Other Media Review

Movie Review: Birds of Prey (2020)

Before we get into Birds of Prey, my experience, and what this means for moviegoers like myself, I’ll just give you the TL;DR portion of the review now. Go see it. The movie is fun, cathartic, has some amazing cinematography, and a kickass soundtrack.

But there was a sadness that accompanied this movie, which occurred when I emerged from the theaters and made the dumbest decision of my life, which was logging onto Twitter. The movie has been out a few days and it’s already being panned as a box office flop. Will women ever be able to write and produce just as many goofy, enjoyably fun action movies (What up, Charlie’s Angels reboot) as men?

Now, I’ll momentarily get off my soapbox. No promises on whether I’ll hop back on it by the end of this review!

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is really about Harley’s breakup from the Joker and the formation of the Birds of Prey. Like anyone who has gone through a bad breakup, Harley begins drinking away her problems, gets a new pet, cuts her hair, and eats Cheez-Whiz straight from the can. She realizes her taste in men is terrible and that she’s never truly been on her own before; it’s scary for her.

If you enjoy a team of fine women beating up men, you will love this movie. The action scenes are a whole lot of fun and there is never really a moment where I worried one of the actresses wasn’t going to make it out alive. Do I love a tense, life-or-death situation? Yes, but there was also a sense of security and comfort knowing that these women were ultimately going to be fine. Once again: see Sarah’s and my conversation about Charlie’s Angels.

There was a tweet I saw about how the villain of the movie is really toxic masculinity and that’s spot on. A majority of the main characters are directly affected by things like workplace sexism, gaslighting, emotional abuse, being constantly underestimated, neglect, etc. at the hands of men. The women don’t hesitate in joining forces and the pivotal fight scene of the movie is the four adult women protecting a young Cassandra Cain. Even just thinking about all the strong moments of girl power is making me tear up right now at my computer. I’m also on my period and started crying during the Mulan trailer. Do with that what you will.

There are some warnings that should be issued, though all of the things I will mention are handled respectfully and are not done gratuitously. Content warnings for the next paragraphs below because I do not want anyone to be surprised and put in a dangerous or unhealthy place.

All the warnings you may need.

  • Threat of sexual assaultThere is one scene where Harley is drunk and a man is trying to coax her into a van with his friends in an alleyway. Canary comes to her rescue and beats the shit out of them.
  • Verbal abuse/neglectCassandra Cain sports a broken arm in the film. Her foster parents are heard shouting and throwing things, with the father blaming the mother for housing Cassandra, and that he never wanted her in the first place. I’m unsure if it’s supposed to be implied that Cassandra’s arm was broken due to abuse or if it’s a cover for her pickpocketing.
  • Public sexual humiliationEwan McGregor is the big bad of the movie; he plays Black Mask. At one point, he assumes a woman is laughing at him in his own club. He forces her to get onto a table, where he commands another patron to cut the woman’s dress off. The scene pans to Canary who is trying not to cry.
  • TortureIf you’re not familiar with the character of Black Mask, he is a sadist of the highest order. There is only one torture scene, where a family of three (dad, mom, teen daughter) are murdered. The dad has his face skinned off. Not terribly graphic, but it’s not vague either.
  • Family massacre, including childrenA backstory to the events of the movie include an entire family being gunned down, including children. It’s not the family in the torture, but an entirely different one. This clip is shown a few times.

Something extremely important I want to note is the cast of this movie.

It was directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, both women of color. A majority of the cast are women of color (Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Ali Wong) and several secondary characters are men of color. Basco is literally the first person to play Cassandra Cain (Batgirl) on film and she is only thirteen! Margot Robbie served as a producer and the movie even has an all-female soundtrack. There are women of all ages and sexualities represented. (Will I be writing a Huntress/Harley fic based on one scene alone? Yes, probably.)

Seriously, this movie is GIRL POWER ALL THE WAY DOWN and I’m honestly surprised that no one is talking about how groundbreaking these stats are.

The villains, played by Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina, are fucked up and terrifying and I’m honestly kind of in awe at how well these two actors played evil dudes.

This movie is a little like the equivalent of a BuzzFeed quiz, “20 Things Only Women Will Understand:”

  • Giving your best friend a hair tie while in a fight.
  • The pain of being punched in the tit.
  • Being called a “dumb slut,” only to then break the man’s legs in retaliation while reminding him that, “I have a PhD, motherfucker.”
  • Men reaching into the wrong pocket and finding your tampon stash.
  • Supporting your girlfriends’ choice in crime-fighting nicknames.
  • Opening your friend’s chocolate milk because their nail polish is still drying.
  • Getting offended when someone calls your crossbow a “bow and arrow” because “you’re not fucking twelve.”

You know, just girl things! All these moments combined to make me feel like this movie was for me.

I don’t want to say this movie is the Spice World of the new decade, but it’s pretty damn close. You have a kickass girl group trying to save the world from crappy men and the music slaps (the kids are still saying that, yes?).

Though it is rated R, I’d say this was suitable for an older-ish teen, if you take into account the above content warnings.

*inches toward the soapbox*

I know going to the movies can be pricey and some of us have incredibly limited free time, but if you want more movies in this franchise, or that are fun, goofy, action-filled romps that center women like this one does, the only real way to show support is to buy a ticket. I, selfishly, want to see all these women on screen together again.

Ed note: Are you going to see it again?

I think I may. By myself. With a movie theatre hot dog and some Sour Patch Kids.

Update from the future: I bought a ticket for Tuesday afternoon.

Add Your Comment →

  1. 1

    I adored this movie so much. I saw it Saturday and I’ll probably go see it again this weekend. It’s all the things.

  2. 2
    Jake says:

    Slightly concerned by the fact the trailer thumbnail looks like she’s making out with a hyena, but then given Harley’s luck with men this is probably a step up.

  3. 3
    NomadiCat says:

    I had high expectations going into this movie (it’s been on my calendar for over a year) AND IT OVER DELIVERED ON EVERY ONE. I love explosions. I love beautifully choreographed, innovative fight scenes. I love girls teaming up to beat the crap out of the patriarchy in its many forms. I love that Margot Robbie was finally comfortable in her costumes, and that all the women gleefully kicked ass in realistic ways in their clothes. I loved that everyone had pockets. I loved the hair tie thing.

    And the breakfast sandwich. Oh my god, the whole plot thread about a woman just trying to eat her perfect damn breakfast sandwich in peace spoke to my soul.

    One thing I really appreciated from a narrative perspective is that, while the group does (occasionally) support each other, Harley is called out on the fact that she’s thoughtless and careless in the way she treats other people. Repeatedly. She’s been through hell and she is given sympathy for that, but these ladies all have amazing boundaries and when Harley or anyone else makes a choice that screws over people who didn’t deserve it, it gets pointed out. Harley isn’t given a pass because she’s the main character (see also: Deadpool, BBC Sherlock, et al.), but instead there’s a very subtle message in the movie that real change starts with changing yourself.

    If you’ve ever craved an amazing explodey action movie from the perspective of the female gaze? They made this for us. Enjoy.

  4. 4
    Soohydc says:

    I’m so glad!! It looks so good and then various reviews made me nervous.I should have known. I’m going to take my daughter this weekend!

  5. 5
    Lostshadows says:

    I really enjoyed this movie. movie

    I was a little worried about the tone being way too serious when I learned the villain was Black Mask, but I think they nailed it.

    I loved that her new pet ended up named Bruce.

  6. 6
    Heather C says:

    I loved the hair tie moment. I saw this movie with 3 men and knew they would not understand that moment

  7. 7
    Audrey says:

    I saw this tweet about the critical reactions to this movie and it says absolutely everything that I suspected about what’s going down.

    This movie rocks balls.

  8. 8
    Jess says:

    But where is this Huntress/Harley fic?

  9. 9
    Lisa F says:

    Funnest movie of the year IMO.

  10. 10
    LovelloftheWolves says:

    The only thing I wish the movie had more of was the actual birds of prey just bouncing off each other. When they finally come together they’re so wonderful and dynamic that I desperately want a sequel/ spin off that focuses solely on Huntress, Black Canary and Rene Montoya (maybe as a “how Rene Montoya became a The Question” movie?). That diner scene at the end? I would watch it as an entire movie unto itself.

    I went the day after opening day and the theatre was sadly empty and it made me worried for the future of this kind of movie/ franchise. I’m trying to get as many of my friends as possible to see it, because it’s so much more fun than the trailers make it out to be.

  11. 11
    Antipodean Shenanigans says:

    I had a shit day at work where I was told I needed to be less bossy and more quiet, and going to see this movie was the perfect remedy. Gorgeous women kicking ass on their own terms.

  12. 12
    Amanda says:

    @Jess: I’m working on it! It’s undergoing restructuring as I think it’d be more fun for each chapter to be a little vignette of Harley being brash and bold and Huntress being super awkward, rather than a fully plotted fic.

  13. 13
    Big K says:

    @AntipodeanShenanigans that sucks! I’ve been told I talk too much, and I’m too outspoken and loud my whole life. While listening and being respectful are important, more women have to ignore that kind of censorship And don’t tell me I’m bossy when I’m the one getting all the work done, just say “thank you,” and buy me some pastries.
    Thanks for the great review! Looking forward to the movie.

  14. 14
    Tina says:

    I plan to see this movie but only because the word of mouth is so strong. Also because Gail Simone loves it. And I have a lot of respect for her perspective given that she writes these characters for a living.

    I was not even planning to see it because the trailer & the pre-release art etc. all make it seem like the movie was just going to be ‘Harley Quinn and… oh yeah… these other girls.’ It didn’t make it feel like it was going to be a true Birds of Prey movie or that the rest of the ensemble would even have that much of a presence beyond just being her hangers on. So I am glad the hear that they get some real character development and are really a part of the story. And I am very glad to hear that the movie is realy just strong, female centric bonkers fun. Which is very much in my viewing wheelhouse.

  15. 15
    NancyW says:

    Anyone else send a link to this review at 11am and attended the 5:30pm show? There are only 10 other people in the theatre but so glad we are here too.

  16. 16
    Heather Greye says:

    We just saw this last night and had a blast. I loved that the women were strong and badass. It was hilarious too. My husband really enjoyed it too – he put it on fun par with Deadpool.

    I really wish people would just let girls have fun movies – that everyone can enjoy.

  17. 17
    Emily says:

    I just saw it today and it’s going on my list of top cheesy action movies. The fight scenes were amazing, the music was great, the costumes worked, the villain was creepy af, and it spoke truth about the perfect hangover breakfast sandwich.

  18. 18
    NancyW says:

    I need to share more SBTB reviews with the spouse. he mentioned today that he’s glad to have read this review before watching the movie because he didn’t think he’d have caught the significance of most of these moments otherwise – other than the hair tie, but that’s because I have long hair and ALWAYS have at least one hair tie in every purse.

  19. 19
    ReneeG says:

    Went with my sister to see this movie and didn’t have any expectations because a) Suicide Squad and b) DC comics. BUT – Loved IT! The fight scenes were awesome and the fight choreography rocked. The story kept track of all the lines and brought them all together by the end. The way Black Mask had issues with women and then ended up was great and very cathartic. (Fork the tone police!). The little moments in the film, especially the hair tie and shoe change, just made the joy that much brighter. Definitely one to again, just to catch the little moments.

    I just can’t say enough about how this movie made me feel. This was a girl getting over a guy, accepting responsibility for her actions, and finding a bunch of gal pals to take down evil. This goes on the list of movies to own and rewatch again and again. So glad Margot Robbie stuck with her version of Harley – she made a wonderfully fun movie. Stupid fanboys – they should be tit-punched.

  20. 20
    neh says:

    Thanks to you all I went-I watched-I’ll squee! Loved it. Great review and recs- thanks sbitches!

  21. 21
    gremlin says:

    My husband and I saw this over the weekend, and had very different enjoyment levels. I’m laughing a lot, and when it was over he’s like ‘well that sucked’. Disappointing. I didn’t notice – but probably those things mentioned, like the hair tie.

    There are some definite cringe moments, but since you brought it up I might just go see it again by myself next week. (But yeah, I’m not watching the leg breakings again.)

    Unfortunately, when I had time to go see the Charlie’s Angels reboot it had already left the theater, but I’m hoping to catch that through on demand.

  22. 22
    HeatherS says:

    I really wish they’d release a director’s cut that is PG-13, because the only thing that keeps this film from being in regular rotation in my “evening popcorn movie” schedule is the language and the violence. Maybe the film’s producers wanted an R rating in order to be “truer” to the comic character, but a PG-13 rating would have been better for the audience, most of whom won’t pick up the comics but will happily watch a movie, often more than once.

    “Suicide Squad” isn’t as good, but I have watched it a lot more than I will “Birds of Prey” because the violence doesn’t hit levels that gross me out and I’m not constantly bombarded by the F-word.

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