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I’m going to attribute the film’s underwhelming first weekend box office to the general hatred of suicide squad. I’ve never understood why so many professional (and non) critics tend to attribute a sequel’s opening weekend box office to factors other than how well fans liked the last movie or how beloved a character is if it’s a first installment. For example, when wonder woman was released there were innumerable articles and opinions citing it as evidence that Americans were desperately clamoring for a female superhero tale told by a female director, as opposed to the more obvious reason: fans finally got to see a childhood favorite on the big screen.
Similarly, if birds of prey had exceeded opening weekend expectations and opened huge, many critics would be saying this was a result of Americans being desperate to see more female lead projects written and directed by women. The fact that it didn’t already has at least 1 critic accusing comic book fans of being sexist. This seems to be the mainstream “woke” mentality: if things don’t go how I want them to go, it’s proof of some kind of “-ism”. And if they do go the way I want, it’s proof that most Americans think like I do and are desperate for more films written and created by (insert marginalized group here).
I don’t think most Americans think this way and the reason I write all this is because birds of prey (or I should say the Harley Quinn movie that uses - and guts (especially Cassandra Cain) - some pretty great characters that should have their own movie as supporting characters) wears its “woke” feminism overtly and stridently on its sleeve. It’s not simply interested in giving females some empowering characters to enjoy but also in portraying 99% of its male characters as awful chauvinists/rapists. If there were ever a superhero movie that could be called misandrist, this would be the one. (And to be clear, I use that term somewhat glibly but no more glibly than the way terms like misogyny are tossed around.)
Or, alternatively, as one critic put it, the film could simply be viewed as an important commentary on “rape culture”. (Albeit one where 99% of the men are awful.) There’s one scene in particular that sticks out where Mcgregor’s ultra violent sociopath humiliates a woman. It’s as if the fact that he’s this despicable violent sociopath with some disturbing misogynistic paintings (and presumably culturally “appropriated” masks he’s not appreciating correctly) is not enough, we need to watch him humiliate this woman to underline the point and tell us how truly evil he is. (Of course if the male audience members were half as misogynistic as the filmmakers seem to believe this scene would not have its intended impact.)
For these reasons I expect many reviews of this film to start with the words “oh it’s a lot better than suicide squad” to show solidarity with the films “woke” message, no matter how heavy handedly that message is delivered. (By the end of the film the characters are literally crashing into, and inadvertently smashing, statues of men.) And no matter how mediocre the rest of the film is. The fact that Margot Robbie insisted that both the director and the writer be female (neither named Gail Simone) even though all of these characters were created and popularized by males (readers as well) says a lot. (And Gail Simone’s run on birds of prey is essential and my fave too -bc she’s a good writer, not bc she’s a woman- but that came years after the comic had already been established.)
As for everything underneath it’s message? I found it a lot like suicide squad. In your face and messy. Robbie is one of those amazing actors who can make almost any character they play likable even one that in lesser hands would be extremely annoying. Many of the fight scenes are also extremely well choreographed and carry a visceral punch. The scene in the evidence warehouse/jail break and the rollerskating car chase are particular standouts. But I thought the soundtrack was extremely second rate and the comedy at the level of MTV video music awards. But comedy is extremely subjective so how funny one finds it will vary and how funny one finds it is key. My girlfriend laughed a lot more than I did and so, enjoyed it more.
Lastly, as a fan of the comics characters that birthed all of this and got me to pay for a ticket, I also was not happy with the fact that this version neuters the character of Cassandra Cain (a complicated and troubled character who deserves her own movie) and uses the New 52 version of Black Canary who isn’t a brilliant fighter/secret agent, but a.... singer. Huntress is sufficiently badass but also kind of played for laughs which works here. I also like Montoya, but I If they were to make an actual birds of prey standalone film I think there would need to be a lot of changes.