Rated R for a lot of language and a lot of violence. Harley Quinn seems to be DC's answer to Deadpool. Deadpool proved that you can do R-rated and make it fun. So the movie does a lot of the same beats. There's tons of violence. The violence often crosses over into gore, which involves compound fractures. There's also some sexual references, but no overt sex in the movie that I remember. It's a well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Cathy Yan
You guys need to stop telling me, "But this one is great" and "It fixed the DCeU". I want to like these movies! This isn't me, hoping that DC movies are going to be bad. I really really really want to like them. But somehow, I think I liked Suicide Squad better. Do you want to know why? Everyone told me ahead of time that Suicide Squad was hot garbage. I didn't waste my time on it in the theaters, so watching it at home wasn't the worst experience in the world. There were things I liked about it, minus Jared Leto. While Birds of Prey isn't the worst of the DC movies, it had a lot of "so what"?
Now, I have already acknowledged I'm in the minority of this one. Joss Whedon burned himself out of the MCU with their attitude that movies need to be bigger. I agree with Whedon. Not all superhero movies need to be the highest stakes. Birds of Prey, for what it is worth, actually has remarkably personal stakes. It is practically just a movie about the protagonists of the movie surviving and stopping a crime lord from getting a lot of money. The world isn't going to melt into nothingness if Harley Quinn and her team fails. I like that idea. But I never really got invested because the story was really amorphous.
Why do I care about Black Mask getting his hands on the diamond? I get the personal element. Attaching a really weird interpretation of Cassandra Cain physically to this diamond is probably the best way to get me to care. But there's an answer for that one: wait for her to pass the diamond. The movie even comments on that in the last few minutes of the movie. We know that she's going to pass the diamond and that time will solve the problem. What happens because of this decision is that the rest of the stakes are manufactured. The movie presents this one moment as the crucial moments. It makes a binary situation out of something that has far more answers than it will admit. While I like that there is a confrontation that aligns all of the elements of the movie into a climax, it does seem really forced overall. I hate to be that guy, but I definitely sat there thinking, "Why does all of this have to happen now?"
My complaint comes from the idea that this is an imbalanced movie. This seems petty, but it is kind of core to my way of thinking. The movie promises two things in the title: 1) This is a Birds of Prey movie and 2) This is a movie about Harley Quinn. It definitely delivers on its second conceit. I don't know why DC feels the need to group Harley Quinn in with other characters. Part of me believes that DC is always playing catch up to Marvel's litany of characters. But if you are going to make a Harley Quinn movie, just do that. There's this convoluted narrative going on to make way for all these side characters. The thing is, I kind of like some of those side characters better than Harley Quinn. I like the idea of Harley Quinn. I was a huge Batman: The Animated Series fan back in the day. I have the absolutely rad DVD box with the special book that came with it. Harley is fun as heck, especially when she is removed from the shadow of the Joker. But that's not what the movie touts. The foundation of the film is Harley Quinn. The actual structure of the film tries to be about the Birds of Prey. Harley, because she's already got one film under her belt and is HARLEY QUINN, is the most fleshed out. But every other member of the Birds of Prey is given a crash course in the essentials of the character and that's it.
We're supposed to care about the women that Harley surrounds herself with. Because Harley doesn't even remotely resemble the audience, we have to identify with the characters she surrounds herself with. Narratively, this is a story about someone who has lost her way completely redefining herself. She goes from being a bad person to being a roguish wild card. There's the tease that, by the end of the movie, Harley will stop looking inward and start looking outwards. What brings her through this journey is Harley's independence from men, specifically toxic types like the Joker, and more on her relationships with strong women. But these strong women (which I can't take away from them because they are objectively tanks of their gender) have almost no humanity. There are all these characters being introduced that have different personalities, but we can't really get a chance to relate to any of them. As much as I love Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, she's there for most of the movie as a barricade from Harley's progression as a character. Dinah Lance seems to almost intentionally remove herself from the story. She's used entirely as muscle. Dinah Lance is Colossus in the X-Men movies, not in Deadpool. She's there to help make more violence happen on screen, but there's very little development of her character. And, like I mentioned, I adored the Huntress. She's got a great running gag and she's super impressive in a fight. But she's a deus ex machina. She is only there at the end because there was going to be a big fight that Harley is not allowed to lose contractually.
This is a story about a breakup. I'm going to move all the Birds of Prey stuff off the table because the story of Cassandra Cain and Harley Quinn (which is the story of Deadpool 2) is about Harley getting over a breakup. Okay, that's fine. Because the DCeU is a mess (and a lot of people will fight me over this), we're supposed to be emotionally shifted away from the Joker relationship. Harley deserves to be free of the Joker and that's a really smart move. But also, I never really felt anything for the Joker and Harley from the first movie. The core element of Harley that makes her work is that she no longer has to define herself by her sexual relationships. That's her accidental origin story. As the comics progressed, the more she held the Joker in contempt, the more interesting the character really got. The way that this film does it is that she finds Cassandra as a pleasant distraction from her old way of life. When she was with the Joker, she'd simply cut the diamond out of Cassandra and the story would be over. But because she spiritually adopts Cassandra, she finds that other ways bring her more joy which defines her as a character. That's actually pretty rad. So really, despite the fact that this story is so small, they tried to pack way too much into a package that didn't need it. The Birds of Prey stuff is there for visual fun and an attempt to bolster the line of DC characters that have appeared on screen.
I wish there was a greater relationship with Roman Sionis / Black Mask. I love the idea of Black Mask. Despite the fact that he's the villain in Arkham Origins, popularly accepted (admittedly anecdotally) as the weakest entry in the Arkham series. I never understood what was so cool about Black Mask. I just understood that he was cool. I just accepted that because I'm easily brainwashed. But considering that they got Ewan McGregor to play this top tier character...there wasn't much to him? Also, he died pretty violently. I guess we can't return to that well. The same thing with Victor Zsasz. There's so much potential there and then...just poof? Part of what makes a good story is the use of the villain. I keep dropping this theory that good villains are wasted on origin stories. But this wasn't an origin story and, still, the villains don't do anything of note. It's just blah.
I want there to be a great Birds of Prey movie. I want there to be a rad Harley Quinn movie. But I keep getting these movies that make baby steps tonally. For some reason, I don't think DC works as gritty. Batman can, but the rest of the universe doesn't have to be about violence. Maybe we just aren't ready for Harley Quinn, but we're trying to get there anyway. This movie did nothing for me and that's a bummer.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.