May 1, 2020
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), a recap (part 5 of 5)
Previously on Harley Quinn & Friends: All the movie’s colorful mismatched personalities with their own motivations have finally realized that they have to team up and kick ass for womankind against the marauding fuckboi army.
The girls engage in groan-worthy pre-fight banter and Harley is giddy. The bad guys scale the building and bust in through the skylight. Harley opens a panel in the floor which leads the not-quite-Birds-of-Prey down a gaudily-painted clown slide in the floor. Wait, why is there a slide? Is this like an old circus ride? Then why is there a room at the top with a living space in it, complete with toilet? Huh.
Huntress stabs a dude in the face and neck on the way down the slide, earning the other women’s admiration.
They come out on the bottom of the slide into a brightly-lit hallway and are swarmed by gang dudes with Purge masks on. Heart’s “Barracuda” gets dialed in on the soundtrack and our lethal ladies get down to business. Harley’s got a big cartoon-y mallet, Montoya’s got a pipe, Black Canary’s got a bat, Huntress has her crossbow, of course, and Cassandra’s trying to stay out of the fight and gripping onto a toy car for comfort—it’s the toy car Huntress held when her whole family got killed.
The layout of this ride or funhouse or whatever it is is even more baffling on the ground floor. Everything’s in a big open room. Montoya wanders into a corner and there are some random funhouse mirrors that cause her to waste one of her bullets on a bad guy’s reflection. There’s also a bunch of trampolines on a platform with no railings or safety nets. Hello, lawsuit! And there are a line of wooden figures with tongues that function as platforms you can stand on. And also huge rubber hands mounted on a rotating platform. As a carnival attraction, it makes no sense, but it does lend itself to a lot of cool fight choreography and stunts.
This action scene benefited from reshoots provided by John Wick director Chad Stahelski, who served as second unit director, and you can see his work in wide, fluid, CGI-free shots filled with inventive practical stunt work. (You might question whether it’s wise for a such a consciously female production to take such heavy stylistic cues from such a dude-coded property—I think John Wick gets a pass though, because Keanu would never do anything unfeminist). Guys are jumping and doing unnecessary flips on the trampolines, allowing Harley to swat them out of the air with her big hammer. Canary is wrecking dudes on a seesaw. Cassandra gets grabbed on the Hand-Go-Round, but Huntress shoots Cass’s grabber through the head.
The Crazy 88 put in an appearance and menace Huntress with kendo sticks, but she trips them all. Canary struggles to avoid popping out of her top. Harley conjures roller skates on her feet with cartoon logic and hands Canary a hair tie so she can see. Cassandra, still not over her earlier betrayal by Harley, tries to escape in the commotion, but is chased by several guys weaving a route through the big rubber hands. Harley smashes the second-to-last guy’s head and the last guy’s balls with her hammer, and that’s all for that chapter. “Forgive me yet?” she asks Cassandra. Cassandra has not.
Having killed what is definitely all the guys that are after them, the proto-Birds decide to saunter right out the obvious exit while discussing brunch. But Black Mask is waiting outside with several cars full of goons, and Montoya catches a bullet right in her center mass. Good thing she put on Harley’s bulletproof vest instead of her “Daddy’s Little Monster” babydoll tee (available at Snorgtees for $24.95 plus shipping). But despite the hail of bullets they’re throwing at the entrance, the goons have managed to grab Cassandra and drag her off to Black Mask’s car. Everyone’s out of ammo for their various projectile weapons.
“Canary, you know what you have to do!” screams Montoya. Canary resigns herself and lets loose her metahuman ability, which she swore earlier not to use, for reasons and such: she can use her voice to create overpowering sonic waves, strong enough to flatten a whole column of bad guys in front of her, but it’s not so strong that Harley can’t get in front of her and ride the wave on her roller skates, so long as she plugs her ears. Harley’s voiceover pops out of nowhere saying, “Told you she had a killer voice.”
Harley skates maniacally trying to catch up to Black Mask’s vintage car that he brings out for gunfights, but a slightly less vintage car sideswipes her into a van. Huntress shows up on her crotch rocket and tosses her a rope. Harley grabs it and Huntress catches up to the convertible and slings Harley into its open top, where she beats everyone handily despite the fact that they have guns and she’s on roller skates.
Then she rolls onto the hood for her next stunt, which is her getting thrown on Sionis’s car and hanging hidden on the rear bumper like she’s Marty McFly. Sionis shoots at her. She keeps low and away from his line of fire. The driver hits the brakes abruptly and Harley zooms up front, hanging on to the car’s grille. Sionis keeps shooting until Harley backflips onto the hood. She pulls one gunman out of the window and sweeps in the driver’s window to knock him unconscious with her roller skates. Sionis tries to keep shooting but Cassandra throws his gun away. The car crashes into a statue.
Harley pursues Sionis and Cassandra onto a fog-shrouded pier dotted with random statues. Sionis taunts Harley with her inability to protect herself in Joker’s absence. “Here’s the thing, Romey baby,” she says. “Your protection is based on the fact that people are scared of you—just like they’re scared of Mr. J. But I’m the one they should be scared of… because I’m Harley. Fucking. Quinn!” And then she puts her single bullet through the head of a statue.
“That was super embarrassing,” says Sionis, and prepares to execute Cassandra. Harley blurts out an apology for trying to sell her to Sionis. “For what it’s worth, you made me want to be a less terrible person.”
“Ew,” says Sionis. “As long as we’re apologizing for shit…” Cassandra says. “I stole something from you. I took your ring!”
Cassandra holds up a ring on her finger, which is not a ring, but the pin to a grenade, which (a quick flashback confirms) Cassandra took out of Harley’s weapons box earlier. Sionis gasps at the sudden realization, and Cassandra moves away from him while Harley kicks him off the pier. He screams girlishly all the way down before exploding in a definitely-not-showing-up-for-the-sequel kind of way.
The women all retire to a Mexican restaurant for a breakfast of burritos and margaritas. Huntress, very much out of her element, compliments Canary on her ability to kick high in tight pants. Montoya says that a new figure will soon fill the power vacuum left by Sionis, and they have to clean up the city from the inside out. Huntress asks if she always talks like an ’80s cop cliche, because this movie can’t use a trope ironically without tripping over itself to explain the reference. Cassandra excuses herself to poop out the diamond, telling Harley to bring the colander (ew), and then the two steal Canary’s car just for funsies.
Harley drives the car away after another inexplicable costume change into a wide, spangly jacket. “I know you think I’m a dick after all that, but you heard what the cop said! Sionis is gone! And those guys… they’re gonna be just fine.”
A wrap-up montage, narrated by Harley’s voiceover (what was the point of that last bit of narration, then?) confirms that Montoya quit the force and she, Huntress, and Canary have formed the crime-fighting team Birds of Prey. Harley sent the bank account numbers to Huntress where they belonged, sold the diamond itself, and went into business as “Harley Quinn & Associates: Badass Motherfuckers”. Harley goes on to say that she took Cassandra on as her crime padawan and even found Bruce the hyena still alive, and she makes a bad joke about hyenas and everything that can be wrapped up has been wrapped up and yet Harley’s still talking and mercifully stops once she finds that egg sandwich she’s been chasing this whole movie and takes a big bite. The end.
Well, not the end. There’s a post-credits sequence where Harley, appearing in narration only over a black screen, chastises the audience for being the kind of giant nerd to wait in the theater for a post-credits sequence, then figures it’s only fair for her to reveal a secret: “Batman is—” Then she gets cut off.
Okay. So. That sure was an alright motion picture, right? Kind of feels like the DCEU is hitting its stride. They’re gradually getting the hang of making a movie universe. What a time for a pandemic that will end the movie industry as we know it. It remains to be seen whether studios have it in them to keep bankrolling gargantuan money-sink franchises, let alone whether consumers will continue to show any interest in movies about fantasy worlds where all personal, political, and social problems can be solved by punching them hard enough. Just in case Harley Quinn movies continue to exist, here’s my two cents for what form they should take:
1) No more voiceover. As it turns out, Harley’s thoughts aren’t particularly deep, nor do they help move the plot along or sketch her character any better, nor are they very entertaining by themselves. Harley works best when she’s like a live-action Looney Tune and her visual presence does all the talking. The voiceover narration popping in at totally unpredictable moments, over-explaining everything she’s doing, and making bad riffs on jokes she already made diegetically, is tiresome. If you have to have Harley address the audience, do it in a fourth-wall-breaking soliloquy, which at least still feels fresh for a superhero movie. Speaking of which…
2) I liked the movie’s introduction of novel stylistic devices and storytelling modes. The weird, hallucinatory fantasy dance sequence? That was really cool. Less cool but still admirable was the brief flirtation with a nonlinear chronology. The problem comes when both these things are used precisely once and then left behind. It feels perfunctory
3) Jurnee Smollett-Bell sucks. Just plain sucks. Recast that role toot-sweet. No one will care. How many Batmen have we been through so far?
4) Believe it or not, you can riff ironically on a movie trope without explaining what you’re doing. Some people may even prefer it! Insisting on clarifying the origin of every single reference makes you look like you don’t trust your own audience, which is an especially bad move when you’re making a conscious effort to appeal to an audience that isn’t often represented in this genre. You’re correctly arguing that women do, in fact, see action and superhero movies. So act like it!
And that’s a wrap. Thanks for reading.