MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) - In Theaters
Directed by Cathy Yan
Starring Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez
I remember the golden era of DC Comics which began back in the late 1930s and lasted through the 60s. Superman was an All-American Hero (with the patriotic colors of red and blue in his costume) and an adopted orphan from another planet who always stood for “truth, justice and the American way”. Batman was a rich philanthropist who moonlighted as an undercover vigilante fighter against colorful villains.
And then Marvel Comics arrived on the scene, with its conflicted heroes and intermingled story lines, often crossing over from one comic book to another. DC was soon hustling to keep fans from migrating over to the Marvel Universe.
Eventually with 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was launched (under the watchful care of Kevin Feige) and extended their world into a series of 22 interconnected films that told a unified story, with sidebar television network and streaming series to boot. Including The Avengers, these were exciting tales that showed teamwork and sacrifice.
Now DC had to come up with a plan. They decided on calling it the DC Extended Universe, launching it in 2013 with the Superman movie Man of Steel. But they have never been quite able to develop a clear vision. The films just don’t hang together. Some are quite dark and overlong (Batman v Superman, Justice League); one was very good (Wonder Woman); and one was sweet (Shazam!).
And then there’s Suicide Squad, which tried to flip the script with a manic group of lawbreakers and anarchists, led by The Joker (Jared Leto) and his girlfriend Harley Quinn (Robbie). The film was a mess, but Robbie stood out as its best character.
Here comes Birds of Prey. Its cartoon prologue tells us that she has broken up with The Joker (for closure she blows up the chemical plant where they first met) and is on the outs with the general populace of Gotham City. Harley is a fun-loving breaker of rules and this film shows her not only battling the criminal boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) but befriending Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a shoplifting girl, and getting to know the women who would become the team known as Birds of Prey.
You might call this film the first #MeToo comic book movie, since it clearly shows women standing up against men who try to objectify them. However, when every man turns out to be a bit of loser and there are no romantic overtones, female empowerment seems a bit of a shallow victory. To its credit, this is a fast-paced and colorful film and I liked the character development. But the overkill of strong language and ironic death and torture scenes makes for an uncomfortable watch.
Yes, times have changed since the sweet patriotism of Superman. And the stomach-churning violence in this film is also a staple of cable television and Law and Order SVU. At least the Marvel folks are trying to move things back to a moral center. DC is still throwing stuff onto the wall; Birds of Prey seems to be sticking, but you might not want to get close enough to smell it.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: A colorful treatment of a dark world makes for an entertaining - if ethically confusing - diversion.
Four pitchforks: Extreme violence, including torture and the removal of faces; pervasive strong swearing; drugs and alcohol; shoplifting; corruption.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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