Birds of Prey Review

This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative

DC may have made some of the movies starring superheroes of all time like Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman but it’s certainly made some of the worst movies starring villains with Joker and Suicide Squad. While this one is better than Joker, it’s still at a really low level and feels like it is picking up where Suicide Squad left off in a lot of the worst ways. The more we get films like this, the more I’m convinced it is definitely best to stick to films based around the heroes. Not every film can pull off a Venom where you get the lead to be a rather fun anti-hero. The first step is probably to remove Harley Quinn from the starring role though. You also have to get the memo that any film with a villain as the main characters needs to make that character effectively turn good or be an anti-hero. You can’t have the villain…stay a villain.

The movie starts with Joker dumping Harley Quinn so she’s quite upset. She gets drunk and into trouble a whole lot but this catches up to her once she tells the world that Joker no longer protects her. She barely lasts a day before she is captured and Black Mask orders her to find a jewel that Cassandra Cain stole. If she doesn’t produce this jewel then she will be destroyed. Meanwhile Renee Montoya of the cops needs to find this jewel as well. She wants to make Gotham a better place but it’s been a tough road. Meanwhile Black Mask orders Black Canary to get the jewel as well and Huntress is making an appearance here as well.

So everyone wants the jewel that’s for sure. Don’t get hyped about Cassandra Cain though. Like just about everyone else in the film, she is the character in name only. This has to be one of the biggest ruined portrayals of a character. Forget Taskmaster, Lex Luthor, and the other big names. Cain has to take the cake here. Gone is the history of her being a lethal fighter trained from childhood who would go on to be one of the strongest hand to hand fighters in the DC verse. This version of Cain is a petty thief who isn’t very smart in choosing her targets. She is even caught by the cops almost immediately which speaks to her “skill” at being a thief. I did not like Cain here. I doubt I’d have liked her much even if she had a random name since she’s an annoying kid who gets everyone into trouble but this did not help matters.

Zsasz and Black Mask are your classic gritty villains here. Black Mask has a thing where he likes to cut off people’s faces. I don’t know if this is something he does in the comics as well but it’s certainly just here to remind you that he’s evil evil. The guy is incredibly unbalanced as he throws fits and cries and everything. You’re certainly not meant to find this guy all that interesting and his death scene is certainly something. Even the mask isn’t imposing because you already can’t take this guy seriously.

Zsasz is awful but I’ve never seen him in a continuity where he was good anyway so that’s to be expected. As always he’s a lunatic who just likes making scars and being a villain. He seems like a creep in all of his scenes and definitely someone you are hoping will get bumped off early so he won’t get much more screen time. With these two as the only big villains…that wasn’t setting things off on a good note.

The color scheme could have tipped you off to that right from the jump though. Everything is all gray scaled and grim throughout the movie. I saw a western film right after this one and the first scene has more color in it than this whole adventure. The gray scale can certainly work as with Man of Steel or Batman V Superman where you had a lot of compelling dialogue and great fights to balance it out. This film has none of that though so it just serves to continue to show Gotham as a super hopeless place that you should want to leave immediately.

As for the “Heroes” here, well firs toff is Harley Quinn who is decisively not a hero. She beats up people for no real reason like the guy at the club and abuses her power. She is quick to betray Cain when it benefits her and is really someone that you can’t trust at all. She talks tough but loses quite a lot of fights. If not for Black Canary saving her at the start she would have been in a lot of trouble. The problem is that Harley Quinn is not likable or entertaining. She’s just extremely annoying in all of her scenes and ends up being a liability most of the time. You absolutely do not want her in your corner if you’re going to be facing off against a tough opponent as she’ll fail more often than not.

The film will try to have you take her seriously again later on by having her beat a bunch of random thugs but she loses too many times in this film for that to actually work. Then you have Renee who is drunk half the time. That’s not doing her any favors and you don’t see how she will be much of an asset here. She isn’t a professional fighter or anything and the drinking will definitely hold her back. Of course like everyone else she is beating tons of experienced thugs at the end but you don’t see her career lasting long unless she gets some kind of big weapon.

Huntress should have easily been the best character here but she is used as borderline comic relief half the time. Nobody takes her name seriously and they interrupt her big speeches. She does get to use her crossbow to murder a lot of people of course but always blows up with her random anger issues that the other characters poke fun at. It’s a shame since she was so good in Justice League but she is severely lacking in this film. She doesn’t even get the classic costume or anything until the literal end of the film. She’s another character that might as well not be Huntress.

The worst part about all of these adaptions is that you’re likely stuck with them for the foreseeable future. Of course a good writer can improve these characters but otherwise you’re stuck. They really need to try and put some distance with the characters from Birds of Prey and Suicide Squad. Go for a soft reboot or something and then you can try to turn this around. I can’t say I have much hopes for any sequel or spinoff of this film though. It’s hard to picture it being a winner.

For Black Canary, well the film does remember that she has sonic abilities at the end. She is so incredibly nerfed though that a single hit is enough for her to faint. So I guess we can’t expect her to be going up against any tough fighters by the end of this. She does have a decent hand to hand fight against some of the random thugs though so at least there’s that.

This film could have really used an appearance by Batman at some point. Sure he would have stolen the show but it’d be worth it. This whole thing takes place in Gotham and Harley Quinn blew up a giant chemical plant. Surely Batman should be on the case right? Even just some references of Batman taking down minions would be nice since Black Mask is so openly sending his crooks around to bump people off and kidnap the characters off the street. I know this is Gotham but a lot of nights pass by without any sightings of the Batman. They can’t be everywhere but in this case it’s literally Gotham city, he should be popping up somewhere.

I would say Gotham itself is a big problem for the film. A lot of times films like to show how depraved Gotham is and that’s where they tend to fail. For example, of course we have a scene where the villain orders a girl to strip and dance. That’s completely unnecessary and we also have Harley Quinn shown to be someone who frequents these kinds of establishments as a villain. The movie has a lot of fanservice throughout and sketchy costumes.

Birds of Prey is unrelentingly depressing most of the time. This is a harsh city where the heroes lost years ago and villains rule all over the place. It’s not to the extreme of Joker but you will have a hard time finding any really happy/fun scenes. Harley and Cain have some bonding moments but mostly that’s just Harley being a terrible role model the whole time. Someone who will act nice and talk a good game but lose in one hit or just sell you out in the next scene. It was fun to see the owner of the restaurant accept the money and leave though. In this city that seems to be the quickest way out of here.

The writing’s not particularly good and the song choices are really bad. The final song’s probably the worst one by far and had to be aired out at several moments. Yeah this film was really going for grit. The action scenes could have been worse in that respect as it didn’t try going over the top most of the time. We did have some real choreography and fight scenes which is good. The film wasn’t trying to be gritty all of the time. Usually in the moments it wasn’t, it was the characters just being annoying all the time though.

Overall, Birds of Prey is a pretty bad film. At least I’m glad they ended up ditching the long sub title later on since nobody ever used the whole title anyway. I know that point’s been beaten to death but it’s not even all that accurate with Joker having dumped Harley Quinn as opposed to it being the other way around. You can of course say that the process helped her but when you consider the fact that she would probably run right back to him if he would have her….it doesn’t help her case. Regardless, the biggest issue here is that this is a film about the villains…that forgets to make the villains likable. Harley Quinn and her constant narration does not make for a good lead. The Birds of Prey group aren’t likable yet either. Black Canary is decent and Huntress has potential but for the moment give me a random lead from any big DC character and I would probably take him or her instead. The Birds of Prey will have to work hard to improve their characters in the next film but without Harley Quinn holding them back at least they have a chance.

Overall 2/10

Birds of Prey Volume 11 Metropolis or Dust Review

This is the first Birds of Prey level that I’ve played so that was interesting. Unfortunately, I can’t say that it was very good. The main characters aren’t the greatest and there are no real villains in this collection. Ah well…maybe next time I suppose. The concept is still pretty neat and as the group is made up of hand to hand fighters for the most part, that will give the series a chance for many hand to hand fights.

The Birds of Prey were on a routine mission when things quickly escalated in Metroplis. A lady became a big crime lord once her father was out of the picture, but the other mobsters didn’t take her seriously. That was their mistake and she decided to eliminate them all at once with her giant robot. Oracle’s preparations were sabotaged by Misfit and the thing became a big incident with many fatalities. Oracle’s confidence was shattered through this. Can she trust her instincts now? Meanwhile, Huntress must help Lady Blackhawk defeat an enemy from the past.

The plot in and of itself isn’t bad I suppose, but it’s not exactly an eye opener for someone walking through an aisle of comics. Seeing Superman was cool though and he made a lot of good points as expected. Oracle should have called in some extra heroes as soon as the giant mech appeared. That being said..who actually does that? You can bet that the Teen Titans or a fellow JL member would not have called for backup. While it is sound advice, nobody uses it and that includes Superman.

It’s also sad for Oracle since her group was doing just fine. In a way, Misfit saved the day by teleporting into the robot in the first place, but then she also wrecked everything by pushing the big red button. It was an odd scene as you would expect it in a comedy situation, but it actually had some real ramifications behind it. It’s always interesting to see that because when you really look at a comic, the heroes take crazy risks all the time. “Don’t move or the hostage gets it!” Heroes often ignore the villain and quickly charge in or throw something. It works out, but should it? Seeing these attempts and hunches fail sometimes is always intriguing for that reason, but it still makes Misfit look absolutely terrible as a character.

Oracle isn’t a likable lead, which probably hurt the comic a little. I’ve always thought that Batgirl was a character who could be likable one minute and irritating the next. She’s had a mixed track record, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen an incarnation of Oracle that I was a big fan of. Barbara’s better as Batgirl and it would be nice to see her in that role again. Oracle is just too harsh with the characters and always acts as if she is in the right. Oracle isn’t actually helping on the field so she should act with a little more modesty. These heroes have a decent amount of experience under their belt at this point as well.

Huntress was easily the best character of the bunch. She still talks a little tougher than her skills can actually back up, but I would not call that a bad thing. It’s good to have one character who’s ready to take the win even if she’s not all that powerful. Lady Blackhawk is essentially DC’s Black Widow in terms of personality. At least, that’s how she is in this graphic novel and I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of her. That being said, she spends most of the comic being brainwashed so she didn’t have a chance to stop being a little on the generic side. We’ll see how she improves from here, but strength of will is something that she’s lacking.

Manhunter’s role was very small as she was mostly the group’s informant who went around doing the hard work. She seems like a good character and is certainly a tough one even if that’s part of why all of the members start to blend together. Each of the members is the tough and stern character who beats up on the bad guys. I feel like Misfit, Black Alice, and Huntress are the only characters with actual personalities and with the exception of the latter, the other two characters aren’t likable.

Black Alice is basically a villain who only pretends to be a hero when it’s convenient. She certainly has no business being on the Birds of Prey squad. She is decently powerful as she can steal your powers, which will come in handy when fighting someone like Superman. This technique seems to be activated by thought, which makes it nearly impossible to neutralize. That being said, she’s pretty whiney and isn’t a team player. It’s just hard to root for her.

Likewise, Misfit isn’t really a good character either. Oracle never lets her into the field, which makes you root for Misfit a little. That is all thrown out the window though when Misfit’s comic relief tendencies destroyed hundreds of people in a big explosion. Now we see why Oracle keeps her out of the field and it destroyed any chance that Misfit had of being a good character. I also don’t really care for jokesters if that’s their only gimmick. You have to have something to compliement it unless your jokes are just That good. If you’re great at that role, then it can work, but that’s not Misfit’s strength.

This comic would have been a lot better without the Killer Shark plot. One guy found some drugs in his grand father’s stuff and decided to become a super villain. It’s apparently easy to get into that profession once you have a costume. He was able to find Blackhawk’s apartment somehow and then he even made a villain lair as he defeated the two heroines. Do we really need more cheap villains like this? They seem to pop up all the time now. The plot twist about Lady Killer Shark also smells like a retcon to me. I hope that’s not the case because that would be a really bad change. Why not take things at face value like characters randomly being evil in the past? Of course, maybe this wasn’t a retcon, in which case it’s still bad, but not a bad twist since there wouldn’t have been a twist.

I did enjoy the art though. It’s smooth and fairly streamlined. The action scenes are fun when they happen and I’m always up for a good hand to hand fight scene when it’s done right. Good art can take a comic a long way. It won’t end up saving it in the long run, but it can win you part of the battle. This series just needs to step up with the rest of its sections to truly be a strong title. The writing wasn’t bad so we really just need a good villain and for the main characters to get a little more likable.

Overall, Birds of Prey is still a good concept, but this volume just didn’t work out for me. It could be a one time deal though and every series can have an underwhelming trade paperback at some point. There have been several Birds of Prey series over the past and this is volume 11 of one so maybe the series was just about to get good or it had jumped the shark. Instead of waiting to find out, check out the early Supergirl volumes in the New 52. That was a great series!

Overall 5/10