movie review

Messy but pulpy Birds of Prey pecks away at comic book misogyny

Messy but pulpy Birds of Prey pecks away at comic book misogyny

Clearly, Birds of Prey is attempting to kill myriad birds with one stone.

The movie — which can also be titled Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) — aspires to conquer much in one outing. First off, it’s a stand-alone vehicle for Harley Quinn (played here by Margot Robbie), whom we last saw going bonkers in Suicide Squad.

Here, the Arkham Asylum psychologist-turned-sociopathic moll is out on her own after the Joker, her main squeeze, literally kicks her to the curb. (Don’t even bother looking for Squad co-star Jared Leto to do his glam-punk version of Joker in this one. His manic mug doesn’t even appear in the flashback scenes from Squad.)

The movie also serves as an origin story for the titular crew of DC Comics superwomen who fight crime in Gotham City when Batman seems to be detained. Sadly, founding member Batgirl is nowhere to be found, but we do get Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), seen here as a torch singer with a voice that can apparently obliterate throngs of weapon-wielding men, and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a socially awkward assassin who returns to Gotham to take out the men who killed her entire family.

Prey doesn’t even try to stick to the DC canon. Director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson have basically taken several female characters — whether they’ve actually collaborated in the DC universe or not — and just placed them together in the same movie.

Also along for this ferociously feminine ride is embittered detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and foster kid/professional pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). All these women eventually become the target of club owner/sadistic crime lord Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, camping it up all to hell), aka Black Mask, forcing them at the end to team up and become a ragtag girl-gang once he sics more bad guys on them.

Naysaying men on Twitter who’ve been predicting Prey’s failure at the box office will likely take issue with how males are portrayed in it. In this version of Gotham, the male population is made up of predators, misogynists, women-hating killers, and men who’ll sell a woman out with no qualms. (The only decent guy is the greasy-spoon cook who serves Quinn a delicious-looking egg sandwich at the beginning.)

To wit: It’s almost like Yan, Hodson, and Robbie decided to use Prey to troll all the dudebros and fanboys who constantly bellyache about women squeezing themselves into their pitifully male, Comic-Con universe. They not-so-subtly give them the business by having Quinn and company go to town on any creepy, pervy dude with which they come in contact.

It’s a shame the movie is too much of a messy pile-on. It’s obvious that the filmmakers threw a lot in here on the off-chance that this kind of cinematic girl-power may never happen again. Prey ends up having an off-kilter rhythm, often teetering between being entertainingly chaotic and tonally clumsy. However, out of all the DC Extended Universe movies, this one looks the most comic book-y, with its deliriously over-the-top action sequences and gloriously pulpy milieu.

And it’s all anchored by Robbie’s foul-mouthed, fourth-wall-breaking anti-heroine. 

Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey
Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey. Photo by Claudette Barius; courtesy of DC Comics
Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in Birds of Prey
Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in Birds of Prey. Photo by Claudette Barius; courtesy of DC Comics
Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor in Birds of Prey
Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor in Birds of Prey. Photo by Claudette Barius; courtesy of DC Comics
Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey
Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in Birds of Prey
Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor in Birds of Prey