Birds of Prey (2020) by Cathy Yan

There are some things that almost every script writer agrees are no-nos when it comes to writing a good story. Guidelines, more than rules, that the rest of us like to follow as it is generally accepted that doing otherwise harms the audience’s experience of the story.

Some of these are:

  1. Show, don’t tell.
  2. Leave exposition for later. Make the audience want to know before you tell them.
  3. Give your characters clear wants and needs. But most of all, make them likeable.*
  4. No flashbacks. They take agency away from the characters. The audience already knows they will survive, so they don’t care how the flashback plays out.

*When we say ‘likeable’, we don’t mean nice or appealing, rather palatable. They should be interesting so we can invest in their struggle. The Joker from ‘Joker’ (2019) is in no way likeable, but we are invested. The same can be said for Hans Landa in ‘Inglorious Basterds’ (2009), but again, we dolikehim.

Birds of Prey, as you may have guessed by now, fails to follow any of these guidelines. While it has a cool badass ensemble of female characters, none are given enough focus or depth to feel interesting, least of all, Harley Quinn. Her motives are to survive, and (I think) have an egg sandwich.

Which, on the surface, would work with any characterifwe cared that they survive. Why do I care if Quinn survives? What has she ever done to be deserving of that? The script tries to fix this by introducing a young Cassandra Cain. She is just a teen in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, I pitied her, but again, as the film went about ‘telling’ me why I should care about her, all of that through painful voice-over andflashbacks, I eventually became detached and uncaring.

Good Lord, there are so many flashbacks! At some point, you are not sure if the film is in the present, past… or some distant future where I am in hell and being made to watch this incoherent acid trip play out.

I will admit that this film does a good job of representing female vigilantes. They never feel sexualised, but are sexy. The film even has some jokes, that my friend pointed out, only a woman would relate to (like the impracticality of united long hair especially when fighting).

That said, the film in my opinion does a disservice to its characters by doing this strange tango of using Harley Quin as the narrator while actually trying to bring together three unrelated heroes. It feels a lot like many other DC films where the story is serving the universe more than the characters and thus collapses under the sheer weight. Honestly, I love DC comics and they need to stop trying to build this weird universe. Each film feels like a bag of trash thrown on to a larger bag of trash, held up by a slowly weakening pool of masochistic fans that wish to see one good adaptation come out of the studio system.

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