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What’s fascinating about Birds of Prey isn’t the feminist spark keeping the story lit. Rather, how Harley Quinn, the character, is totally reinvented. The eccentric, overlong subtitle to Birds of Prey notes the “emancipation of one Harley Quinn,” and that’s the lone reason this movie exists – to reset a critically callous depiction of an abused woman who submits to a madman.

One movie prior, in the dismal Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie’s Quinn fell into a chemical vat, all to please Joker. Birds of Prey doesn’t acknowledge Jared Leto’s take on Joker; footage purposefully cuts around him to tell Quinn’s scattered, narrated story. This is all her, liberated and feisty, certainly mad, fighting against a male villain as much as the systems that keep them in power.

To an extent, it’s harmful – Quinn, the character, doesn’t shed the baggage. Who she is, why she was created, and how her popularity blossomed speaks more to social norms than her stories care to admit. Birds of Prey stamps out as much as it can, revitalizing Quinn as “one of the girls,” if still off-kilter, but now freed from male dominance.

Birds of Prey relies on slickness as to shield its problems

In Birds of Prey, shattering the male grip is everything. Each of these birds holds their grudge against a man who wronged them. Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) snaps at her all-male superiors when they take credit for her work. Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) dismantles a mafia crime syndicate. Unwanted foster child Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco) sits in an apartment hallway as her step father screams about getting rid of her. Then Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), rising up against Gotham’s corrupt, gentrifying corporate world that forces her into the arms of an abuser.

Socially, it’s a stark, driven story. Not unique in its battle against masculinity – Hollywood’s shifted this way in recent years to finally credit women as action stars – Birds of Prey relies on slickness as to shield its problems. It’s told erratically from Quinn’s narration, clever in capturing her disturbed mind, settling into loyalties amid racial inequality, poverty, and then rising up against privilege.

Birds of Prey exists as the Harley Quinn Movie. Box office matters, so Quinn’s leading. What’s missed though is that she’s least interesting in this group. Quinn suffers from insanity, derived from an emotional abuser, a condition Birds of Prey treats as hammy and comic. Meanwhile, Black Canary’s circumstances stem from injustice, her apartment covered in corporate banners and notices. That’s not downplayed, rather it’s Birds of Prey’s world, and Gotham’s normalcy. These women suffer and attack that systemic problem. Quinn, in comparison, joins in only for the mayhem.

Video

Expressive with its color, the otherwise drab Gotham scenery lets go of its moodiness, allowing costumes to express their saturation. Birds of Prey’s boldness brings attractive sequins, rich makeups, and detailed environments, all splashed with dazzling arrays. Even when aggressively timed to suit specific dramatic tones, primaries still excel.

Warner brings over the Dolby Vision pass, fairly intense, if restrained. Highlights do their thing, especially with explosions, while marginally impactful elsewhere. Thankfully, cinematography favors deep contrast, excelling in capturing precision black levels against light. Look for a scene with Quinn tied to a chair, bold backlighting clashing against an underlit, near black room. It’s gorgeous, and that’s where the HDR succeeds.

Definition isn’t remarkable, yet pleasing and refined. Facial texture drives the imagery. Close-ups perform consistently. Gotham aerials draw from stock material as their lower resolution and compression show, but these pass quickly. The rest finds natural detail, clean while battling minimal source noise. If there’s a problem area, that comes during the prison brawl. Sprinklers send heavy water into the action, and when at a peak, macroblocking can be seen. Oddly, the confetti sprays minutes earlier manage just fine (at least in motion).

Audio

Atmos work celebrates height channels in an extensive way. The usuals, of course – debris from gunshots falls overhead. Then come the sprinklers, water dripping into the room, enough to worry anyone in a home with older plumbing; the authenticity is fantastic. Sharp ambiance plays in the same space, giving the city life. This isn’t done to ignore the other positionals. They take on just as much work, well focused and spread wide to track any off-screen audio, dialog included.

Birds of Prey stretches its dynamic range muscles too, if lacking the same performance. When Axis Chemicals goes up, the blast conveys scale. Soundtrack selections spike the low-end into service to support those track. Action itself lacks that kick, say gunfire or Quinn “hammering” someone in the jaw. Music swallows the potential.

Extras

Lean featurettes reside on the Blu-ray, tracking the typical areas – casting, characters, scene development (the roller derby in this case), saving more detailed looks for city design, costumes, and effects. Total? About 40-minutes all together. A short gag reel isn’t much of anything.

In a throwback to Blu-rays earlier days, there’s Bird’s Eye View, a pop-up feature spreading interviews and character bios (among other things) as the the movie plays. Sadly, there’s no other way to access these bits.

Birds of Prey
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

Birds of Prey focuses on remaking Harley Quinn, but in doing so, ignores the more interesting and nuanced characters around her.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 49 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: