Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
Directed by Cathy Yan
Written by Christina Hodson
The twisted, fairytale romance is over. The Joker has had enough of Harley Quinn and her endless antics and has kicked her to the curb. Even though their time together is through, Harley doesn’t go spouting her mouth off about their separation. She’s certainly rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and without The Joker there to protect her it would be open season on Harley Quinn if Gotham’s finest/worst found out. Whilst drowning her sorrows across a turbulent night of drunken debauchery, Harley pulls off one reckless act of destruction that acts as a massive bat signal of her break from Mr. J. With her secret out of the bag, the slime of Gotham’s seedy underbelly comes calling for Harley’s head.
One such freak who wants to take out our anti-heroine is Roman Sionis; a flamboyantly sadistic crime lord who is also known as, Black Mask. While he has plenty of reasons to have a grudge against Harley for all the trouble she has caused at his flashy night club, Sionis seemingly wants to end her time on earth just because he can. Roman sends his goons to pick up Quinn, and with her life about to be taken, she cuts a deal to save her skin. If Roman lets her live, Harley will retrieve a very valuable item that was recently taken from Roman’s henchmen by a teen pick-pocket. Harley isn’t the only one trying to track down the thief, though. A dedicated Gotham PD detective, a reluctant Black Mask employee, and a vengeful bounty hunter are all out on the trail of this precious commodity. With the hunt on, it soon becomes clear that the unhinged Black Mask is not going to let anyone out of this scenario without a lot of bloodshed, so all the interested parties are forced to team up to make sure Roman’s reign of madness comes to an end.
Let’s be real, it wasn’t going to be hard for any connected film to be that much better than the unequivocal mess that was Suicide Squad. Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (which from this point forward will only be referred to as Birds of Prey) does absolutely everything right to distance itself from the stain of its predecessor. That is to say, Suicide Squad could not have existed, and Birds of Prey would still be just as enjoyable and memorable on its own. It certainly isn’t perfect (more on that later), but Birds of Prey is a solid film on all levels and ends up paying out on all its promises. Even for a spectacle that pops with lush color, big explosions, and computer effects- Birds of Prey has a way of coming off as naturalistic in its visual flair and design. As our big blockbusters are starting to veer into the realm of supersaturated, retro 80s Crayola boxes, it’s highly commendable that director Cathy Yan found a way to balance out the loudness of the medium to deliver a film that is pretty to look at, but not washed away under its own style. Even the comedic aspects of the film are wide-ranging, pulling gags on everything from other Suicide Squad characters to Frida Khalo.
Margot Robbie already won acclaim in the role of Harley Quinn as one of (if not the only) the redeeming aspects of Suicide Squad. She brings that energy and flare back again, but also gets to bring a deeper and vulnerable portion of the character out at times. As appealing as the character of Harley Quinn can be, I would not question anyone who might think it would be tough to put the success of a film solely on the character’s shoulders. Too much of such an off-kilter persona can be too much to take, but in another perfect display of what true balance looks like, the entire Birds of Prey team puts together the definitive vehicle for this madcap maniac. Harley is well written by screenwriter Christina Hodson and expertly delivered through Robbie.
This isn’t just the Margot Robbie show though. The entire supporting cast brings their own well-rounded performances to the plate. Rosie Perez’s Rene Montoya is painted as a cop who’s watched too many 80s cop shows that she speaks in cheesy one-liners and police procedural troupes, but she never lays it on too thick. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress is as socially awkward as she is deadly and it’s a wonderful mix of quirky and sad. Chris Messina as Roman’s number 1, Victor Zsasz, is both terrifyingly creepy and somehow heartbreakingly pathetic at the same time. Then there is Ewan McGregor as we’ve never seen him before. Liberace on a blood-soaked killing spree, McGregor is playing so far outside the box and he obviously had a ball doing so. Nothing was going to hold him back and when he is at his most absurd, he is unstoppable.
What Didn’t Work:
For as balanced and well-planned Birds of Prey may be, it didn’t blanket the entire runtime. Yes, it’s a blast watching Ewan McGregor channel Robin Williams in The Birdcage as he tours Black Canary around his uber strange dining room, but earlier in the film his vim and vigor don’t match out. He seems to ramp up his sassiness as the film goes on and it just made his character seem unfinished. It also felt like the film never wanted to fully commit to his relationship with Victor, his twister henchman. Obvious lovers, they were presented with just a little too much cloudiness that it felt like maybe someone on the production was afraid to make it clear they weren’t simply, boss and subordinate.
Birds of Prey is presented in a non-linear fashion that may work for other films but felt like more of a chore in this presentation. As a viewer, you’re guided through the film by the narration of Harley Quinn herself, and it’s delivered in a very, “So, you’re probably wondering how I got here,” fashion. By the time the film starts to reverse itself out of linear storytelling, you’re in the territory of, “So you’re probably wondering how I got here, but let me tell you how I got here first before I tell you how I got to this third place before that.” It’s just too much, and in a world where Deadpool has already perfected the comic book 4th wall break, Birds of Prey is playing the game from behind and isn’t going to catch up.
Like most action films, too, Birds of Prey seems to falter on the balance between realism and brainless fight scenes. It’s a comic book film, I realize things are meant to be bigger than life and unbelievable; but you’ve done something wrong when a guy with an uzi literally has to run up to Harley, putting his gun at legs length from her before trying to shoot. For as brilliantly executed as the final showdown of Birds of Prey plays out, there is just as many questionable ridiculousness and head-scratching flubs in all that precedes it. Honestly, it’s the third act explosiveness that makes Birds of Prey succeed. While it isn’t a failure before that, it can feel like a bit of a slog in its early presentation.
The Bottom Line:
While it isn’t a perfect film, it’s safe to say that Birds of Prey is the best post-Nolan DC film out there (sorry Wonder Woman, you just were not that good; and Joker, I’m not sure you count). Between its outrageous characters and fantastic final act, there is plenty for fans to love from this colorfully rambunctious joy ride.
Birds of Prey opens in theaters tomorrow!