Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), a recap (part 2 of 5)
Previously on BoPatFEoOHQ: Professional bad girl Harley Quinn read enough Tumblr posts to convince her that her relationship with the Joker was abusive and needed to end. She blew up a chemical plant to show how Not Mad she was about it, and now she’s single and ready to mingle!
At the same time Harley’s blowing up the chemical plant, detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is looking at a murder scene in an Italian restaurant, in which a mob boss has been killed by a purple-fletched arrow. Harley’s voiceover explains that Montoya’s career stalled ten years previously after her partner took all the credit for a huge case she solved. She gazes at the crime scene and the murder takes shape in her mind, as she visualizes a mysterious woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) breaking in, shooting the three mooks on either side of the table, and then pinning the main guy down with a throwing knife so she can get in close with a hand crossbow.
Montoya’s train of thought is interrupted by the explosion Harley caused. She rushes right to the scene, finds the bejeweled necklace, and deduces that Harley Quinn and the Joker have broken up. She declares that Harley’s just declared “open season” on herself, and anyone who might want her dead is out for her blood now, including…
Roman Sionis, AKA Black Mask—whom we see in a… flashback? flash-forward? flash fiction? flashdance?—stringing up an Asian family and slicing their faces off for the crime of turning down a business deal he proposed. With this move rated R and chasing an adult audience, they’re under considerable pressure to create a villain more pSyChO than the Joker, a man who hates society and even finds crime to be funny. Sionis accomplishes this by first saying he’ll let the young daughter keep her face, then changing his mind because her crying produced a snot bubble that disgusts him. Edgy shit. Are you freaked out yet? I’ll give this movie credit for having no delusions about its villain being cool or dangerous; Ewan McGregor knows Sionis is supposed to be a loathsome, sniveling bitch boy and plays him accordingly.
The fact that Roman wants Harley dead is lost on Harley, who’s at this moment across town looking to get her hangover nosh on with an egg sandwich from a local deli. The camera lingers pornographically on this beautiful sandwich through every stage of its assembly, while Harley sighs and looks lovestruck. It’s a clever little dig on the male gaze, for about 3.2 seconds, then it gets hammered into the ground like the Children at Play sign in front of Epstein’s house, finally finishing its life as a hambone sitcom bit about how freakin’ hilarious it is when women eat fatty food.
Harley doesn’t even get a bite in before Detective Montoya pulls up, gun drawn. “Oh, I don’t think so,” says Harley’s voiceover [?], and Harley takes off running. But Harley has the poor luck of running down the same street where every single one of her enemies is looking for her. A roller derby girl whose nose Harley broke throws something out the window at her. The brother of the exotic animal dealer she fed to her hyena tries to run her over with his van. Sionis’s driver greets her in a wheelchair with casts on both his legs, waving a gun.
Montoya tackles Harley and makes her slo-mo drop her egg sandwich in the street accompanied by tragic music. “It took losing something I really loved for me to see that the target on my back was bigger than I thought,” Harley laments. The joke being that the personal loss that catalyzed our protagonist’s Call to Adventure wasn’t a person, but a delicious breakfast sandwich. This is not the groundbreaking satire the movie seems to believe it is. This is just the Mulan Szechuan McNugget Dipping Sauce gag for girls.
Harley comes back with the “carefully calculated, highly strategic move” of throwing a bag of trash at Montoya, some of which falls onto the man with the broken legs, making him pinch off a gunshot that nails the van driver, who runs the wheelchair man over, and Harley scurries to freedom up a fire escape. She then adds, “Fine, it was dumb luck. But still…” Because everyone likes a joke explainer.
Shortly after her daring escape, Harley comes face-to-face with “Happy”, a very large man she dared Joker to tattoo a clown face on.
Happy is about to end her life with a tire iron, until the same mysterious assassin from the restaurant saves Harley with another purple arrow. Undaunted, two cars full of Sionis’s soldiers pull up with guns drawn and take Harley hostage.
Meanwhile at Gotham PD, everyone points out that Montoya smells like garbage, so she changes into the one thing that fits her in the lost-and-found: a T-shirt that a nerd sidekick in an ’80s comedy was arrested in.
Montoya tries to convince her ex-partner-now-captain (Steven Williams) and her ex-girlfriend-now-ADA (Ali Wong) that the purple arrow killer was hired by Sionis. She’s been working hard to build a case against him, with the help of an informant inside his gang. She says that there’s a diamond coming in, and here comes another flashback. We learn that the Bertinelli family was gunned down by the Sionis family ten years previously in a power grab, and then Harley tells us that a diamond escaped the carnage and it has lots of bank account numbers laser-etched into it which comprise the bulk of the Bertinelli fortune.
The captain and the other detective judge Montoya’s evidence insufficient due to Montoya’s insufficient number of testicles. After getting a dressing-down from her ex, who accuses her of being a crazy drunk, Montoya gets a call from a woman hiding in a toilet. She says the Bertinelli diamond is currently in the possession of a pickpocket named Cassandra Cain. This pickpocket, a teenage girl, is in police custody right now.
Harley walks in, decked out in Audrey Hepburn cosplay that’s honestly much more eye-catching than even her normal clothing, and speaks to the desk clerk in an upper-crust accent, buying her several seconds’ head-start before throwing off her coat off to reveal a riot gun and a couple of ammo bandoliers. She Terminators up the police station with a variety of non-lethal shot: bean bags, bright blue and pink smoke grenades, and my personal favorite, the glitter blast.
Things are getting good and violent and then at the peak of the scene’s momentum, Harley’s VO declares, “I’m tellin’ this all wrong!” and decides to backtrack and kill the pace.
Backtrack to one week ago, specifically the night that Harley got white-girl wasted at Roman Sionis’s nightclub. The woman who was in the toilet in the previous scene is now on stage, and she’s Dinah Lance, or Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who moonlights as a lounge singer. Roman Sionis is talking to the unfortunate guy whose face he’ll soon be stealing. As she sings, Black Canary is staring Sionis down angrily and overacting hilariously as she locks eyes and stabs her finger in the air at him. After her set, she meets a schnockered Harley Quinn at the bar and they have a conversation about how harlequins are nothing without masters to serve. I’d say it’s pretty heavy-handed subtext, if I could find any text here.
Black Canary meets her again later on, when she walks out into the alley to find Harley barely conscious up against a wall with a creep making out with her. The creep assures Canary everything’s good, but once she gets in her car, another dude pulls up in a molester van, and they each take an end of Harley to heave her into the back. Canary decides she must intervene and starts kicking ass in impressively tight gold leather pants.
Sionis is watching the beating from his penthouse upstairs and likes what he sees, and he cackles and throws an arm around his plausibly-straight manfriend Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). Seeing as he needs a new driver since Harley incapacitated his, he elects to make this lounge singer/secret black belt his new chauffeuse, and sends Zsasz out to tell her so.
Afterward, we get a couple of scenes so rote and expository you’ll wonder why this justified a flashback (remember, this is all still a flashback). Cassandra Cain is chilling in the stairway outside Black Canary’s apartment while her foster parents fight; Canary gives Cassandra money to get something to eat.
Later, Canary gets a visit from Montoya, who wants her to be a CI like Sionis’s previous driver. She tempts Canary by invoking the memory of her mother, the first Black Canary, a superhero who helped the Gotham police. Canary shoots back that her mother got murdered and the police couldn’t protect her.
After a solid week’s service on the job, Sionis decides he can trust Canary to drive Zsasz to an importer so he can pick up the Bertinelli diamond. Said importer is unluckily on the same street where the ne’er-do-well Cassandra Cain elects to do the bulk of her petty theft. She tries to pick Canary’s pocket, but Canary grabs her wrist and tells her off. She breezes on to Mr. Zsasz, who earlier insisted on holding onto the diamond in defiance of Sionis’s instructions. Cassandra lifts the diamond out of his pocket and gets a block or two further on her spree before the cops show up and arrest her for an earlier theft. Zsasz watches, amused, until he realizes he doesn’t have the diamond anymore.
In the back of the car on the way to the police station, Cassandra swallows the diamond.
Sionis, irate over the loss of the diamond, throws a five-alarm pillow-chucking bitch fit. He’s only slightly mollified by the news of Harley’s arrival at his house. Zsasz calms him down enough to usher him downstairs, where Harley is tied up and waiting for him. Harley mentally cycles through what she could have done to make him want to kill her—including “left a floater”, “called him ‘Queef Richards'” and “voted for Bernie”—but it seems Sionis is just going with misogyny + opportunity. In desperation, Harley offers her services as diamond gofer: she’ll either find Cassandra Cain and get the diamond back, or else he gets to kill her.
Sionis responds by slapping her around some. The slap triggers a bizarre Big Lebowski-esque dance sequence set to “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, which seemingly exists only because Ewan McGregor was in Moulin Rouge and this song was in that movie too. Don’t film schools teach anymore that you don’t put a fantasy sequence in a flashback?
After this, Sionis acquiesces and sends Harley on her way, though shortly after she leaves, he texts every goon he knows and offers a half-million bounty on Cassandra. The text shows up on Canary’s phone. Hence, Canary’s phone call to Montoya. Hence, Harley’s rampage. We all caught up? Good. Now where were we in this whole rampage scene? Ah, that might have to wait until next week.