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Blown Away by Birds of Prey

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Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Directed by Cathy Yan

Written by Christina Hodson

Starring: Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell

I'm an odd ball when it comes to comic book movies. My favorite Batman film is Batman: Forever. I'm perfectly fine if I never get to see Snyder's cut of Justice League. Suicide Squad has become one of my favorite movies. With the exception of the last thirty minutes, I thought Joker was boring. I haven't watched a Marvel movie since walking out of the theater in the middle of Iron Man 3. So, now that I've destroyed my own credibility with 3/4 of the internet's commentators, let me tell you about Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). I loved this movie and its a nearly perfect film.

The story in Birds of Prey unfolds in an unexpected way. Even though Harley Quinn is the main focus, every main character is introduced and flushed out in equal measure. Margot Robbie embodies what I want from an actor playing Harley Quinn. Unlike in her portrayal of Harley in Suicide Squad, Robbie is able to stick to her accent for the entire film. She also brings quite a bit of range to a roll that could easily be one dimensional. Ewan McGregor may make for a convincing Irish heroin addict or an amazing Jedi, but he was born to play a comic book villain. As Black Mask, McGregor puts his own spin on the aspiring Gotham crime lord, making the character both humorous and fearsome. My favorite character in the movie was Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Valerie “Huntress” Bertinelli. Winstead brought a quiet intensity to the character that worked as a great foil to Harley's zaniness. The writing and line delivery from Robbie, McGregor, and Winstead had me laughing out loud every five minutes.

The movie also had great action scenes. The fight scenes were well choreographed and well shot. Several of the action sequences played out in ways I've personally never seen before. In an action movie that could have easily stuck to cliches, Birds of Prey's takes its action scenes in unexpected directions. I also really enjoyed the movie's soundtrack and score. The music perfectly fits with what is occurring in each scene. The soundtrack was also a good mix of original versions and covers of great songs by female artists. There are a few settings that feel larger than life, but for the most part the Gotham City shown in the film looks like an actual city. The realistic setting provides some grounding that gives the story room for over the top moments.

I saw the film with my wife, who is neither a fan of action movies or knowledgeable about comic books. As such, she's a good base line for what the casual movie-goer will think about this movie. My wife would have enjoyed the movie more if it was closer to a traditional “girl power” team up movie. I for one am glad that this wasn't the case. Writer Hodson and Director Yan put their own spin on this genre of film. The end result is something highly enjoyable that is never heavy handed in its themes. My wife and I both agreed that the worst thing about the movie was Rosie Perez's portrayal of Rene Montoya. In all of her movies, Perez does a great of playing a mouthy latinia [insert her character's job here] character. Birds of Prey was no exception to this, but it would have been a better movie if Perez had been able to bring more nuance to her interpretation of Rene Montoya.

From a comic book perspective, the movie has a lot of great nods to both Harley's origin in Batman: The Animated Series as well Conner and Palmiotti's run on Harley's solo comic book. Some of these touches may go over the heads of viewers unfamiliar with the comic books, but these details are sure to delight long time readers. My only complaint as a long time reader of these characters, is the portrayal of Cassandra Cain. Please don't misunderstand, I'm not one of those people who only wants to see a character portrayed exactly as they are in the comics. Ella Jay Basco actually does a great job with her character and adds a lot to the movie. However, the filmmakers drastically changed all the things that make comic book Cassandra Cain such a cool character. Considering Cain isn't that well known of a character, I find the choice to use the character's name in this movie baffling. Stephanie “Spoiler” Brown or Ev “Starling” Crawford would have been more logical choices for use in the film.

Much like my introduction to this review, Birds of Prey is a movie that embraces what it is and what its about. This is a movie that is much more than the sum of its parts. From the animated cold open that explains Harley's origin to the opening sequence that pulls in the viewer. From the hilarious dialogue to the exciting action sequences. From the dynamic cinematography to the rocking score. All of these aspects combine to make Birds of Prey a highly enjoyable action-comedy.

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