Other than the quirky long title ‘Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn’, what’s so exciting about the latest offering from the DCEU?
Yes to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of DCEU’s demise have been somewhat if not greatly exaggerated. While the DC Comics Extended Universe might not exist as the epic post-modern deconstructionist mythology as planned by Snyder and co. it does continue to thrive in its unique way. Not everything is connected but it kinda also is. And that’s the most interesting part (more on that later).
But while it’s being seen as ‘too much Harley’ by some comic book purists or ‘too much women power’ by masculinity gatekeepers who somehow can’t let 1 out of the 70 or so CBM’s released in the last 10 years be about strong powerful women, a DCEU movie being polarizing before release is now par for the course.
If you are among the general audience members who aren’t bothered with these debates or a comic book movie with one or more of the above-mentioned complaints, here’s why you could find Birds of Prey exciting:-
1. HARLEY IS BACK, BITCHES!
While Suicide Squad had its issues with studio meddling, it still was a commercial hit grossing over 750 million worldwide (without China) and having a platinum-selling soundtrack. Moreover, the performances of Will Smith as Deadshot, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and finally the cherry on the crazy cake – Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn were greatly appreciated by audiences all over. Particularly Harley struck a chord among the trendy-hip crowd becoming an adored Halloween costume and her relationship with the Joker becoming an albeit wrong example of two people madly in love. (But hey what’s the internet if it doesn’t grossly misinterpret source material for fan art).
More than Margot Robbie’s bringing her natural sex appeal and charisma to the character, it’s that Harley in itself is a very fascinating character. A character who survived an abusive relationship with a complex chaotic person and finally finding her own identity is a story anyone (male or female) can relate to. The things one does for love (or our idea of it) and how one finds emancipation and self-confidence is a major part of the plot of Birds of Prey. Moreover, Harley formerly psychiatrist Dr Harleen Quinzel – is the definition of a wild card. Often escaping creating and escaping situations with surprising intelligence (and great gymnastic agility) for someone who went crazy. As the trailers have shown us, it is Harley narrating this story. Her being crazy only makes her an unreliable narrator at best. It would be interesting to see how much of the movie we see, is her imagination and how much is real.
2. A TARANTINO-ISH COMIC BOOK MOVIE
Speaking of interesting narrative techniques, a bunch of quirky characters, dark R rated humour and catchy music choices, Birds of Prey is as close we can get to Quentin Tarantino directing a recognized comic book IP as possible. (above is a trailer by our very own John Arryn Garza seamlessly blending Tarantino’s tone with BoP). Director Cathy Yan has directed only one Chinese movie before – Dead Pigs – which sadly still isn’t available with subtitles. However, a glance at the trailer on YouTube would easily give you an idea that she shares a lot of her aesthetic and tone with Tarantino. The BoP trailer with its mix of humour and action is enough to give us an idea. Like Tarantino’s work and unlike most comic book movies, BoP is rated R. It reportedly has a lot of violence and cursing that’s in keeping with a story set in the criminal underbelly of Gotham. After seeing the mature and serious side of it with Joker, BoP is a fantastic opportunity to neon-lit darker and thrilling side.
3. AN ALL FEMALE TEAM UP ACTION MOVIE
Female team-up movies, in general, haven’t set the world alight! That’s not to say Hollywood has no clue how to make them. Yes, they do, but compared to male or mixed ones, except for Thelma and Louise, Female team-up action movies have almost always ranged from bad to mediocre. While the 2000 Charlie’s Angels were cheesy fun, its dated and doesn’t hold up. The less said about Ghostbusters, Ocean’s 8 and recent Charlie’s Angels the better. It isn’t the fact that modern audiences reject female-centric movies – the success of Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Frozen, Kill Bill, Fury Road etc.- should be proof enough of that. The problem is that most of them are gender swaps of earlier predominantly male protagonist movies which audiences both male and female are bound to reject as no one feels it as their own.
Unlike the MCU randomly bringing all its female characters together for a photo-op during Endgame’s climactic battle, Birds of Prey not only makes use of an existing all-female team from the comic books, but it also brings them together for a reason. All of them are directly in conflict with the central villain of the movie who just happens to be a man. (a gay man as well, not a stereotypical chauvinistic straight white male). Huntress is the daughter of a mafia boss (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seeking revenge, Black Canary is a singer with meta-human powers (Jurnie Smollet-Bell) seeking freedom, Harley is seeking her own identity and running for her life, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is a cop who no one takes seriously seeking justice and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) is a young teenage thief seeking refuge. They aren’t fighting the patriarchy because its trendy to do so but because they need to. Also, the tone of the movie appears to be less preachy and political with the feminist themes being a part of the story and not being shoved down the throat. Besides, the movie is also a female team-up behind the camera. Margot Robbie is producing the movie and worked very hard to get this movie going. It is written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee, Shut-in) and directed by Cathy Yan. Also, its a multi-racial team up as well with the cast and major crew having all sorts of ethnic origins- black, Taiwanese, Chinese, British, Australian etc. The diversity aspect is woven into the fabric of the film without it being too much on the head.
4. THE SOUNDTRACK
Suicide Squad 2016 was a platinum award-winning soundtrack with the likes of Queen, Eminem, Skrillex etc. on it. Warner Bros. has kept that in mind to make the BoP soundtrack power-packed as well. While I cannot claim to know a lot of these artists -Doja Cat, Normani, Megan Thee Stallion, Charlotte Lawrence etc. The soundtrack sounds really impressive. Normani and Megan Thee Stallions tribute to Marlyn Monroe’s classic “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” has a nice hip hop and pop vibe, Doja Cat’s “Boss Bitch” is an intense party anthem and Charlotte Lawrence’s Jokes on you is the best bond song in a non-James Bond movie. There are lot many more tracks with even Jurnee Smollet-Bell as Black Canary (who is a singer in the movie with metahuman powers) also singing a track. With a variety in emotion and genres, the soundtrack is already a hit and looking at the way the music videos are so fantastically edited, there is no doubt the songs will be used well in the movie.
5. THE MOST INTERESTING PART
The most interesting part about Birds of Prey is that its a natural organic extension of Suicide Squad. While Suicide Squad is getting an official sequel (or reimagining or whatever it is that James Gunn wants to call it) in 2022, BoP continues the world set up by SS. The story is set right after SS, when Harley breaks up with the Joker. But more than a next chapter it continues SS in its spirit, in its tone and aesthetic with Cathy Yan adding her touch. This is what the DCEU was always intended to be. A sandbox for different creators to come and play in. Not a glorified TV series. You can technically watch SS and then watch BoP or you need not do it and you can still walk into both without worrying about the other. This holds great appeal among an audience growing weary of having to read a wiki page before deciding to watch and enjoy the movie.
It has to be said that the action in this movie is going to be unlike most comic book movies you have seen as the team behind the John Wick movies has done the action and stunt work. Birds of Prey is an R-rated, all-female team-up action movie with an exciting new director and scriptwriter, a fantastic soundtrack and full of promising visuals and quick practical brutal action. And Harley snorts a shit load of cocaine in a warehouse before a fight, there is a dance number tribute to Marlyn Monroe, there is a lot of stabbing and fight scenes on roller skates, Black Canary uses her Canary cry to blow away an army of criminals…oh and Harley has a Hyena named after Bruce Wayne. (This movie is out of its mind!!!!).
Catch the Birds of Prey in theatres near you on February the 7th (or as per the release date in your country).