Greetings! I have to admit, the 2020 movie slate isn't very impressive, but that doesn't mean certain titles won't impress me. Today, I'm reviewing a crime thriller called The Rhythm Section and the latest installment in the DC universe; Birds of Prey. Both of these movies feature strong female characters, but the tone and quality of these works vary dramatically. What did I think? Keep reading to find out.
The Rhythm Section is about a former college student named Stephanie Patrick who fell into a downward spiral after her entire family was killed in a plane crash. She quickly learns the crash was part of a plan to assassinate a political figure. In a fit of vengeance, she trains to become a mercenary under the watchful eye of a former MI6 operative. Ultimately, she plans to kill the person who murdered her family, even if it means putting her own life in jeopardy.
Honestly, this film has very few redeemable qualities. Fortunately, it gets better along the way. The first act is incredibly boring and I'm shocked viewers didn't walk out of my showing. I would say the second act is somewhat better with a little more action and storytelling. Finally, the third act is actually watchable. That's pretty much it.
Let's discuss the negative parts. Reed Morano directed this movie and I thought his final product wasn't very good. I could be wrong, but it seemed like nearly every issue swung back to his poor direction. For example, this film has issues with pacing, acting, and cinematography. Shouldn't the director clean up these problems? I seriously doubt studio interference was the primary issue. Something didn't seem right about this movie. The filmmakers didn't even acknowledge it was based on the Stephanie Patrick Thrillers by Mark Burnell.
Here's what I mean regarding pacing issues. The Rhythm Section feels very long and slow. It's not particularly interesting and the characters spend a lot of time doing mundane tasks. An entire scene focused on the protagonist eating oatmeal. Eventually, the scene turns into something interesting, but a lot of time was spent on eating, stirring, and playing with the oatmeal. I'm not kidding.
This film has a talented cast, but Morano didn't bring out their best qualities. The main cast includes Blake Lively, Jude Law, and Sterling K. Brown. All three of them have been excellent in other movies, so it seems really odd in this case. The characters are flat, monotone, and boring like the rest of the film. They just exist. None of them have any personality or charm.
I'm not an expert in film editing or cinematography, but something was definitely weird. The cinematographer preferred really close shots, including the action scenes. The camera usually zooms really close to the actors, so the audience misses the background and other elements. It also gives the film a claustrophobic feel, even though many scenes take place outside. What's the point of having elaborate action scenes if the audience can't see anything? The filmmakers also use a lot of shaky cam and it could give people headaches. I even noticed a few blurry moments when the camera jiggled around.
Unfortunately, I can't recommend this movie. It's highly disappointing and I doubt many people will enjoy the experience. However, the book series might be more promising.
Let's move on to Birds of Prey. Technically, the full title is Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Yup, that's right. Anyway, the plot focuses on Harley Quinn after the Joker broke with her. There was a time when she was protected by the Joker and his goons, but those days are gone. Now a long list of enemies are seeking revenge and she'll have to find a clever way to survive. Along the way, she encounters other female misfits who keep running into trouble. This band of women are a walking disaster and the results could be totally awesome and utterly shocking.
Birds of Prey was significantly better than The Rhythm Section. The filmmakers stuffed this movie with so much action and violence. It's a lot of fun. The action scenes are brutal, almost like the John Wick series. Tonally, these violent action scenes fit the Harley Quinn character and comic book stories really well. The other elements in this movie aren't comic book accurate, but the action is faithful to the source material. If you like brutal action films like John Wick, this movie should be quite satisfying.
I really enjoy the characters too. Margot Robbie is exceptional as Harley Quinn. She's insane, funny, and unpredictable, yet charming. Everyone else on the team was also very good. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Huntress and she's a fierce mercenary who's also hilarious as the group's straight man. Jurnee Smollett-Bell id quite entertaining and sassy as Black Canary. Ella Jay Cassandra is very naughty and amusing as Cassandra Cain. Rosie Perez plays Renee Montoya and she was probably my least favorite member of the team, but she was okay. Birds of Prey has really good villains as well. Both Ewan McGregor as Black Mask and Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz were over the top, sadistic, and also quite funny. I have a feeling some viewers will find certain characters annoying, but it's all a matter of personal taste.
This film also has really interesting world building and production design. The setting genuinely looks like Gotham city from the comics. It's dark, gritty, dreary, and full of crime. The characters use quite a few set pieces in the action scenes. They use cars, props, improvised weapons, and other parts of scenery to enhance the action. I found it rather creative.
Sadly, I must address a couple flaws. The second act is the probably the weakest part of the film. It drags to a certain extent and adds a lot of filler material. In general, the pacing is good, but the second act is definitely the slowest and least interesting part. Basically, the second act spends a lot of time adding drama and extra plot points. It's not bad, but the first and third acts are much stronger.
On a more significant note, I believe Birds of Prey will be a highly divisive movie in several ways. The opening weekend is tracking to be very disappointing and it actually makes sense. Some viewers will probably find this film overly violent and crude. It could potentially alienate many male viewers because nearly all of the male characters are portrayed as misogynists. I assume some of the diehard comic book fans might dislike this film too. Birds of Prey is faithful to the Harley Quinn material, but nothing else. The other members of the team are incredibly different than the characters in the comics. I wouldn't say Black Mask or Victor Zsasz are faithful to the comics either. The filmmakers should have walked the line much better.
Additionally, I feel like the marketing team failed this movie. I think the trailers are terrible. The marketing looks tasteless, weird, disorganized, and it seems like the story was going to be disappointing. That could be another factor to the low box office numbers. Warner Bros. needs to fix this issue. I'm pretty sure poor marketing was harmful to Shazam! as well. Even the teaser trailer for Wonder Woman: 1984 is barely watchable. It seems to be a recurring problem.
Should you bother to see Birds of Prey in theaters? I guess it depends on your threshold. If you really enjoy action films with some bite, this one will be up your alley. It's a genuinely fun movie. I think most people should watch it one way or another. If you feel apprehensive about Birds of Prey, just wait for streaming. But don't let the trailers cloud your judgment. The marketing isn't a good representation of the actual product. Keep in mind, this movie isn't appropriate for a family outing. It has a hard R rating with loads of violence and profanity. A few scenes made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Overall, check it out if you want an entertaining and bonkers night at the movies!
That's the end of my double feature review. Have you seen either of these movies? What do you think about recent female representation in action films? Leave your thoughts in the comment section. Keep watching for more awesome content. Thanks a lot for visiting and I'll see you guys again soon. Have a good week!
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