Birds of Prey is one of those comic properties that know very little about. While I’ve always been more of a DC fan, and Batman has always been my favorite of the DC heroes, I’ve rarely ventured too far outside of his main title. Of course, I’ve seen some of his various animated films and shows, so I’m familiar with characters like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya, but I’ve never been introduced to Huntress or Black Canary. So, going into this movie I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The DCEU has a historically uneven track record, with only Wonder Woman and Shazam being particularly good and this film is technically a sequel to the atrocious 2016 Suicide Squad film, so there was certainly no guarantee of quality here. Couple that with the slightly-unusual way the film was promoted and it became quite hard to predict just what kind of film Birds of Prey would be. Luckily, the film is an utter delight from start to finish and ranks among the best entries of the DCEU to date. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Written by Christina Hodson and directed by Cathy Yan
You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is a twisted tale told by Harley (Margot Robbie) herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz (Chris Messina), put a target on a young girl named Cass (Ella Jay Basco), the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya’s (Rosie Perez) paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.
I don’t know that I, Tonya (written by Steven Rogers and directed by Craig Gillespie) every fully comes together as a film, but it’s a massively enjoyable two hours, for sure. It’s mainly due to extraordinary performances from the cast – especially Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding and Allison Janey as her mother, LaVona Golden – that the film ends up being as good as it is. Narratively, it’s a bit all over the place. Both the framing of the story – as though the filmmakers are interviewing the people involved in the plot – and the occasional literal interruption of scenes by the various characters breaking the fourth wall to address the audience are very clever and give the film a sense of humor and narrative thrust the whole film. I wanna be clear that I, Tonya is a very enjoyable film. The actors are great, the dialogue is witty and sharp, the script is often very clever and very funny, and the cinematography is frequently stunning – especially during the scenes reenacting one of Tonya Harding’s figure skating performances.
I just don’t know that the actual plot of the film ever fully comes together. I’m not sure what the movie was trying to say about the whole Nancy Kerrigan incident. I think the film was operating under the assumption that Harding, herself, was mostly innocent, and the whole thing was the fault of her ex-husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and his idiot friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser). This thesis would make sense in the context of the film as a frequent, recurring theme is how Tonya never takes responsibility for her own actions. Her poor scores are always someone else’s fault; anytime anything goes wrong, it’s never her fault. So, maybe the film is extending that theme to cover the Nancy Kerrigan incident. It’s not Tonya’s fault that it happened, even though she knew about it. I just don’t think the film really makes that clear. Still, even if the film doesn’t ever completely come together narratively and thematically, it’s still a lot of fun. It’s funny, beautiful to look at, filled with impressive performances from talented actors and actresses, and it’s a good way to spend two hours.