my favorite comic-book movie antagonists. He is so unabashedly vain, so delightfully sick, and so unknowingly shallow, that he transcends that shallowness to be a truly unique portrayal of villainy that cuts right to the core of what a comic book villain is when you think about a city like Gotham, or a mythos like Batman’s.
Given the mature weight that this film lends to that comic-book feel, he is also appreciably disturbing at times. McGregor kills the role and will forever strike me as one of the best antagonists to come from this DC universe. It lets Roman’s manic tantrums define his character long before he dons the “Black Mask” that typically defines him in every other adaptation. Turns out he’s a really good character. It’s almost like disregarding him just because he’s called Black Mask is a bad take that’s really exhausting to hear each time he comes up in conversation (you know who you are).
Roman’s second in command is Victor Zsasz, played by Chris Messina. When I think of Zsasz, I think of the first time I ever saw him in a Batman story: way back in 2009 in Batman: Arkham Asylum. He was immediately disturbing. A guy who kills people and cuts himself to commemorate his victims. One cut for every victim.
Messina might seem a bit too “put-together” at first glance compared to his shirtless, jumpsuit-wearing appearance he typically has, but as soon as he opens his mouth, it’s like a blast from the past. He’s unsettling, creepy, and is just as aroused by his work as in his other iterations. What sets this version apart is his psycho-sexual partnership with Roman, with whom he shares a passion for bold displays of violence to accentuate their power.
The film follows a rather linear structure, following the fallout of Harley’s public breakup announcement up until a rather unexpected but very appreciated action scene inside a police precinct. From there, Harley backtracks, explaining how she got there. Where normally this would either be needlessly confusing or exist just to make use of Harley’s unreliable narration, the film does some very clever tricks with it.
This isn’t Harley Quinn’s movie after all. This is the story of how Harley Quinn ended up accidentally helping create a team of female vigilantes known as the Birds of Prey. By the time the film starts jumping around its own chronology within the timeline, we’re already introduced to Renee Montoya, a detective who really needs a raise.
Montoya is investigating Sionis and has been trying to bring him down for six months.
When she gets word from an informant about a precious diamond being shipped to Roman, she’s desperate to get it before he does to stop him from using it to become the city’s kingpin. Unfortunately, between Harley breaking her informant’s legs and her co-workers not taking her seriously, she’s stuck in a bind.
Once the story rewinds, we get a glimpse at all of the other women who are in dire straits. The first is Dinah Lance, a singer at Roman’s club who’s got a bite to match her pleasant bark. She is exactly as badass as Black Canary is supposed to be and Jurnee Smollet really needs her own series. Even for all her strength, Dinah is still a caged bird to Roman, whose power dwarfs hers.
Next up is Cassandra Cain and I feel I should broach the subject now. Of all the complaints I’ve heard about this film and its portrayal of these characters, Cassandra is the largest departure and the one I understand the most. In the comics, Cassandra Cain is the daughter of Lady Shiva, a member of the League of Assassins, the same group that spawned Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia Al Ghul, and Damien Wayne.
Here, she’s an orphan barely surviving her foster home and finding small joys in pickpocketing, a trade she’s well versed in. Unfortunately, her skill gets her into trouble when she knicks the Bertinelli diamond right from Zsasz, prompting a city-wide hunt for Cass.
Now, there’s nothing to say that she couldn’t potentially be the orphaned daughter of some badass assassin, but it would seem a stretch, even within the imagination on display here. Harley herself can be bought in about any context because, well, her first cinematic appearance, nebulous in quality as it may have been, was Suicide Squad, a film where she helped save the world. I can buy her participating in just about any part of this Cinematic Universe. Same with Black Canary and Huntress. But Cass? Not so much.
Clearly, screenwriter Christina Hodson kept her backstory vague and kept her rather down-to-earth compared to the comic-book vixens who would be front-lining the story. It’s a choice that might not please comic fans, and even if you don’t care, it isn’t as though Ella Jay Basco gives an amazing performance. Of all the characters, she is the weakest.
I mentioned Huntress, AKA Helena Bertinelli, before and she was actually my favorite character, strangely enough. If you go into the movie cold though, you might be asking yourself why. Most of my reasons for loving her come from a mix of her backstory and her participation in the third act. I’ll get to her later.
In the meantime, back to the story. Harley, keen on avoiding torture at the hands of Roman, offers to get him the diamond back. This means that she and the rest of the cast are all on a collision course, each with their own reasons to get closer to the diamond, Cass, or Roman. The path to that goal is lined with blood and… really bitchin’ fight scenes.
Cathy Yan is an amazing director in her own right, bringing the kind of technicolor flair to this story that – previously – I could only get from side-character-focused episodes of the Batman Animated Series back in the day. However, to give the action the extra punch it needed, the second-unit director was Chad Stahelski, the man responsible for the John Wick movies.
I hope I don’t need to articulate how this helps the film’s fights soar. I could hardly keep my mouth closed during the police station fight, a battle which was effectively three-acts long and delightful the whole way. There’s also Black Canary’s first fight, a grittier but no less musically synced fight. Later, there’s an incredible practical car chase, and a funhouse fight featuring the whole cast at the end of the film.
Look, it would be a disservice to say that I don’t enjoy some of the action in DC films prior to Birds of Prey, but goddammit the action in this film is such a breath of fresh air. Practical stunts, impactful choreography, and styles of action befitting the characters participating within it. Canary does mixed-martial arts, Montoya throws punches with brass knuckles, Huntress grapples, stabs, and shoots arrows, and Harley uses acrobatics to outmaneuver men much stronger than her, all while dealing painful blows.
This film has the best action in the entire DC universe and the best stunt work, by far. Each time I rewatch it I remember again just how well-fed they kept us throughout. Typically, the things I praise about the film focus on the themes, the soundtrack, or the character building. But every time I count how many actual fights there are I think “oh wow, that was the perfect amount.”
But the action, as well as it may stand on its own, is nothing without the story framing it. This film is in love with Gotham, and in particular, showing a side of Gotham not normally portrayed. It’s set in the daytime for one thing, and another, it’s a diverse, bustling market town near the docks. Everyone has a story and no one isn’t involved in something. There’s something so lived-in about this vision of Gotham and it’s one that could only be brought to life through the eyes of the characters surviving there.
Harley eventually finds Cassandra and the two begin a reluctant partnership as the former needs the diamond to survive and the latter has it but can’t quite give it to her. So they’re stuck together and the results are… mixed. One of my complaints is that this film should have been longer.
I’m not even saying that they should have done so for the sake of giving the Birds of Prey more time. Honestly, I feel like their scenes are functional and their stories are made clear enough that I don’t need much more to be invested in them. I mean, we know Canary and Huntress’ entire backstories and motivations. No, what this film needed was more time between Harley and Cassandra.
Time is limited in this story, because there are a lot of people chasing Harley and Cass, and it isn’t as though the other major characters are just gonna stop looking for them. They might run into roadblocks, but the antagonists are constantly gonna be on the prowl. At a certain point, Harley and Cass are effectively kept in one place to bond while the rest of the characters’ arcs progress.
The problem is that while we’re catching up on Montoya, Lance, and Bertinelli’s stories, we aren’t seeing Harley and Cass develop. So we cut back to them later and then the story goes into its third act. Before the time-skip even happens, Harley is already narrating how nice it is to have her around and I was thinking “that seems disingenuous.” I almost prefer that line didn’t exist so the script wouldn’t feel like it was taking a shortcut.
Granted, this is a film full of small gestures and short scenes that, limited as they are, do a good job of telling you what these characters are about, what they want, and how they are changing. Cass’s young perspective and her woefully inaccurate perception of Harley cause Harley to rethink herself, her problems, and how she should go about fixing them. So… maybe these scenes do work on their own.
See, some people don’t like this film because they think it should have been longer. I want this film to be longer because I love it so much and wish it could have been even better. What’s “enough”, really? How many scenes do you need to become invested in a character? How many lines? How many seconds held on to their reactions to what has happened to them? It depends on the film but it also depends on the viewer.
With comic-book films, we can be spoiled. We had nine films with Tony Stark in the MCU, so of course, a grand majority of people watching will have an emotional attachment to him. Granted, he was already a great character after just one film, albeit a film with him as the central focus. In a film like Birds of Prey, how much is needed to earn an emotional attachment to the characters?
I can’t speak for you, but I thought they were pretty damn cool. Harley is a great protagonist, Roman is a great villain, and the Birds of Prey themselves had just enough to make me love them and wish for them to get their own sequel or series to let them shine even brighter. Sure, I’ve liked Black Canary and Huntress since before this movie existed, but I’ve never seen Montoya before in much DC fiction and I thought she was one of the most interesting in the bunch. Take all of that as you will.
Another point of contention among friends was the fact that despite being called Birds of Prey, the titular team doesn’t join together until the third act. I get it. I don’t think it’s a problem. Regardless of what the title implies, it accomplishes its objective. The title is a joke. It is Harley injecting herself into a story. More than that, it’s her being the reason the Birds of Prey exist.
I’ve described this film as a “Tarantino-esque Rashomon” in the past and I still think that’s an apt description. It’s a crime story that jumps between a bunch of deep characters all locked into the same struggle, looking for the same things for wildly different reasons, then colliding or coalescing as the need arises. As a genre film, it’s a wholly unique kind of story for comic-book movies.
And once the girls get together, their chemistry is snappy and sublime. Their personalities bounce off of each other wonderfully and not just for comedic value. One of my favorite scenes is when Huntress tries to protect Cass and shows a more protective, caring part of herself. The whole film before that had shown her to be antisocial and awkward, a side-effect of her past.
But in the end, her trauma incentivizes her not to do harm, but to be helpful, and combat her demons in a healthier way. She shows a far more protective side of her in her behavior around Cass, someone who reminds her of the little brother she lost. In a single scene, we stop seeing the antisocial girl and instead see a glimpse of the comic book hero known as Huntress. It’s fucking glorious.
Shit like that just makes me fall deeper and deeper in love with this film. Even with that desire for it to be longer and that craving for more of these characters, this film seems to constantly have its priorities straight. It keeps you hooked with a surface-level appeal that takes you on a ride your first viewing, but the more you look back, the more details you pick up on; the more each decision feels planned and thoughtful.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is unlike anything else in the DCEU and that is a blessing and a curse. A blessing for how unique and different it is but also a curse for that same reason. I’d love to say that it will push the medium forward and incentivize more genre films such as this, but it wasn’t quite successful enough for me to confidently say that will happen.
That makes me sad, but with Christina Hodson set to write the next Flash movie and the planned Batgirl film, maybe I’ll get my wish. And hey, that Batgirl film doesn’t currently have a director, so maybe Cathy Yan will get another shot too. It would only be right. If you haven’t seen Birds of Prey, I encourage you to give it a shot.
Part II: A Defense of “Politics”
There. Over 2600 words critiquing Birds of Prey without commenting on themes of feminism, female empowerment, or anything even remotely “political.” However, it’s one thing to write a review that doesn’t comment on those things and another to hold an opinion that isn’t somewhat influenced by those themes. I would be lying if I said I didn’t like this film in part because of those elements. I have no qualms calling Birds of Prey a feminist film.
When I get into arguments over this film’s quality with friends, I’m never trying to say that this film is a masterpiece because it is simply a feminist film with strong messages. I enjoy those messages because they are done so well and surrounded by such a consistently fun film. If the issue is that the film just wasn’t as fun to them, there’s not much I can do. I can explain what choices by the creators produced that sense of “fun” but I can’t rewire their brain.
What about this film is contentiously fun? What parts of the film’s politically divorced experience could be reasonably undesirable to a large portion of people? Well, character development was probably a big one. I might have been satisfied with the short but sweet character moments, but as I said in my comparison to the MCU, we are spoiled. More than that, this film could have been longer at the risk of compromising the fast pace.
Secondly, those characters themselves may not have the same appeal when divorced from politics. Renee Montoya might not have been the coolest character or the one I loved the most, but I enjoyed her scenes and I wanted her to succeed the most. She’s a hard-boiled cop and like all hard-boiled cops in film, she’s trying to do the right thing but can’t get shit done because of a lack of trust in her credentials.
But unlike a male-lead cop movie, she doesn’t get a promotion or respect at work. Instead, her boss steals the credit again, just like he stole the credit for a case years prior that cost her the position of chief. And it isn’t like Montoya is in it for the glory. She just wants to do her job.
She is the only competent detective on that force. Her bozo partner is an asshole and every other person on the force has the nerve to look to him for a second opinion whenever Montoya gives an order. She’s the one who determines that the killing at the restaurant at the beginning of the film was the work of the “Crossbow Killer” who’s really Helena (not that she’s happy with the nickname).
To be fair, she wasn’t 100% on the money. She speculated that the crossbow killer was working for Sionis. Still, it’s more detective work than anyone else. Montoya had everything she needed to bring Sionis down. She even had a contact in Sionis’ organization; his driver. The only problem was Harley breaking the driver’s legs.
But even if his legs were intact, it’s clear that her boss would have just passed the investigation over to her dumbass partner. Montoya is consistently undervalued. Her exasperation and frustration are misconstrued as unprofessionalism. It instigates her already self-destructive coping mechanisms once she’s suspended.
The scene in the chief’s office alone tells me everything I need to know about her as a character and how toxic her work environment is. This scene tells you so much with so little. I really do believe Hodson was recalling personal experience when she wrote this script. Montoya isn’t throwing the most punches, nor is she the most conventionally attractive, nor is she particularly young for this kind of role. But those things are to be celebrated in my opinion.
To me, she looks exactly like what a male character in her role would look like, even down to being a canonically older character, with wisdom that only years on the force could give. The film doesn’t have to be directly calling out this kind of bullshit in the workplace to say something. You clearly don’t have to look for it, either. I’ve heard numerous complaints about her character because her arc didn’t connect with them.
But it’s not simply a matter of not relating. When I had a heart-to-heart with a friend about why he didn’t like the film, he expressed how he felt like he already understood what was being taught to him. After all, my friend is a nice guy, or he does his best to be a good person (and succeeds wonderfully in my experience), so why does it feel like movies like Birds of Prey are asking him to change.
This is a fair question. I mean, I’m a fairly optimistic person. I believe in the best in people, even when the world has a way of making people seem pretty terrible. Why watch a film that makes you feel like you are part of the problem when you’re just sitting there doing your thing? And the answer isn’t so simple as “you are the problem” or “you aren’t the problem.”
I’m a male, and as much as I sympathize with feminist politics, I still have those moments where I see posts online attacking the very concept of being a man and think “what did I do?” For one thing, those kinds of statements – or the most understandable ones – are made in anger, informed by bad experiences and trauma. Of course, women who call out how terrible men are aren’t talking about all men. For another thing, it’s important to think about what kinds of men are really being called out.
Birds of Prey’s antagonists are vain, vile, shallow, and sadistic pricks who treat people like things because they are so narcissistic they think life revolves around them. Specifically, Black Mask is this way, trying to amass as many “things” as possible to fill this void because he’s the definition of materialistic.
Zsasz is less materialistic, but his torture and killing of victims, combined with his sexual pleasure in it, makes him repulsive. The audience fears him and feels relief when he’s killed. If you watch a movie like this and think you’re being called out for being a man, the most I can say is “well, are you an abuser or a misogynist?” If your answer is “no” then there is literally no reason to feel that way.
But I’ve also heard people criticize the notion of antagonists being “vain, vile, shallow, and sadistic.” After all, if a character is “shallow,” doesn’t that mean they’re somewhat lacking as a character? To that, I’d say it depends on the purpose of a character. A character can be meant to be shallow. And even if a character is shallow within their own universe, their purpose within a story can be far deeper.
I’ve been accused of having a double-standard when praising Black Mask in this film. I’ve been told that the reasons I enjoy Sionis as a villain are the same reasons I hate other characters. I couldn’t give you an example off the top of my head because neither did the person accusing me, but after racking my brain, I have one idea.
Let’s take a trip to the MCU once more to look at Wanda/Vision, one of Marvel’s line Disney+ shows. It was okay. It went from like a 9/10 in the first half to like a 3/10 in the end, averaging about a 6/10. There was a villain(?) in the show named Hayward (I had to look it up) who I could also describe as shallow. But my reason for finding him dull was that the story didn’t even use him.
His “shallow” and Sionis’ are totally different. Hayward is the next in a long line of uncompelling Marvel antagonists. Sionis is the kind of “shallow” where the story uses it to make him an actual character.
Like many characters in the finale, he felt like he served no purpose. He wasn’t anyone’s rival, he didn’t have a discernible motive that connected to the theme. And then he was defeated in an instant like they forgot they didn’t have an extra episode and needed to wrap everything up. The negative attributes that describe a character don’t have to collate with the quality of the story framing them.
Speaking of Wanda/Vision, let me rant about one more thing. I couldn’t think of where else to put it so I may as well put it here since it relates to both Wanda/Vision and Birds of Prey. Remember that scene in the police chief’s office I talked about? Well in that scene there is a joke being set up.
In the scene prior, Montoya was chasing Harley Quinn and got blasted by hot garbage while she escaped. Her clothes are ruined so when she goes to the chief with her report, she’s wearing a shirt from the lost and found that says “I shaved my balls for this.” The shirt isn’t the joke. It’s the fact that she’s wearing it the entire scene in complete seriousness, and then the chief has the nerve to say “…and Ms. Montoya we do have a dress code.”
Maybe you laughed and maybe you didn’t. It’s not comedy gold and I’m not pretending it is. I liked the exchange because it further sells just how down on her luck Montoya is. Alan Alda said it best in Crimes and Misdemeanors. “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” I knew by the end of that scene that I wanted nothing more than for Montoya to win.
I bring up a somewhat null and inconsequential joke because my friend had the absolute audacity to say that I was being hypocritical for being fine with that joke but complaining about a joke in Wanda/Vision. See, in Wanda/Vision, they bring back Wanda Maximoff’s brother, Pietro. But they didn’t bring back Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who played him in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Instead, it was Evan Peters, who played them in the X-Men movies, which are set in a different universe entirely.
Of all the theories that fans of the show came up with – and to be fair a lot of them were preposterous – the quicksilver theories were the most believable. Was the MCU going to use Wanda/Vision to bridge the gap between two cinematic universes? That would be cool. Even if they didn’t bridge them, at least they would be acknowledging another cinematic universe through a canonical multiverse.
But they didn’t do that.
Instead, they had the “recast” quicksilver just be a guy named Ralph Bohner who just happened to be played by Evan Peters. It meant nothing. It provided nothing and in fact, took away. So no, I don’t have any qualms calling Wanda/Vision a waste of my time while praising Birds of Prey. I don’t even think their joke was that clever. My reaction was that it was literally fine. But don’t you fucking dare conflate the two.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, men assuming that they’re being called out despite the male characters triggering those reactions being literal rapists and abusers. Listen, I know that audiences have been clamoring for antagonists with understandable motives and maybe even some relatability, but that isn’t the only way to write a villain. Sometimes a bad guy can just be an asshole. In fact, I’m willing to say that we need more villains like that nowadays.
In a world where murderers can just walk free, fascists can just ascend to high political offices, and people can knowingly ignore the plight of people they don’t understand and don’t wish to, I think having villains who are simply assholes is necessary. Because we have forgotten that the most satisfying part of a villain is watching them get defeated. And Birds of Prey is nothing if not good at defeating its villains in grand detail.
Is every story with a progressive message within good at telling those messages? God no. But I’m not talking about those movies. I can’t even think of examples, probably because the people who hated them and the people that those movies were presumably for preferred to forget them. Merely being progressive isn’t the sole reason things are good. Those messages were important because they were told effectively.
And furthermore, when I pose a film as a “feminist film” or one that I consider to be empowering, I’m not saying that films like this have to be educational or treat the characters like role models. I mean, Harley is a terrorist-turned-antihero-vigilante. Helena Bertinelli is an assassin. The Birds of Prey might be complicated heroes who will go on to be role models (Black Canary HBO series please) but Harley isn’t supposed to be a role model.
But if a story is human and relatable and told with a surprising amount of tact, then what am I supposed to do? Not recommend it to people who might get something out of it or might relate to it? This is an R-rated crime drama set in a fucked up city following complicated characters trying to survive against a maniacal asshole who wants nothing more than to control them. This might not be a family film, but it is 100% what a comic book story is at heart. This is a film for adults who need a little happy ending of their own.
If you didn’t enjoy Birds of Prey because it wasn’t your thing, that’s fine. But if any of your reasons have to do with it being a film about female empowerment or feminism, then I encourage you to think about why. Because I’ll be honest my guy, there is nothing in this film that’s worth walking out of the theater for.
And you might be a nice guy, but there are a lot of dudes in the world who aren’t. In a world that rarely punishes people for being terrible pieces of shit, the least I could ask for is a film that revels in tearing those motherfuckers down. Because at the end of the day, I like movies that’ll put a smile on my face that won’t come off until long after I’ve left the theater. Harley said it best at the end:
“Call me a softie. I dare ya.”
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn is available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and digital HD.
This new blog is an experiment to branch out towards writing about other mediums besides anime. Followers of my other blogs are familiar with my writing style and the content I typically put out. This blog will mostly be the same, just about movies, television, games, and whatever else I want to discuss.
I hope you’ll join me on this aimless journey. Thank you for reading and I’ll see you next time!