WASHINGTON — This latest live-action adventure of the Joker’s favorite gal made movie critics happy earlier in 2020. Now, the film’s current Blu-ray DVD release hopes to charm superhero-loving, home theater viewers in the exhaustedly titled Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 109 minutes, $44.95). Director Cathy Yan takes a Tex Avery approach to DC Comics’ universe revealing the evolution of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) after she breaks up with that Clown Prince of Crime. Aka the Joker.
Harley Quinn: The New Adventure Begins
As the film opens, Harley finds a new best friend (a pet hyena named Bruce), takes up roller derby and tries to enjoy Sal’s famous egg, bacon and cheese sandwich. But then she finds herself a target of every criminal ever abused by the Joker. And that includes narcissistic crime lord Roman Sionsis (Ewan McGregor), aka Black Mask.
Just as Roman is about to kill her, she talks Black Mask into allowing her to find a large, code-infused diamond. Complication? A young thief, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), had decided to swallow it.
Harley’s task becomes more complicated. She learns other competitors are prowling about, looking for either the hot rock or revenge. But Ms. Quinn eventually gets help from new allies. These include Gotham City Police Detective Rene Montoya (Rosie Perez); Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) — aka the Huntress; and Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) — aka the Black Canary.
The action and the script
The film’s hardcore, sometimes brutally violent action includes a vehicle chase on roller skates. Add lots of graphic bone breaking during close-quarters combat. Stir in Harley’s assault on a police station with a gun shooting beanbag and glitter bullets. And soon you have a full plate of violent mayhem. All this swirling action certainly proves entertaining to watch. But the movie’s tired script encounters difficulty in fully taking advantage of the film’s stable of comic book legends. It ends up simply providing a vehicle for Miss Robbie to shine. Which she does.
Specifically, just as Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, Margot Robbie has embraced and become Harleen Quinzel, ex-gal pal of the Joker, but better known to us as Harley Quinn.
Robbie’s portrayal of this colorfully violent anarchist, plucked right out of cartoons and comic books, delivers Harley’s character to perfection. Ultimately, her portrayal becomes the main reason to appreciate this comedy-enriched action film.
Best extras in the package
Viewers will appreciate rewatching this movie with this packages Bird’s Eye View presentation. It offers a multimedia companion to the film, consisting of sequential art style panels. The panels pop in, and then rearrange themselves on the screen as the film plays.
These hyperactive panels contain a variety of content. Features include video commentary by the director; behind-the-scenes footage; comic book art that inspired key scenes; interviews with cast and crew on the set’ and text trivia nuggets.
For example, viewers will learn facts and factoids. We learn that the character Harley Quinn first appeared in 1992 in an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series.” Another discovery: the moment Roman dons his famed black mask was inspired by the comic book titled “Batman: Under the Hood” (No. 1).
In addition, the presentation introduces characters in multipanel displays that might show an interview with Mr. McGregor next to comic book art of the Black Mask, plus a panel of behind-the-scenes action that almost completely covers the screen, filled in with an animated, textured, glittery background.
More on the Harley Quinn bonus features
Overall, this additional bonus material offers a visual smorgasbord of informative insights on the film. It becomes a welcome extra that proves the Blu-ray format can still offer movie fans an extended and fun home theater experience.
But there’s even more. Viewers can also watch six featurettes about the movie. They offer a total of roughly 40 minutes of way too-gratuitous back patting by the cast and crew. During which the phrase “empowering women” predictably gets liberally tossed about. Segments cover costume design, Miss Robbie’s returning as Harley Quinn (previously seen in the film “Suicide Squad”), visual effects, Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionsis and production design.
Best of this bunch is an almost 5-minute featurette on Harley as part of the Roller Derby team. This includes entertaining footage of Miss Robbie’s exertions during skate training.
However, among the entire package of segments, only rarely do its producers mention the comic book or cartoon source material of Harley Quinn and Birds of Prey. That’s certainly a disservice to fans hoping to learn more about the characters in the film.
— Headline image: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and her new friend in “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” now available on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.