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In review: ‘Birds of Prey’ packs girl power punch

While the title of this review could refer to the fact that “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.” formally “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” finished atop the box office last weekend, but it is merely describing that, so far, it is my favorite movie of 2020.

Granted, there are few movies to compare it to thus far. But I have seen seven movies so far this year and this one squeaks by the Guy Ritchie helmed, “The Gentlemen” to take top spot. Am I saying this deserves a best picture Oscar? No. But, it is a whole lot better than the movie this spinoff came from, “Suicide Squad.”

Before I delve further, let me explain the reason for the name change. While “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” was No. 1 at the box office its opening weekend, it opened at $33 million, much lower than the conservative $45 million Warner Bros. projected. While that figure isn’t bad, it should’ve been a whole lot better.

The truth is: Warner Bros. bungled the marketing of this DC Comics movie from the start. It started with the title, and got worse from there.

While trailers and TV spots for the film had Harley Quinn front and center, the title did not. The studio changed its marketing title to “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” even though it is not the film’s official title, yet.

In my opinion, it is what the movie should have been titled from the start. How else did they bungle the advertising, you might ask?

I will answer your question with another question. For those who haven’t seen the movie yet, can you tell me what the plot of the movie is? The title lets us know which characters are in it, and the internet lets us know that Ewan McGregor is Black Mask, but what is the movie about? You can’t, can you? It’s the reason I went into the movie apprehensive.

When a movie’s marketing, (MCU aside), does very little to nothing to tell you what the plot of the movie is, that’s because the story is bad. This fact is why I still haven’t seen “Dolittle” with Robert Downey Jr. yet.

As much as I love RDJ, even he can’t save a bad film. The trailers and TV spots did nothing to let me know what the plot of the movie was other than “Dolittle” can talk to animals, which is why I haven’t seen it yet.

“Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” may have moved the needle for me to see it sooner than I originally anticipated, because I really liked “Birds of Prey.”

I’m going to tell you something that the trailers and TV spots didn’t — the plot of Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. Don’t worry, this is spoiler-free review. As all the marketing told us, Harley and Joker broke up. This leads to Harleen Quinzel, played wonderfully by Margot Robbie once again, to be on her own. That means no one is fearful of repercussions from the Joker anymore if they harm Harley.

As Daddy’s Lil Monster, that fear meant she received immunity from her bad behavior, but now that they’re broken up, a lot of Gotham City scum want to take their revenge. Descriptions of Harley’s actions that brought forth her comeuppance from the citizens of Gotham provides a good deal of comedic fodder throughout the movie. One such citizen is Roman Sionis, “Romy” to Harley Quinn, (aka Black Mask), hamfully played in all the best ways by Ewan McGregor, and is my favorite DCEU villain thus far.

While this is clearly a Harley Quinn movie, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention that beneath all the Harley Quinn hype, this is a Birds of Prey origin story. Huntress (Mary Elizabeth-Winstead), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) make up the titular team and are seen circling Harley’s world until they finally join forces to protect Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), an orphaned thief with a bounty on her head, who has a particular sparkly jewel that “Romy” wants.

This is director Cathy Yan’s first major studio movie, and while I enjoyed the movie, it shows in the second act. She uses jumps in time to further flesh out the backstory for Huntress, Montoya, and Lance and while it does add some more comedy, it feels out of place and was done much better in Deadpool. The music choice was a little too on the nose at times, not as much so as the No Doubt song used in the climactic battle scene in “Captain Marvel” last year, but there were better choices to be had. I’m just nitpicking here as she did a much better job here than David Ayer did with “Suicide Squad.” In fact, one of my comments out of the theater was, “This is what Suicide Squad should have been.”

Yan did a great job with the action scenes, but that wasn’t surprising since she had some help from famed director Chad Stahelski (The John Wick Franchise) who went uncredited. He helped design new action scenes during reshoots. It showed, because a lot of action scenes reminded me of ones from the John Wick series, especially the use of long action shots instead of quick cuts to artificially inflate the energy of the action.

While the action scenes don’t have the ballet — like movement of the Wick series, it has all the fun and creativity of them and Yan was wise in accepting the help and utilizing his skills to make what is the most fun I have had at the movies so far this year.

So, take your favorite gal pals out for Galentine’s Day and see a movie that celebrates the power of women and what they can achieve when they work together.

I give this movie 8.5 popcorn kernels out of 10.

J.A. Latona is a Dunkirk resident who runs the the nonprofit movie theater, El Rigby Theater, that hosts Free Movies in Memorial Park in the summer.

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