Birds of Prey: Shot Down by Wokeness

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Going Broke Because You’re Woke

In the era of being woke, when much of the culture is apparently competing for the title of “most woke,” it has seeped into every facet of our culture.  Sadly, in the Christian church being a “woke Christian” is key to ensuring the Gospel message of Jesus is further propagated, to the point where popular Christian speakers are attempting to be appealing to the woke crowd. What if being woke caused the death of a decent movie? That is exactly what happened with Birds of Prey.

Wokeness affects everything from art, sciences, economics, academics, and even cinema. It seems every movie made is attempting to shove some identity politics down our gullets. What happens when an all female character comic book movie adaptation doesn’t do anything relatively identity politicking, but bombs in the box office. And what if marketing and messaging prior to the movie’s release is the culprit?

The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

That is the subtext of the latest DCEU movie “Birds of Prey.”  It centers around Harley Quinn, the female counterpart to the Joker. The story is set post “Suicide Squad” which offered an almost entertaining counter thesis to what Marvel Studio’s “Avengers” series presented. But sadly, DC still does not know how to deliver anything substantive post Dark Knight trilogy other than the very successful Wonder Woman standalone movie.

Everything else has been a short change in content, and people are a bit tired of the failings of favorite icons like Superman or Batman. As of late, DC is attempting to play catch up with Marvel Studios. But every effort since Wonder Woman has been lackluster at best, and there seems to be super hero fatigue. DC attempted to remedy that with Suicide Squad. 

While it did decent in the box office, Suicide Squad itself had an identity crisis and did not present a clear indication of what it was supposed to be. The only shining light in the movie was Margot Robbie’s interpretation of Harley Quinn. She was sadly underutilized, however, for the multifaceted character she has been throughout comicdom. After Harley’s first appearance in “Suicide Squad,” we were offered “Birds of Prey.”

It is a continuation of Harley after things did not work out with Joker and she sets off on her own. The entire movie is a romp with Harley trying to stand on her own. Robbie does a fantastic job of presenting the disjointed psyche of Harley while at the same time pulling off action stunts to thwart people coming after her. Overall, the movie has no messaging that we have not seen. Think of it as a colorful, foul mouthed, violent version of Oceans 8 but without the message of it, necessarily.  

Birds of Prey: The Pros

The movie’s overall vibe hearkens back to the days of the old Joel Schumaker “Batman.” The movie pops with color yet holds the undertones of the underground Gotham City is known for. Which might be confusing since we all know Gotham is dark and dreary, considering the main focus has been the darkness surrounding the Batman mythos. But the fact that we’re watching this movie through the lens of a jester type femme fatale, the color pop of every scene is slightly refreshing. 

There are also no real identity politics in this movie. It makes an attempt to respect the characters for the most part. There is some race swapping, but for people just entering the comic book movie world, it is negligible. That is, unless you’re a comic book geek and most people watching this are not. It highlights Robbie’s talent but as the main character that respects the source.

But this movie also highlights Robbie’s increasing talent (as a producer as she is the lead producer of the movie). Each character is decently fleshed out, with Harley serving as the narrator of the movie. Throughout each interaction, Quinn takes the show and makes it very entertaining to watch the Joker’s side chick hold her own.

The Cons

Like Suicide Squad, the movie suffers from an identity crisis. Is it a movie about Harley Quinn’s independence? Or is it a movie about the Birds of Prey girl group with Harley as the leader? Or is it about the Birds of Prey and is Harley just another side note? We are not given any answers.

The movie is also very disjointed and follows a Tarantino style method of storytelling, which is start the movie at the middle or the end, then back up to tell the whole of the tale (but leave with no context). Granted, Harley does narrate the overall context, but the movie nonetheless leaves you wondering about the characters and how they all tie in together as a whole.

While it does wrap a bow on some character’s why, there seems to be a lack of continuation in how and most importantly why some of the characters went about doing what they did. There is a lackluster job in the performance of some actresses that interrupts the flow of the movie. Also, the stylized action that the movie is littered with has been done before. You’ll see it play itself out in a sense which is not based in any realism at all, not that we watch comic book superhero movies for their realism.

The Marketing Message Is the Problem

Birds of Prey overall is a decent movie, made in a very nostalgic fashion like Joel Schumaker’s. It follows the Deadpool model of violence and language. This is how a comic book style generally known for kids makes it with an R-rating. The production value for the movie is fine and the writing is decent. So why the box office bomb?  

We have to look at the messaging.  Prior to the movie release, Star Wars and Moulin Rouge star Ewan McGregor went on a PR circuit to promote the movie, in which he plays the main villain. In just about every interview, McGregor kept talking about how this is the ultimate all female movie and how it’s about time for one. He promoted the trite notion that it’s about time we had a female lead in a superhero film. 

Either he means it, or it’s damage control because word of his infidelity and the rotten way he treated his wife and daughter got out. For what it’s worth, the marketing campaign for this movie was rooted in identity politics and that is what shut down any chance of this movie’s success.

People just got tired of being told to “respect women” and how “women are equal to men.” The sad part is, most woke folks will not even go see this movie, but will get on Twitter and talk about how glorious it is to see an all-female superhero movie. People got sick of it and refused to see a movie that was touted as a movie that is anti-male. That is what hurt this film, ultimately.

Final Verdict: It’s fun but tiresome

For what it’s worth, if given a star rating of 1-10, “Birds of Prey” is a solid 6 and a half stars. It’s not on par with some content out there like The Dark Knight, or half as fun as some Marvel movies, but it does a decent job of attempting to make a standalone movie about Harley Quinn. In comics, it definitely affords her the ability to be a great standalone character. 

What makes this movie negligible is the identity politics used in marketing of the movie prior to release. Rather than marketing it as a superhero movie, they had to make it all about being “strong women.” They should have focused on the story and the fan service of who and what Harley Quinn is about. In short, the movie is a fun romp. Just ignore McGregor and the PR stunt and you’ll be fine.

John Lee
NRN • New Right Network
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