“Suicide Squad” remains a fascinating test case for our super-sized movie obsession -- heroes in tights.
The Joker-led romp earned withering reviews and the enmity of movie fans nationwide. Yet look at its box office haul -- $325 domestic and $421 international.
Studios would kill to have “flops” like that.
The film’s success paints “Birds of Prey’s” calamitous weekend in an unflattering light.
Margot Robbie’s latest will earn roughly $33 million when all the receipts are tallied tomorrow.
That’s a tragic number for multiple reasons.
- “Birds of Prey” had the weekend all to itself in an already soft marketplace
- Superhero films, from the best to the worst, crush it at the box office
- The early projections were in the $50 million range, and that seemed a conservative number
What went wrong? These seven reasons rush to mind.
Get Woke, Go …
The actual film isn’t the Lecture-Palooza some, including this critic, feared. Still, the framing of the film’s release couldn’t be woker. Co-star Ewan McGregor praised the film’s feminist roots, saying it’s a blow against the “patriarchy.” The film’s stars extolled how many women were working in front of and behind the camera.
Gender progress is wonderful, but we’ve seen these woke campaigns crash and burn before.
Plus, nearly every male character in the film is a heel, a cad or much worse. McGregor’s Black Mask is an overt villain, but even minor male characters, some of whom are painted as kindly at first, turn on our heroines.
Where’s the Joker?
Sure, he’s part of the supervillain patriarchy, but his ties to Harley Quinn’s “emancipation” makes his absence unforgivable. He didn’t need to steal the show, but letting him interact with Robbie’s character would have added some necessary depth.
As is, “Birds of Prey” is lighter than a feather, and modern superhero films soar higher with some storytelling gravitas.
That ‘Ghostbusters’ Campaign 2.0
“Wonder Woman” crushed the box office without the benefit of a woke cultural push. The same is true, so far, of the “Black Widow” standalone film coming in May. The box office forecasts are predictably robust for the “Avengers” spinoff project.
These films didn’t critique potential fans. They let the movies speak for themselves.
By contract, those Lady “Ghostbusters” went on the offense against potential fans four years ago. The media, in turn, served as the film’s de facto PR arm. The Washington Post directly attacked male fans who dared critique the film’s gender swap element.
It’s happening again with “Birds of Prey.” That approach suggests to ticket buyers that the movie needs a boost. It’s not solid enough to stand on its own.
An Indifferent Trailer
Say what you will about 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” the team behind the movie created killer trailers to gin up our interest. That made watching the actual film all the more dispiriting, but those teasers got us hooked.
The “Birds of Prey” trailers weren’t “Ghostbustes”-level bad. They didn’t make the case for the film like a great trailer should, either.
Male Gaze, Shmale Gaze
Journalism, Inc.’s reaction to “Birds of Prey” proved predictable. Reviews that overstated the film’s content -- just take a gander at that gaudy Rotten Tomatoes score. Plus, film journalists cheered on the production’s female-heavy nature and, of course, how the movie deconstructed the “male gaze.”
If your eyes don’t roll over that woke phrase you’re doing it wrong.
Villains? Heroes? Who Knows?
Superhero movies are … complicated in the 21st century. Movies like “Venom” and the upcoming “Morbius” blur the lines between the good and bad guys. The aforementioned “Squad” features supervillains teaming up to do the right thing.
Up is down. Right is wrong. We’re growing used to those shades of gray.
So what do we make of these “Birds?” Harley Quinn feels like a villain to the core. She’s uber-selfish, destructive and breaks any law that crosses her path. Young Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) is an unrepentant pick pocket.
Their “Prey” pals don’t fit that mold. Rosie Perez plays a cop, for example. Junee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary is good as gold with a voice to match. That mixed messaging didn’t help at the box office.
The ‘Suicide Squad’ Hangover
Yes, some audiences enjoyed this 2016 romp despite the critical attacks. Chances are the film’s limited charms are best enjoyed on the big screen.
Bigger! Louder! Did we say, “Bigger?”
Now, with the movie living on cable and home video platforms those perks shrink in size. That leaves the underwhelming story and darkly lit set pieces to state its case.
See the problem?
That doesn’t help “Birds of Prey.” Sure, it’s not a direct sequel to “Squad,” but the film’s standout character -- Harley Quinn -- is the main attraction in “Prey.”