Movie Review: Birds of Prey (2020)

February 14, 2020

Before we get into Birds of Prey, my experience, and what this means for moviegoers like myself, I’ll just give you the TL;DR portion of the review now. Go see it. The movie is fun, cathartic, has some amazing cinematography, and a kickass soundtrack.

But there was a sadness that accompanied this movie, which occurred when I emerged from the theaters and made the dumbest decision of my life, which was logging onto Twitter. The movie has been out a few days and it’s already being panned as a box office flop. Will women ever be able to write and produce just as many goofy, enjoyably fun action movies (What up, Charlie’s Angels reboot) as men?

Now, I’ll momentarily get off my soapbox. No promises on whether I’ll hop back on it by the end of this review!

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is really about Harley’s breakup from the Joker and the formation of the Birds of Prey. Like anyone who has gone through a bad breakup, Harley begins drinking away her problems, gets a new pet, cuts her hair, and eats Cheez-Whiz straight from the can. She realizes her taste in men is terrible and that she’s never truly been on her own before; it’s scary for her.

If you enjoy a team of fine women beating up men, you will love this movie. The action scenes are a whole lot of fun and there is never really a moment where I worried one of the actresses wasn’t going to make it out alive. Do I love a tense, life-or-death situation? Yes, but there was also a sense of security and comfort knowing that these women were ultimately going to be fine. Once again: see Sarah’s and my conversation about Charlie’s Angels.

There was a tweet I saw about how the villain of the movie is really toxic masculinity and that’s spot on. A majority of the main characters are directly affected by things like workplace sexism, gaslighting, emotional abuse, being constantly underestimated, neglect, etc. at the hands of men. The women don’t hesitate in joining forces and the pivotal fight scene of the movie is the four adult women protecting a young Cassandra Cain. Even just thinking about all the strong moments of girl power is making me tear up right now at my computer. I’m also on my period and started crying during the Mulan trailer. Do with that what you will.

There are some warnings that should be issued, though all of the things I will mention are handled respectfully and are not done gratuitously. Content warnings for the next paragraphs below because I do not want anyone to be surprised and put in a dangerous or unhealthy place.

All the warnings you may need.
  • Threat of sexual assaultThere is one scene where Harley is drunk and a man is trying to coax her into a van with his friends in an alleyway. Canary comes to her rescue and beats the shit out of them.
  • Verbal abuse/neglectCassandra Cain sports a broken arm in the film. Her foster parents are heard shouting and throwing things, with the father blaming the mother for housing Cassandra, and that he never wanted her in the first place. I’m unsure if it’s supposed to be implied that Cassandra’s arm was broken due to abuse or if it’s a cover for her pickpocketing.
  • Public sexual humiliationEwan McGregor is the big bad of the movie; he plays Black Mask. At one point, he assumes a woman is laughing at him in his own club. He forces her to get onto a table, where he commands another patron to cut the woman’s dress off. The scene pans to Canary who is trying not to cry.
  • TortureIf you’re not familiar with the character of Black Mask, he is a sadist of the highest order. There is only one torture scene, where a family of three (dad, mom, teen daughter) are murdered. The dad has his face skinned off. Not terribly graphic, but it’s not vague either.
  • Family massacre, including childrenA backstory to the events of the movie include an entire family being gunned down, including children. It’s not the family in the torture, but an entirely different one. This clip is shown a few times.

Something extremely important I want to note is the cast of this movie.

It was directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, both women of color. A majority of the cast are women of color (Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Ali Wong) and several secondary characters are men of color. Basco is literally the first person to play Cassandra Cain (Batgirl) on film and she is only thirteen! Margot Robbie served as a producer and the movie even has an all-female soundtrack. There are women of all ages and sexualities represented. (Will I be writing a Huntress/Harley fic based on one scene alone? Yes, probably.)

Seriously, this movie is GIRL POWER ALL THE WAY DOWN and I’m honestly surprised that no one is talking about how groundbreaking these stats are.

The villains, played by Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina, are fucked up and terrifying and I’m honestly kind of in awe at how well these two actors played evil dudes.

This movie is a little like the equivalent of a BuzzFeed quiz, “20 Things Only Women Will Understand:”

  • Giving your best friend a hair tie while in a fight.
  • The pain of being punched in the tit.
  • Being called a “dumb slut,” only to then break the man’s legs in retaliation while reminding him that, “I have a PhD, motherfucker.”
  • Men reaching into the wrong pocket and finding your tampon stash.
  • Supporting your girlfriends’ choice in crime-fighting nicknames.
  • Opening your friend’s chocolate milk because their nail polish is still drying.
  • Getting offended when someone calls your crossbow a “bow and arrow” because “you’re not fucking twelve.”

You know, just girl things! All these moments combined to make me feel like this movie was for me.

I don’t want to say this movie is the Spice World of the new decade, but it’s pretty damn close. You have a kickass girl group trying to save the world from crappy men and the music slaps (the kids are still saying that, yes?).

Though it is rated R, I’d say this was suitable for an older-ish teen, if you take into account the above content warnings.

*inches toward the soapbox*

I know going to the movies can be pricey and some of us have incredibly limited free time, but if you want more movies in this franchise, or that are fun, goofy, action-filled romps that center women like this one does, the only real way to show support is to buy a ticket. I, selfishly, want to see all these women on screen together again.

Ed note: Are you going to see it again?

I think I may. By myself. With a movie theatre hot dog and some Sour Patch Kids.

Update from the future: I bought a ticket for Tuesday afternoon.

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