Not writing the whole title out, sorry not sorry
I missed this one in the theater, but I did finally get around to watching it at home as part of my social distancing TV programming. Unfortunately for all involved it greatly underperformed at the box office, grossing just under $202 million worldwide on an $84 million budget. That’s barely at break even point (studios only get half the gross) or maybe a slight loss depending on the marketing costs, despite mostly good reviews from traditional critics and the blogosphere/podcast world and mostly good reports from people who went to see it. So I went in wondering if there was something about the movie itself that kept people away. The obvious culprit is the R rating but there could be something else that we’re not thinking of. So with that in mind let’s take a look, shall we?
Birds of Prey starts off with Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fresh off of breaking up with the Joker and now newly vulnerable in Gotham’s underworld because everyone with a beef from her time with the Joker now has free reign to go after her for revenge. (In a clever bit, whenever someone with a past grievance shows up they put up a caption with their name and their issue). This puts her in the crosshairs of crime boss Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).
While that’s going on Det. Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is trying to find the perpetrator of what looks like a mob hit, with help from inside Black Mask’s organization in the form of singer Dinah Lance, the Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett). It turns out the killer is Helena Bertinelli aka the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is seeking revenge for her families murders. Throw in Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a pickpocket who steals a precious jewel from Mask, and you have five targets of one gangster who need to come together and save each other.
The acting is very good to great all around. Robbie picks up where she left off in Suicide Squad as Quinn while McGregor, Perez, and Smollett all turn in top notch jobs in their respective roles. Smollett, playing a race bent version of Lance, was under the microscope and absolutely crushed it in my opinion. When anything else in the film hits a lull the cast carries it through.
The last 30 minutes or so where everything came together were excellent. The obligatory big fight was done in some clever ways that didn’t just rehash every other movie that came before it and everyone got to shine in one way or another. The third act and all the individual performances made this a movie worth watching even without anything else.
And I couldn’t go without mentioning the invisible elephant in the room, that of the Caped Crusader himself. Thankfully there wasn’t much mention of him at all. Given DC’s tendency to lean way too much on the Dark Knight they could have easily made this a movie about ‘What happened to Batman?’ and not everyone else who’s actually there. The story and all the characters got to function with the looming arrival of Batman to hog the spotlight and that’s good.
There were two things that rubbed me the wrong way. First up, it was violent as hell. Yeah I know, it’s a comic book movie and those are chock full of people fighting each other. But here it was more than action it was pretty graphic with the contact from various weaponry ranging from blunt objects like baseball bats to Huntress’ arrows among other things. There were several turn your head points if you’re not into that kinda stuff.
In the same vein, there were a ton of F-bombs dropped throughout. Now I’m not afraid of a few curse words, but they were approaching Quentin Tarantino territory here. And this is in a comic book movie. By contrast I don’t think there’s a single one throughout over 20 Marvel movies. And look, I’m not trying to make this a Marvel vs DC thing but having them in the movie is a choice that did not need to be made for real. It didn’t add anything, other than the R rating.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address a major bone of contention, and this is the character of Cassandra Cain. Oh boy……….talk about pissing off your target audience for no good reason. In the comics Cain is trained fighter on a level of the best in the DC Universe who has been Batgirl and even Batman is apprehensive about fighting and here she’s a slacker teenage pickpocket. Oof……..look, you can have the character that was in the movie or you can have Cassandra Cain but having this particular character as Cassandra Cain is a travesty. And this Cassandra isn’t a bad character but it’s not Cassandra Cain and trying to pass her off as Cain by giving her the name is an own goal of epic proportions. Whatever Cathy Yan’s intentions this comes off as if she’s trying to deliberately antagonize comic book readers and people who’ve been fans of the character for years. This is more than an interpretation of a character it’s a complete and total fabrication of what that character is and an easy way to turn some people away. When even people who liked the movie have an issue with it then maybe you shouldn’t have done it.
Final Verdict: 4/6 (Good)
There were things I really liked about this movie but a few glaring issues that I couldn’t ignore. I’m glad I took the time to watch it and I recommend that you do it if you’re interested. I think making it R rated was a unnecessary move that ultimately cost them at the box office; I know that making things family friendly can take away from the artistic vision of certain directors and all, but it’s a comic book movie and there are certain financial expectations that need to be met so you need to swallow your pride and do what’s necessary. I discussed this a few years back here, and I still believe it. Scoring a few cool points for being edgy isn’t worth the hit you get on the back at the box office. Now all that being said as misplaced as I think some of things I think they did were, the final product is still what I’d call a good movie. Just not one that really suits my personal tastes.