Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Birds of Prey posterDirected by: Cathy Yan. Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Runtime: 1h 49 min. Released: February 7, 2020.

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) intends to make a name for herself in the crime world after breaking up with the Joker. Instead, everyone wants to kill her because she’s no longer under his protection, which makes for some fun scenes. Eventually, Harley teams up with Dinah/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and police officer Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to save a girl, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) from crime lord Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).

I’ll start with Roman, a.k.a. Black Mask. McGregor plays the character with some solid humour. He’s also scary, especially when flexing powers in misogynistic scenes played for intimidation. He’s a more imposing and interesting villain than Cara Delevigne’s Enchantress in 2016’s Suicide Squad, and McGregor has fun in this role. He fits the shoes well, though it seems like a role tailored for Sam Rockwell’s quirks, as far the humour side of the role goes. McGregor is a fine choice and he’s great when he finally puts on the Black Mask.

Margot Robbie is of course the highlight as Harley Quinn. She makes the character and has a lot of funny lines, and I like the bit about finding the perfect breakfast sandwich. Her action scenes are simply fun, and as far as the R-rated violence goes, a scene in a police station has some of the film’s strongest fight choreography.

The humour and action fits Harley as a character, as does the way the story that bounces around according to her train of thought and when she thinks it’s important to tell you something for the story. Screenwriter Christina Hodson understands Harley, and it’s a strong screenplay. This is two good screenplays in a row for Hodson after Bumblebee, and I mention that because she started off with two bad films, Unforgettable and Shut In, both of which I consider among the worst films of their release years. Hodson does well with this property.

Birds of Prey
Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey (IMDb).

This is more of a Harley film than a Birds of Prey film, they have both in the title but Birds of Prey is front and centre. The members of BOP show up throughout, but Dinah/Black Canary has the most to do throughout as an employee of Roman’s at his club. As a regular person, she’s the most interesting one here besides Harley.

 

Rosie Perez is solid as Montoya and I like the bit that she talks like a cop from a bad TV show. I like how all the characters come together through Cassandra Cain, a street-smart pickpocket who has a decent chemistry with Robbie. All of the core characters have solid chemistry with each other in the way they’re brought together but don’t really like each other.

I liked the humour for her Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress and she has a couple moments to shine, even if she doesn’t do that much. One of my favourite parts of this is as she goes down a slide and uses a henchman as a sled as she stabs him to death. It’s a cool shot. Also when Black Canary is allowed to be super, her battle cry is worth the wait.

It’s the ending here when all the women band together to fight for a common interest in protecting the girl that the film really shines. It’s when the action is most memorable, too, and it’s a finale fit for a solid comic book film like this one. There is great comic violence throughout the film as the characters take care of business separately, but it’s just a different level of fun when they kick ass together. I wish they could have done that together for longer, but it’s a blast while it lasts. In general, too, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a good time at the movies.

Score: 70/100

Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
Bad Boys For Life poster
IMDb

Bad Boys for Life. Directed by: Adil and Bilal. Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens. Runtime: 2h 4 min. Released: January 17, 2020.

Bad Boys for Life is a lot of fun and, after this and Bumblebee, proves the best way to reinvigorate a franchise is to remove Michael Bay as director. Who knew?

The new directors here, Adil and Bilall, bring fun action and more importantly a solid story (screenplay by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan) as Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), narcotics cops with the Miami Police Department, don’t investigate narcotics this time. It feels fresh as it goes into a revenge story by someone from Mike’s past, and the film is revenge-fueled from both the villain and hero side.

As they’re older now, the film challenges Mike’s mortality and invincibility in interesting ways. It’s a story about knowing when to quit and because of that Marcus’ concerns feel natural for the plot because there’s a reason to get out of the game right now. In the first two films, the reason was just because Mike was a reckless partner. Mike is still reckless but he learns the importance of reliance, too. It’s a sequel with surprisingly insightful and emotional beats.

I liked the villains here a lot, played by Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio, but I won’t discuss their motives. I’ll just say they’re the franchise’s most interesting villains so far.

Familiar faces besides the main two are back like Reggie (Dennis Greene), Marcus’ daughter’s boyfriend who shows in his acting why he’s only ever had that role (sorry, Reggie) but it’s funny seeing him again. I also love seeing Joe Pantoliano as Captain Howard. Pantoliano gives me as much nostalgia as Mike and Marcus.

It is also intriguing how our Bad Boys join forces with others and that’s in the form of a new unit within the MPD called AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations) which is the new driving out the old.

The crew consists of Mike’s sort-of ex-girlfriend Rita (Paola Nuñez), and their banter is solid throughout. The youth of this group features Vanessa Hudgens as Kelly, Alexander Ludwig as Dorn (a tech guy with a punch) and Charles Melton as Rafe. They’re a good presence but I don’t think anyone here but Hudgens leaves an impression. It seems to me like they’re going for a 21 Jump Street vibe with their youth and gadgets. They’re a good complementary team to the film and I’d like to see them team up with our Bad Boys in a future installment, but I’m not ready for a spin-off film with them. That’s because Will Smith still kicks ass in the role even at the age of 51.

Bad Boys for Life article
Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys for Life. (IMDb)

Martin Lawrence isn’t a big part of the action scenes until the end for story reasons, but he’s great at the end and it’s nice to see that 25 years after the first film, their chemistry still shines. Their banter is great and I’d argue their chemistry is the best it’s been in the franchise. They still don’t see eye to eye, but they’re beginning to compromise.

It is delightful that this premise still works so well because there’s actually a good story and strong directing team to match the great pairing of Smith and Lawrence. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (as Adil and as Bilall)’s directorial style never distracts, and they know how to shoot action. Some editing in action films can be hectic, but the action is shot well here by cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert.

I don’t hate Michael Bay as a director, but his films can be headache-inducing with the style. It’s apparent the franchise doesn’t mean any ill-well against Bay as he plays a Wedding MC in the film, and that’s the best place for him where his directorial style can’t shoot the Bad Boys in the foot. He lets them do the shooting.

Adil and Bilall also make this story work because the direction makes the story feel less cartoonish than the first two films, but it’s still outrageous. It’s awesome that the Bad Boys have found a pair of directors that brings out the best of them: And that’s in terms of story, action, comedy and heart. Bad Boys for Life is the best and most balanced film in the trilogy.

Score: 80/100