Comic book film fans seem to be the most inconsistent bunch in terms of what they love to hate. From tone-deaf reviews, to frothing Twitter outrage, we’re looking at a group that has something to say about everything, even films they’ve never seen, and aren’t planning to.
Contrary to this, I’m pretty open. Though a DC fan, I do appreciate when the MCU knocks it out of the park. The latest two Avengers films, Deadpool, Winter Soldier, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Logan all easily come to mind.
I try to go into media without any expectations. Because of this, I’m usually pleasantly surprised.
However, when I watch a piece of media, I do have a requirement: I want to feel something.
I want style, I want risk, and I want to care when a character suffers, dies, thrives, or survives. I’m looking for art, not explosions.
The spectacle of CGI-laden superhero battles grows pale in the face of art.
I wrongly assume most comic book nerds feel the same, considering Joker and Logan were universally lauded as genre-breaking. They deserve that accolade.
But what of Birds of Prey?
You might be shaking your head at the moment; silly Weeb, Birds of Prey is bad. My response would simply be: why?
Why is there so much criticism lobbed at a film that delights in its art and embraces shirking tradition? Why do people find it cloying over a refreshing departure from same-same-same?
How can people hate Birds of Prey when Robbie delivers an Oscar-worthy performance over the death of an egg sandwich!?
I went on the hunt for such an answer. Here are my unsurprising findings, and my unsurprising—albeit disappointing—conclusion.
Fractured narrative in Birds of Prey is the issue
Yet, other comic book movies provide the same exact flaw…
If you stare long enough at what is generally panned by certain niche demographics, you start to see a trend. This trend comes into focus when it butts up against films with similar “methods” that are beloved despite holding similar flaws.
I read this article—somehow finding itself lodged like a wet loogie in the skull of the New Yorker—and really only have one key take-away:
Margot Robbie is probably the problem, or perhaps, Harley Quinn herself.
Keep the following quote in mind, because it’s the defining sentence of the messy gish-gallop in question:
Harley’s backstory depends on a barely coherent batch of elements that fit together too casually to develop any substantial psychology.
Let’s move our focus to Captain America: Civil War, because it should elicit a similar criticism:
Captain America: Civil War sits between blow-out Avengers mess and OOC solo exploration. Since Birds of Prey occupies a space between “crew comes together” and “character journey things”, it’s a fair comparison
Captain America: Civil War asks you know the characters already, and buy that Steve Rogers would start a war to save someone he isn’t in actual love with (Bucky Barnes).
There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief in this film, OOC writing, as well as asking the audience to understand things that exist elsewhere in cinematic—and comic book—universes.
This happens constantly with comic book movies.
The Avengers films—at large—feed off of one another, offer an “in” for viewers to appreciate the characters therein, and expect the audience to hold characterization between pieces of media.
It is a current trend; only true nerds know what’s up.
Birds of Prey doesn’t require prior viewing of Suicide Squad, but it does ask that you know who Harley Quinn, even just a little bit.
It is a continuum of a story, which is a device many contemporary comic book films beg viewers engage with.
This is just one reason why the above explanation of Birds of Prey’s flaws is flimsy at best.
If Birds of Prey does it (and I’d argue well enough to not need nearly as much media knowledge), while so many others films do, why is this a fair critique?
It isn’t, and that’s where the trend begins to take shape.
Bad characterization is another problem Birds of Prey suffers from
Yet, characterization also lives in the tapestry of how a film is made…
Another issue with this particular critique is explained with poor media literacy. Despite the article in question being well written, it shows a lack of the capacity to analyze environment, action, aesthetics, and comedy as characterization.
Birds of Prey asks that you understand that the comedy, dotted like neon sequins throughout, is a character itself—a portrait, if you will.
The film’s flavor is Harley Quinn, in form, function, and expression. This is her emancipation, this is her ethos. This is the world through her eyes, this is who she is.
This is a form of film-making I love most.
One where a soundtrack, setting, choice of writing style, aesthetic, devices, and general form all act as beacons for what isn’t said. It’s molding the film to the interior of its concepts, using the exterior experience as a canvas.
Never you mind that the other characters receive much the same treatment as Harley does, in glossy, stylized glory, with title cards and phrasings of personality.
This is Black Canary, a kept bird who could be, and becomes, and is, a force to be reckoned with. She reclaims her power by addressing the trauma of her mother’s death, and it’s a sight to behold.
This is Cassandra Cain, who will eventually adopt the Batgirl title. She gets a real taste of the criminal underworld in Birds of Prey by being thrust into the drama, and her thieving ways may yet be stymied by the events therein.
This is Huntress, who is somehow both awkward and bad ass at the same time. Every scene she’s the focus of breathes the newness of a caped vigilante, contingent on revenge, who will go on to do great things.
This is Renee Montoya, who deals with sexism in the police force so impossibly powerful that she sides with the bad girls club of the Birds of Prey to get shit done. She is tired. I am also tired.
We are all tired of fighting the insecure, watered down, man-baby cousins of Black Mask in our waking life.
This is Black Mask (Roman Sionis). He has a thing for peeling off peoples’ faces. He thinks himself very amazing, while simultaneously having the fragility of a strand of dry pasta. He represents many things, all of which are apparent if one actually watches the film.
There are more characters to discuss, namely Victor Zsasz, who deserved more characterization, but is amusingly situated as Roman Sionis’ partner in crime and boyfriend. That is still a whole lot of character to contend with, and I would love to see how he progresses.
These are the characters. This is who they are in shots framed, in bubbling glasses from sonic super powers, in color and action, and so much more.
I want to see more of the rest of the crew, and am hoping for a sequel that explores their characters more deeply.
Which we may never get because people who think themselves Very Intelligent™ have maligned this film enough to potentially slap away a second helping.
To think the film lacks characterization is inaccurate: it doesn’t. It simply asks you to not only view but participate in understanding what is said in the meat of how the film was made.
The meat of the film is about a group of women. Who they are, what they stand for, and what they fight against.
Therein our trend starts to take shape.
Birds of Prey Sucked, because various reasons…
That don’t make sense, but apparently are wildly agreed with
Let’s go down the laundry list of what this particular viral Youtube Rant outlines as reasons for Birds of Prey being a terrible film. It’s fairly easy to serve up criticism for the lack of intellectual honesty and apparent misunderstanding of the entire Batman universe.
1 – The market doesn’t exist, so why even make the film.
It exists. The film just wasn’t made specifically with you in mind. Simple. Next.
2 – The Joker is suspiciously absent from this film.
This is irrelevant. It’s a film about the Birds of Prey and the emancipation of Harley Quinn. He is relegated as no longer necessary for Harley’s growth. Next.
3 – Harley and Joker broke up because she was apparently the mastermind behind many of his plans, and This Is Inaccurate.
As per Harley’s origins in Batman: The Animated Series, it’s proven she has good ideas. It’s proven The Joker does not like when she steals the spotlight.
It’s proven he maligns her intelligence. If you didn’t know this, it’s time to go find her origins, which exist in television, not the comics.
I’m apparently the Real Batman Fan who knows these things, or something.
4 – “Realistically” Harley wouldn’t stay in Gotham once The Joker no longer offers her protection by the grace of their toxic relationship.
I guess getting dunked in a vat of chemicals and becoming pasty-faced and More Evil is somehow realistic. I guess a man in a Bat outfit punching villains into a coma is realistic. I guess a man in a scarecrow outfit gassing people with Fear Toxin is realistic.
Comic Books and Comic Book Movies Are Weird. Next.
5 – Harley’s retribution by way of exploding a chemical plant, which should have killed hundreds of civilians and cause environmental damage, is…Badand not expanded upon.
She’s a villain. Comic books are weird. It’s not important to the plot. Gotham never made sense.
On that note, nobody should live in Gotham. It’s the most dangerous damned city in the entire comic book ecosystem. Next.
6 – Black Canary, a superpowered human with supersonic skills, could never beat up a bunch of grown adult men.
Smells like sexism; color me surprised. Goons are always incompetent; I could probably beat them up and I’m 5’1″ with no upper body strength.
Furthermore, realism flew out the window the minute Batman, a smart (non superpowered) guy with a lot of money, single-handedly took down Wizards, Aliens, and more. Nobody questions that, I wonder why.
7 – There’s a diamond that has the bank account info in it (which Drunken Rant Guy accepts) that Black Mask wants. Tween Cassandra steals this from an incompetent goon, which is Impossible Because Reasons™.
Nearly all goons in the Batman universe are incompetent. That’s why they’re goons.
If they were any good at their jobs, no actual Batman story would exist. The Batman universe is an exercise in seeing how incompetent its villains, and police force, actually are.
I’m not sure I can keep going with this drunk guy’s painful rant.
Suffice to say it’s definitely hindered by inebriation, however, being salient enough to make a 12 minute Youtube video—and edit it afterwards—makes the drunkenness moot.
Let’s stop for now, and let me offer you some more “rational critiques” by haters of this film:
The above are all criticisms I’ve seen parroted in various Reddit threads, Tweets, and reviews.
All of them are preposterous, all of them follow a trend, and all of them hinge on the same exact thing:
Girl Power Movie Bad. Why No Joker. I Am Very Rational. Hur Hur Femenesimf Dumb.
Buh-buh I cry into my anime pillow because I can’t help but have cognitive dissonance and feminist-ish movie was mean to me, personally.
Ok, Roman Sionis.
Again, I ask, why do people hate Birds of Prey?
The answer is super duper simple
If you didn’t like Birds of Prey, and are comfortable enough to plainly say you didn’t like it, that’s totally fine. We are all free to hate, love, dislike, be annoyed by, and so on, any piece of media ever.
It’s valid to “just not like something”.
It’s also valid to say a film has pacing issues, the majority of the cast needed more screen-time, and bad marketing did it no favors. These are all things Birds of Prey suffers from.
What is never, ever valid, is making up nonsense reasons to hate something.
Furthermore, when you get big brained critiques like “why aren’t the women hotter” this brings the trend I mentioned earlier full-circle:
Low media literacy haters of female-centric media, that feel the need to justify their hate by applying faulty reasoning, all have one thing in common:
They just don’t like female characters/female-driven narratives, andhunt for intellectually dishonest evidence to cover up their biases.
Harley’s the problem, Robbie’s the problem, women kicking butt is the problem. Birds of Prey’s lack of support predominantly boils down to this.
Whatever solid criticisms are available are drowned out by a huge mass of people willfully misunderstanding the film in favor of hating anything with a whiff of Girl Power attached to it.
Think I’m wrong? Prove it.
I relish open debate like Harley relishes a baseball bat to the Bat
If you disliked Birds of Prey, and wish to rebuttal me intelligibly, please do so. I am always open to analyzing media. Writing and art are in my blood, and nothing pleases me more than talking about when the two merge.