By Pete Villasmil
Directed by Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez and Jurnee-Smollet Bell
Over the past decade, DC Films have been a mixed bag. Batman v Superman was one of the biggest disappointments of the last decade and Justice League failed to ignite widespread excitement for a DC cinematic universe. Shazam, Wonder Woman, and the critical darling that is Joker seemed to be steps in the right direction, but their success hasn’t prevented audiences from being cautious before purchasing a ticket. To put it simply, it’s a total toss up when it comes to the quality of DC’s creative ventures. This is especially true for Birds of Prey.
It’s understandable why one may be wary about Birds of Prey. Serving as a spinoff to 2016’s Suicide Squad, the film aims to further expand the character of Harley Quinn. The movie’s predecessor, despite being a box-office hit, proved to be a complete mess of a film with terrible dialogue, lack of intrigue, poor pacing, and quite possibly the worst incarnation of the Joker that has ever beheld the silver screen. Even icons like Will Smith and Viola Davis couldn’t save this catastrophe. Suicide Squad is such a disaster that a reboot is already in the works set to release in 2021.
Some may be puzzled as to why Birds of Prey was even developed, especially considering the uncertain future of the series. It’s a perplexing situation that leads to many questions. Is Harley Quinn a strong enough character to support a stand-alone film? Has DC Comics finally found its niche in a genre dominated by their competitor? More importantly, does Birds of Prey do enough to justify its strange existence?
While the film does have its problems, it is a vast improvement from what audiences got in 2016. In many ways, Birds of Prey feels like what Suicide Squad should have been thanks to a more consistent tone, a cast of unique characters, and a better sense of overall direction. What’s more is that Birds of Prey is just simply a more entertaining film to watch.
At its core, the Birds of Prey is a break-up movie as it centers on Harley Quinn’s turmoil after her split with the Joker. Picking up soon after Suicide Squad, Quinn finds herself targeted by crime lord Roman Sionis (played by Ewan McGregor). To save herself and others, Quinn must team up with an unlikely crew of vengeful heroines to take down Sionis and his gang of ruthless mercenaries. Birds of Prey has a lot of moving pieces and because of this, the movie can often feel scattered. At times, it works to the film’s benefit as it captures the essence of Harley Quinn’s insane mind. But the film can also feel all over the place, especially in its opening act. This is slightly remedied by the movie’s bold choice to tell its first half in a non-linear manner, which certainly keeps things interesting. Thankfully the story doesn’t take itself too seriously, with the exception of a couple of dark moments, but for the most part recognizes the eccentric nature of the world it takes place in and Harley Quinn’s place in it. Birds of Prey also attempts a handful of jokes to keep things fun, but for the most part they miss the mark. The film simply isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. It doesn’t ruin the experience by any means, but definitely creates moments of intense awkwardness.
What shines the most in Birds of Prey are its action sequences. They’re often filled with creative set pieces and catching choreography. The use of slow motion is used to great effect emphasizing the ridiculous nature of these scenes, and shaky camera movements are kept to a minimum to deliver smooth, easy to follow action thanks to great direction from Cathy Yan. Oftentimes, these action scenes further contribute to the outlandish tone of the film. This symbiotic relationship between the action and tone is on full display during a prison breakout sequence in the middle of the film that sees Harley Quinn eliminating guards with confetti, beanbags, and colorful smoke bombs. Another scene has Quinn on a high-speed chase in roller skates as she holds onto the back of a speeding motorcycle. These action sequences are easily the most inventive out of the DC Extended Universe, and truly put on display the film’s fun and unique style. They’re a blast to enjoy and manage to maintains the film’s wild energy, especially with the benefits of a R rating
Speaking of style, Birds of Prey is relished with fun graphics and visuals. Amusing title cards are used to introduce characters, and a comical animated sequence opens up the movie. For the most part, the sense of style is to the movie’s benefit. However, Birds of Prey’s soundtrack is a major misstep. While the musical selection isn’t terrible, the presence of licensed music feels as an unnecessary way to add more style to the film, with the exception of one scene in the final act. For the most part, the music often detracted from scenes instead of being a meaningful addition, and felt out of place which is unfortunate.
Performances are good across the board, but Margot Robbie and Ewan McGregor are the undeniable standouts of the film. Robbie had already proven herself to be an excellent Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, but finds a way to add an unexpected vulnerability to the psychotic character. It’s a nice touch, and Robbie’s performance gives the audience an interesting character to root for, in spite of her untamed insanity. McGregor’s work as antagonist Roman Sionis is equally engaging. His intense, unpredictable nature makes for some great moments even though his performance can be too eccentric in some instances. Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead contribute by being a fine supporting cast that provides a nice contrast to the chaotic nature of Harley Quinn.
Birds of Prey is weird, stylish, and simply entertaining even if it isn’t anything game changing in the crowded comic book movie genre. Even though the film’s story could be tighter, it makes up for it with exciting action and a great lead. It’s a fun movie, but audiences probably won’t be revisiting it after an initial viewing. While the future is unclear for Harley Quinn, if this is indeed the last time we get to see this incarnation of the character, she at least gets to go out on a good note. And that’s enough to put a smile on your face.
Tremendous Trivia: * The character of Harley Quinn was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for the acclaimed television show Batman the Animated Series.*