“Birds of Prey” Full Movie Review

Harley Quinn Returns. Warner Bros. and DC’s Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (from hereon out Birds of Prey, haha) is energetic, entertaining, and electrifying! Margot Robbie is a knockout! This out of this world comicbook movie is well written and directed, and even has an intimate feel in the foreground on the backdrop of outrageous, larger than life chaos. Par for the course in Gotham. Fortunately for this movie, most of the footage from the trailer was taken from the first few minutes of the movie. So, you never feel as though you’ve seen whole thing in the trailer. If Batman Returns and Deadpool had a baby, and that baby’s nanny was Kill Bill, then this is the movie that you would get! It has the brilliant camp and production design factors with the sass and action of the former two, along with the strength and determination of the latter. A winning combination, considering that Batman Returns is the best Batman movie of all time (and yes, I will die on that hill). While the trailer may make this seem like an ensemble cast for most of the movie, it really is about Harley Quinn with the other characters coming into play more significantly in the latter half of the movie. This was a strategic move by the writer and director in order for the the movie to be driven by the fallout of the breakup between Harley and Mr. J, that anti-hero anarchist spirit, and high energy optimism that defines Quinn. What we have here is a good, solid story. Yes there is the theme of female empowerment and sisterhood, but that is on the nose. The real power of this movie, and why Suicide Squad cannot even hold a candle to it, is the thoughtful story, precision plotting, and character driven conflict with plenty of reactions. Birds of Prey takes what we have grown accustomed to in comicbook movies (both DCEU and Marvel), and places it in that semitruck at the beginning of the movie, then watches as all the rules and tropes explode as the truck collides into the chemical plant! No tortured psyches, skybeams, sense of duty, or derivative action sequences here, Birds of Prey delivers explosive action and hilarious antics! All this and more awaits you in this beautiful mess of a movie.

It’s open season on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women — Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez)–in their respective efforts to locate the expert pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). (IMDb summary)

If Quintin Tarantino was to direct a comicbook movie, this is precisely the kind of movie that he would write and direct. Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) certainly seem to have channeled their love of the films of Tarantino and Waititi in the development the outstanding screenplay for Birds of Prey. It has the non-linear storytelling and violence of Tarantino paired with the tongue-in-cheekness and characterizations of Waititi. From journalist and graduate student at NYU Tisch School of the Arts to directing a major motion picture for global brands such as Warner Bros. and DC, Yan is certainly a director to watch as she continues to grow in her career. She is the kind of director that DC needs in order to develop comicbook/superhero movies that are highly engaging yet have a great deal of heart. Although I did not know the screenwriter of Bumblebee was also the writer for this movie, in retrospect, I can completely see it! Hodson knows how to craft a thoughtful story in the middle of explosive action, all the while, keeping the focus on the characters whose conflict drives the story. On the surface, this may seem like an action-driven story, but in all reality it is character driven at its core.

While some may find (and have found) the narrative exposition and nonlinear storytelling to be distracting, I find that the combination makes perfect sense for how the plot is being laid out for us; it works very well for this movie. There are similarities between the tone of Deadpool and Birds of Prey but they are different movie experiences. Each uses narrative exposition, but use that tool in different ways. Deadpool engages in breaking the fourth wall in a very Mystery Science Theatre or RiffTrax way, whereas Harley Quinn uses it in a diegetic manner. Same tool, but expressed very differently. I greatly appreciate how Quinn used this narrative device in the same way that you and I tell stories to our friends. How often have you found yourself telling recalling an event from your life and telling that story to your friends, and you get to a point at which you realize you need to preface something, and then jump back to setup that point? Probably a lot of the time! I know I certainly do. It’s like you’re so excited to get to a point in the story, but then you forget that your friends need to know what happened to setup why its important or significant. And that is precisely what Quinn is doing with her narration and what the director and writer did with the setup of the main action plot. The method that the story is laid out in front of us is a very organic way of oral storytelling. When you orally communicate a story, there is no edit button, back space, page jumps, or anything else that we use in writing to linearly tell a story (linearly being the most conventional). So yes, it is nonlinear, but otherwise it would not feel as relatable or natural.

We have both wonderfully entertaining performances and well-developed characters! The strength of this movie is built upon the characters and the conflict therein. While we do spend most of the movie with Quinn, we are methodically introduced to key characters that effect the main action plot subplot along the way. Quinn’s external goal is to retrieve the Bertinelli diamond, which is driven by her internal need for a relationship. While I won’t go into details as to how she eventually retrieves the famed diamond, as I do not want it get into spoiler territory, I will comment on her internal need for a relationship that drives the main action plot. She is longing for a relationship after Mr. J. dumps her. She feels an emptiness inside. Ironically, she desires to belong to something or someone. Ironic in that a harlequin lives to serve. What she could never have known is that she would find the sense of belonging in the relationships she forms with our supporting cast of characters that she encounters along the journey to retrieve the diamond. What she finds is NOT a romantic relationship, but a sisterhood that provides her with all the love she needs and a group to whom she can love in return. None of us (or most of us, anyway) want to be alone; we want relationships in our lives. Many find that through romantic relationships while others find it through close friendships. Sometimes both, if you’re fortunate in that way. Between her pet hyena, a pick pocket, and the newly formed group Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn’s internal need for relationship is met beautifully! It’s also this subtext that creates that intimate story amidst the backdrop of chaos.

I mentioned Batman Returns in my opening paragraph. And if you’ve seen the movie, you may be wondering why and where does Birds of Prey have elements that nod to and remind me of Tim Burton’s masterful Batman movie. Clearly, if you are wondering, then you (1) haven’t seen the greatest of all Batman movies or (2) have forgotten about the incredible art of Batman Returns. For starters, Quinn’s costume choices are very much Burton-inspired and there are several moments of dialogue that feel right out of Returns. What we love about Batman Returns is the camp factor and over-the-topness of the costuming and production design. Furthermore, there is one series of scenes in particular that are ostensibly taken right out of Returns. And this isn’t a spoiler. The production design, architecture, and set decorating in the Amusement Pier scene at the end of Birds of Prey are heavily inspired by the defunct zoo setting (Penguin’s lair) in Batman Returns. It is a fantastic combination of German expressionism and French surrealism. I absolutely love the design of the fun house and the execution of the explosive showdown! Birds of Prey strikes a perfect balance of bringing old and new fans alike together for a great comicbook inspired movie!

I highly recommend this movie to all fans of comicbook or superhero movies! Whether you are a DC or Marvel fan, or the rare DCMarvel fan, I feel strongly that you will fall in love with this movie. Although it is still incredibly fresh on my mind, and hasn’t had proper time to steep, presently I feel that it may wind up at No.3 of all-time favorite comicbook/superhero movies for me with No.1 being Batman Returns, No.2 Batman 89, and No.3 Birds of Prey.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Wonder Woman (2017)” film review

WONDERful! No seriously, this is an excellent film! And I’m just not talking about the superhero genre. DC finally hit a homer with this one. This film also serves as evidence that Zack Snyder can TELL/produce a great story but should probably stay out of the director’s chair. Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune’s Wonder Woman is the superhero film we needed. Trailing so far behind the Marvel brand and film quality, DC needed to produce a film that would make up for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad AND catch up to Marvel. Seemingly setting out to accomplish the impossible, this film exceeded all measurable expectations and provided a comprehensive cinematic experience. With many themes, this film hits on many topics and does so with incredible precision and elegance. It’s almost as if this film is an extension of Diana Prince herself. Never addressed or referenced as Wonder Woman actually, Diana Prince’s origin story is powerful and ever so apropos in today’s socio-political climate. If only we could all have the courage, compassion, and determination that Wonder Woman embodies and represents. There are certainly elements of this film that are directly aimed at the female audience members, but this is a film for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Again, not just a great superhero film, but a great film period. One that’s inspirational, evocative, and without need for qualifiers.

After receiving a mysterious package from Wayne Enterprises, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) opens it to find an old photograph of a Greco-Roman female warrior standing with British military in war-ridden Belgium. Bruce Wayne wants the story. Long before she was Wonder Woman, Diana, daughter of the queen of the Amazons, was a spirited young lady growing up on a beautiful and mysterious island inhabited by a super race of warrior women placed on the planet to watch out over those who seek to corrupt it. Being the only child on the island, she wanted to be trained alongside the other women. When her mother expresses a lack of interest in her daughter training, Diana meets secretly with her aunt. Through the years, Diana grows in strength, agility, courage, and cunning. After she rescues Captain Trevor (Chris Pine) from a downed plane that pierced the invisibility shield that hid the island from the rest of the world, she learns of the Great War happening just outside of their borders and makes the decision to leave her home and help man defeat the enemy combatants who she believes are being led by Ares, the Greek god of war. Fighting alongside men, Diana is able to realize her true destiny and powers as she stops at nothing to end the war that is killing so many innocent people and destroying the planet.

Ever since her creation in 1941 by psychologist William Marston, Wonder Woman has always been treated the best when all pre-existing inhibitions typically added to a female character in a “man’s” role are removed, allowing the feminist ethos at her core to shine and erupt with unbridled passion and strength. Among other traits, the chief characteristic that separates her from other superheroes in both the Marvel and DC universes respectively is–no, not her gender–it is her ability to integrate truth, justice, compassion, and courage in everything she does to protect the planet entrusted to her people by the Greek gods. The key to understanding Wonder Woman is not through her brute strength or supernatural powers, but through her love and compassion for innocent people and her own integrity. Rarely has any film truly given women (or anyone, for the matter) a strong female protagonist who does not pander but exhibits excellence in well-developed strength of character and a complete eruption of the fantasies of many women to rise up to serve and protect. It would have been far too easy to sell Diana Prince as a vengeful women out to destroy men or seek revenge for the destruction that has befallen the planet; but no, that is not the Diana we see. We see a heroine of others–a completely unselfish hero who is of earth. Being of the earth is truly what separates her from someone like Super Man. Sure, some strong female characters from with the world of comics, literature, theatre, TV, or film have demonstrated strong characteristics and have been leaders; but Wonder Woman sands alone as a film that provides audiences with a female protagonist who is not merely a leader, but the engineer–the author–of her own destiny and story.

Why does this film work so well??? After all, that is the question you are likely asking yourself after so many DC flops (note: that does not count the Burton or Nolan films). The short answer is that Snyder was NOT in the driver’s seat on this ride; however, there is more to it than that. Snyder’s touch is certainly evident in many scenes (especially the action sequences); furthermore, he was greatly instrumental in the overall structure, but he took a backseat to the driver of this vehicle. His approach was important in the design of the car, and even building it, but when it came time to take it for a spin, he turned the steering wheel over to Director Patty Jenkins. Films featuring strong female protagonists most often seem to fair better when there is a women at the helm. And Wonder Woman is a testament to that observation. Whereas a male director would have likely spent some time sexualizing Diana, Jenkins spends the time on her courage and compassion. Instead of focusing on the terrain of Diana’s mystical home beautifully appointed with white cliffs and sapphire water or spending time on her sleek blade or even her trademark lasso of truth, Jenkins spends a significant amount of screen time on the terrain of Diana’s face. A face that communicates the heart, mind, and soul of Diana. Instead of a face displaying anger or disgust at the world of men, her face is often bright, hopeful, containing a winning smile with eyes overflowing with optimism. In terms of the production design itself, it only bares hints of Snyder’s penchant for beautiful music videos; the production design is one that takes itself seriously, but in the perfect amounts. Although the film is quite dark, there are sufficient moments of levity.

Perhaps you’re a stereotypical dude who does not care for films that feature female protagonists and feministic themes. No fear. Wonder Woman is actually a World War I film disguised as a superhero movie. As much as Wonder Woman works as an exceptional superhero movie, it is equally an impressive World War I film. Taking place in the days leading up to Armistice Day, this film displays the atrocities of war and the determination of both sides to win. You will find yourself in the trenches in France and Belgium with the Allied forces who, against all odds, are determined to defeat the enemy in order to stop genocide and widespread devastation. Placing Wonder Woman amidst the warriors of earth, connects her to humanity in ways that most superheroes cannot. Fighting for what you believe in is a major theme in this film. Some of the best war movies are those that “show don’t tell.” And Wonder Woman certainly shows what war really looks like instead of talking about it as some abstract concept or spending time in diplomacy. In fact, diplomacy is thrown out the window, and Diana lays the need to fight on the hearts of the bureaucratic leaders and soldiers alike. Pick up your sword and fight. Don’t just sit idly by while humanity is destroyed. There is a particular scene midway through the film that nearly brought me to tears because of the strong emotion and courage displayed by Diana.

Go see it! Wonder Woman is an exceptional film that will blow your mind. I had high expectations going into the film last night after the early reviews were released, but I was not prepared for the degree to which I would thoroughly enjoy the entire experience. It’s not only a film for women, it’s sincerely a film or everyone. Next time you are faced with great opposition, when it feels that the world is caving in around you, be a Diana Prince.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“The LEGO Batman Movie” movie review

legobatmanNonstop antics, action, and thrills! Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune present a movie that is equally one-hundred percent Batman whilst still completely LEGO. From the moment the opening title sequence of logos appears under the voiceover of a self-aware Batman, this brilliant animated film will take captive your attention and draw you in with a batarang of perfectly choreographed fight scenes and incredibly well timed self-reflexive humor. The LEGO Batman Movie is an entertaining combination of a contemporary story on the backdrop of Batman nostalgia. Whether you are a fan of the show from the 1960s, the Burton universe (as I am), the dark world of Nolan, or Snyder’s, you will find strategically placed references that fit exceptionally well into this LEGO universe. While the film is aimed at a younger audience, there are humor, easter eggs, and allusions to the various Batman shows and movies for adults to appreciate. Underscoring the over-the-top high concept plot, is a heartwarming story of love, family, and friends. This Batman movie pulls out all the stops as most, if not all, Batman’s villains receive screen time as well as other members of the Justice League with Batgirl and Robin. Oh yeah, the Joker IS actually in this Batman movie! With a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.1 on IMDb, this film is sure to be a huge success this weekend.

When after a failed attempt at a takeover of Gotham by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his henchmen, Batman (Will Arnett) is all too happy to accept all the credit for stopping the squad of villains. However, this time is different. The Joker and his henchmen give themselves up to the new Commissioner [Barbara] Gordon (Rosario Dawson). When the law enforcement and people of Gotham conclude that there is no longer a need for a masked vigilante, Batman finds himself having an identity crisis. Meanwhile, at a party, Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts young Richard Greyson (Michael Cera), and now is faced with the challenge of balancing his newfound role as a parent with Batman’s penchant for crime fighting. With pressures from Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and Barbara Gordon mourning in Batman’s personal and professional lives, he must work through these challenges in order to save the city. Only this time, he may not be able to do it on his own.

What’s not to like??? The LEGO Batman Movie is one of those animated films that is perfect for (1) the whole family and groups of friends, as well as (2) legacy and new Batman fans. Just the animation and production design are positively mind blowing. With few exceptions, every design in the film from people to buildings and vehicles can be created with those iconic plastic building blocks. Much like with the previous LEGO movie, other LEGO universes get screen time as well (some of which are mentioned by name and others are implied), such as Lord of the RingsHarry PotterJurassic ParkKing Kong and more. With all the characters in the film, the focus is never shifted from Batman and Joker. There are many rabbit trails the film could have gone down, but it always stays true to the central characters. Overstimulation is another risk in a film like this one; but, for all the action sequences and ensemble casts, never once does the film feel that it is way too much to take in and enjoy. On top of the brilliant animation and design, is solid writing with excellent character development. Crafting the vision is director Chris McKay. Selecting the right director to handle all the elements of a LEGO movie is no short order. And Warner Bros and Ratpac Dune made a killer choice in McKay who brought us Robot Chicken: Star Wars: Episode III.

One of my personal favorite elements from the movie is the nostalgia meticulously and strategically woven into the plot. If you grew up watching the show from the 1960s or even reruns with your parents, you will be surprised with the echoes of the past and how they fit in perfectly with this Batman world written by Seth Grahame-Smith et al. Even the pow, bam, zap sound effect bubbles make a cameo appearance. The LEGO Batman Movie offers the best of all the Batman stories over the years. As I am not familiar with the Batman comics, I imagine that there are comic book references in the film for the enjoyment of that audience as well. Not as self-aware as Deadpool, this film does contain a hint of self-awareness, but never takes the place of the foreground action; however, it supports the main story nicely. Even the costumes are representative of many Batman universes. For the most part, Batman’s costume is rooted in the one worn by Michael Keaton in Batman and Batman Returns, but Batgirl and Robin’s costumes, respectively, are more reminiscent of the show from the 1960s. Joker is an excellent combination of the, in my opinion, definitive Joker: Jack Nicholson but hints of the more recent Jared Leto and Heath Ledger Jokers are in his costume, makeup, and behavior. We even get a more accurate representation of Harley Quinn in this film. There is quite literally something for everyone in LEGO Batman.

Looking for a great film to watch this weekend that doesn’t involve some sappy victimized Stockholm Syndrome-esque warped love story? Then head to your local theatre to catch The LEGO Batman Movie on the big screen! What better way to spend the weekend leading up to Valentine’s Day than laughing with your date??? Even if you’re spending Valentine’s Batman style–flying solo–you will still have a great time at this movie.

“Batman v Superman” movie review

BMvSMBetter brush up on your comics before watching this movie. If DC set out to produce a movie that was completely different than the Marvel movies, then they succeeded. Batman v Superman leaves you feeling like you are watching a sequel without an original movie. And no, Man of Steel does not sufficiently set up this “sequel.” Imagine if you will, opening a book and starting to read. You are a few pages in, and you realize that there are situations, characters, settings that are unfamiliar or seem out of step. Oh, duh, you started on chapter two by mistake. Just as you flip back to find chapter one, you discover that the pages are missing. DC’s attempt to setup an entire comic universe (Justice League), in one movie, failed miserably. However, you will be hard pressed to find another superhero action movie that is more cinematic than this one. The sound and visual effects blew my mind–exponentially more impressive than anything that Marvel (Disney or Fox) has produced; but that’s Zack Snyder for you. Unfortunately, the man should have assisted a director in crafting a visual story, not attempted to tell it himself. If DC was fighting a losing battle up a hill, now it is fighting that same battle up a mountainside.

Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a box-office bomb. Two years following the epic battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod, Metropolis is still recovering from the mass devastation. Affected by this infamous battle, crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is fully convinced that Superman is a threat to humanity and must be contained or destroyed. Although he is not as young as he used to be, Affleck once again dawns the Batman uniform and sets out on his personal vendetta against the god-like Kryptonian. Feeling the growing threat of Batman, Superman will stop at nothing to defeat Batman and save the city. In an effort to save their respective cities from destruction, Batman and Superman vow to kill one another. While each superhero has it in for the other, Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) is cooking up something in his research park that can defeat gods and titans. It’s a good thing that Metropolis and Gotham are closer together than Tampa and St. Petersburg are (LOL).

Film is a visual storytelling medium, but storytelling nevertheless. The only other more visual medium, one could argue, is comics. And, you better have studied your Justice League universe comics before buying your ticket to this attempt at a Springtime/Easter blockbuster. But unfortunately, that’s all that this movie has going for it–its unparalleled use of phenomenal visual and sound effects to create a fantastically stimulating experience. One problem: where’s the story??? I thought that this was (to borrow from Star Wars: the Force Awakens) “supposed to make things right“? Ironic how Easter is a holiday and season which represents rebirth; and as hard as DC Comics and Zack Snyder tried to rebirth this struggling universe, it still remains in the ground. All the water and fertilizer in the world could not help this Easter lily, for the farmer forgot to plant the bulb. There is little to no exposition in the entire movie. If you are unfamiliar with the story from the comics, you will most certainly feel dazed and confused. DC really needed this movie to tell an excellent story in order to continue to compete with the Marvel movies that are coming from Disney and Fox. After this travesty, there is almost no competition any longer. One can only hope that the next installment fixes things. But, it’s highly unlikely at this point.

Sometimes poor writing can be covered and masked by flashy graphics and stunning cinematography, other times, it can be assisted by an excellent cast. Well, fail once again. The casting only aided in highlighting the fallacies in the plot structure and nearly non-existent, poorly setup story. Before I negatively criticize the majority of the cast, I need to point out what worked for the film in terms of cast. Although I have been informed that he did not portray the Lex Luther from the comics, I firmly hold to that Jesse Eisenberg played the Lex Luther that this film needed and benefitted from. The quirky, psychopathy, childlike, socially awkward, intellectual Lex Luther works for this universe. He was probably my favorite part of the whole movie. He was quite the juxtaposition to other villains that have been in Marvel and DC movies–a refreshing new take. Amy Adams also plays a great Lois Lane. Since I am not familiar with the comics, I am not going to try to compare and contrast her portrayal to that of past Lois Lanes or the ones from the comics. Still, Adams brought about a fantastic charm to the character and she fit in well with Henry Cavill’s Superman.

Sadly, the rest of the principle cast was terrible. Since when did Alfred (Jeremy Irons) become nearly Bruce’s age??? Maybe he is ten years his senior, but that’s pushing it. Alfred is supposed to be a lovable and endearing old man, and Batman’s Jiminy Cricket, so to speak. Neither does Irons fit the age nor the personality traits of Alfred. I sure missed Michael Caine and Michael Gough’s Alfreds. There was a lot of concern when Affleck was chosen to become the caped crusader; and as it turns out, these concerns were valid. He has demonstrated that he cannot fill the cape in the manner in which Michael Keaton and Christian Bale were so successfully able to do. It’s entirely possible that Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman/Diana Prince could have been the much-needed support that the film lacked, but their respective characters were severely under-developed. Also, not so much cast as he is character but where did the Kryptonian deformed creature come from??? I think the film tried to explain, but again, it failed. Who cares, though? He made the climax shocking and exciting. A solid match for Superman.

If you want to have your eyes and ears stimulated beyond what you have likely experienced in superhero action movies in the past, then this is the movie for you. Just don’t expect much beyond the mesmerizing surface. Already having a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, most likely the grade will continue to drop. That being said, I DO believe that if you are a follower of the comics and know your stuff, then you will most likely thoroughly enjoy this film. I warn you; be prepared to be your group’s personal Wikipedia after the movie.