I Prey’d For A Fun, Female-Focused, Film

img_9053Admittedly, I still have not yet seen Suicide Squad so I did not know what to expect from this part of the DC extended universe, or from Margot Robbie’s Portrayal of Harley Quinn. However, I was excited to see a more female-focused comic book movie.  Although comic book fans have now been lucky enough to see Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and soon Black Widow, grace the big screen as the leads of their own respective movies, Birds of Prey is really the first comic book film to feature so many women in lead roles.  All of the main heroes (or anti-heroes) are women, and that is exciting in a market that is still so dominated by lead male characters.  I didn’t even have to watch the movie to know that I would enjoy it.

But luckily for me, I did watch the movie – and I did enjoy it! In some ways, it’s not necessarily the strongest comic book movie out there (and with so many DC and Marvel films, it’s hard not to compare them all to one another), but there was clearly a lot of thought put in to it and it was a lot of fun.  A friend who had seen it before me had described the film saying that you can tell it’s been directed by a woman (Cathy Yan), but the fight scenes have been cleaned up by the guy who choreographed the fights for John Wick.  Not only is that a fair assessment of the film, but I would like to take it one step further based on something Mark said after we saw the movie in theatres: the film felt like if Deadpool was directed by a woman and choreographed by the guy from John Wick. Between the humour, the glimpses back and forth in time, and the breaking of the fourth wall, the story did have a bit of a Deadpool feel.  And that’s not a bad thing – especially since Deadpool opened the door for R-rated comic movies (Birds of Prey was certainly not for younger audiences as the young family a few rows ahead of us soon found out).

So, when I say you can tell the film has been directed by a woman, the main indications of this are the costumes and the interactions between the women.  As many people have noted online, Harley Quinn is dressed as if a woman has dressed her.  Compared to the hyper-sexualized male-gazey outfit she wears in Suicide Squad, her outfits in Birds of Prey are more fun and, in some cases, practical (like a bullet-proof corset).  They’re the kinds of outfits that express her individuality, and they’re sexy in a way that suggests she wants to make herself look/feel good, rather than getting dressed up for the sake of someone else.  And the same can be said for the costumes of all of the other women of the film.

No matter what they were wearing, the camera work contributed towards preventing these women from being subjected to the male gaze. There were enough creepy male characters sexualizing the women in the film, so I was pleased to see that directorial choices were made to prevent the audience from viewing the women through the lens of the male gaze.  There were two noticeable instances of this for me.  The one that stood out the most for me was the forced strip scene when Roman (Ewan McGregor) humiliates one of his club goers.  Even though her clothing has been cut away, the camera never focuses on her body, and she is not sexualized. We only see glimpses of her underwear, but even in this vulnerable state the audience is never permitted to view her in the way that Roman is looking at her. The other notable scene is when Harley is fighting the mercenaries in the evidence room.  The sprinklers are running and she’s wearing a white t-shirt… and yet, she is not overly sexualized in this moment.  Instead, she kicks ass.

I think my favourite part of the whole film was the set design.  Not only did I find it visually appealing, but I felt that some of the key locations really added to the main themes of the movie.  As much as I loved Harley Quinn’s fun, pink, personalized bachelorette pad, the two sets that stood out for me the most were The Black Mask Club and The Booby Trap.  After Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) sings “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”, that melody is woven into the score of the film, reminding us that Harley and the Birds of Prey  are all living in a man’s world.  And in a man’s world, the male gaze is ever present. Under the male gaze, women exist to be looked at so their bodies are often fragmented by the camera into parts for male consumption.  The Booby Trap and The Black Mask Club are excellent representations of this.

Both locations are associated with men: Roman owns The Black Mask Club, and (presumably) The Booby Trap was a place that belonged to the Joker when he and Harley were together.  And I assume that the Joker still holds some ownership of that creepy fun-house as all of the guns have been taken without Harley’s knowledge.  Both of these male-owned spaces are filled with decorative images of women.  These women are all naked and none of the images is of a whole body – each woman featured in the artwork is merely a part of a whole. I really loved how these two key locations in the film had been decorated with the male gaze in mind.  And that made it even more satisfying when the ladies of the film kicked ass on these sets and were not unnecessarily sexualized while doing so.

This film has been divisive to the point where it has turned into a kind of battle of the sexes: the dialogue on social media suggests that women seem to love it and men seem to hate it. And given the nature of social media, I’d say this probably isn’t true for everyone. When I saw the movie with Mark, he did enjoy it despite the odd flaw in characterization (but admittedly, I enjoyed it more than he did).  Whether you’ve enjoyed this movie or not, I think it’s still an important addition to the current movie market.  We are only just starting to see more and more women in lead roles in comic book movies, and this is really the first one where all of the main heroes/anti-heroes are women.  I, for one, would not mind seeing more comic book movies like this in the future.

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