The DCEU has been tumultuous since it started in Man of Steel. It did not get any better with Batman v Superman, or Suicide Squad. However, following the success of the pretty great Wonder Woman, most of the DCEU films have been good. Aquaman is just a live action adaption of that comic and it rocks. Shazam is one of the best movies of last year, and Justice League doesn’t count on either because that is literally no ones movie. All of this made the announcement and release of this movie incredibly interesting to see how it would go.
The film follows Harley Quinn after she publicly separates from The Joker by destroying the chemical plant that made her. Now that her protection is gone everyone who she ever pissed off is on her tail. To make it all more complicated she gets entwined in a mob hunt for a prized jewel the police, a new vigilante, Huntress, and a street kid Cass Cain are all after. Now Harley must outwit the biggest mob boss in Gotham, save her own skin, and get breakfast before she’s killed a dozen ways over.
This film is textbook in getting into the protagonist’s head. That is to say it makes you feel how Harley Quinn feels by having her rely the story like an actual crazy person you would meet while walking down the street. It has long spaces of jumping back and forward in time, skipping over scenes and then going back to add details. It uses those same tacky overlays Suicide Squad had, but built on them to be a good source of comedy and delivery information. Honestly the mocks has everything a good crazy person story would have. That nature, like The Gentlemen, makes it feel very spontaneous and energized in a good way. The main difference is that The Gentlemen wants to be clever, this wants to annoy the crap out of you.
How do you score a movie that works as intended, and that intention is to be annoying? Well by not having review scores to begin with, but the real answer is to break it down.
The acting has always been the DC movies strongest points. This film continues that trend. I shouldn’t have to say it, but Margot Robbie is still great. Harley Quinn the character might be a mess of cliches and bad ideas, but Robbie manages to make something salvageable out of what she is given. She’s able to flip between wacky, zany, ditsy, and insightful on a perfectly flipped dime. The rest of the Birds are all serviceable. None of them really stand out, but I would not hate to see them again in a second DC movie.
This also may not come as a surprise, but Ewan McGregor is a standout. He’s been on a roll with Doctor Sleep last year, and now playing Black Mask here, he’s incredible and a joy to watch. Black Mask has never been the biggest comic character, and his big debuts always put him as a secondary foe, and loser. This hammers that idea home. Roman Sionis as played by Ewan McGregor is a spoiled child. He’s impetuous, arrogant, demanding, obvious, and still terrifying. He’s a joy to watch and I want more of him.
I also want a lot more of the action in this film. All of the fights, shoot outs, and chases have this really good naturalistic flow to them. The camera ducks, weaves, cuts, and moves with the characters in frame. This choice makes all of the hits feel kinetic and weighty. The standouts for this are a prolonged police precinct fight/hide and seek off that goes from shooting into the building, to a The Raid style jail cell brawl, to a brutal evidence room beat down. It all feels so much more satisfying because the characters use the tools and environment around them to fight. It sells it.
If I have been so positive, why does it all annoy me so. Some of it comes from the very toxic place of not understanding why they can’t just do actual comic stuff. I don’t mean adapt specific stories. I mean do comic book Dinah Lance, or Cassandra Cain, or not sad Renee Montoya, not the characters we have. It also annoys me how we can get this but not any of the big characters people really should care about. The thing that really annoys me is just how rushed the film feels. It is a tight hour-forty five or so. I wish more movies could be that short. This one just does not use its time well. It gets us in Harley’s head fine, but leaves it so often to set up other elements that plot elements get lost, unexplored, dropped, or forgotten about at random. Kind of like a crazy person was telling it to you.
I can honestly say I don’t know if this movie works or not, or if I like it or not. Some stuff I really dig. The Birds of Prey is one of my favorite teams, and getting a versions is nice. It does its own thing, and I think works fine enough as a women taking revenge against entitled men stories go. I also hate how it doesn’t look anything like the stories and characters it is pulling from.
It’s a movie that has a vision and executed that vision to the max. It just could not sell me on said vision.
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