“Birds of Prey”- Movie Review
It seems like only yesterday the DC cinematic universe was struggling to find its identity. Nowadays, it seems like the franchise has finally found solid footing, with films like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Todd Philip’s Joker and Matt Reeves’s The Batman, which is slated for release in 2021. Their plan seems to be to not have a concrete plan, to allow each new film to stand on its own and have fun with the characters the DC universe has conceived. And if Birds of Prey proves anything, it’s that the studio is moving in the right direction.
This spunky popcorn flick stars Margot Robbie as the deranged Clown Princess of Crime, Harley Quinn, as she unwittingly embarks on her own solo adventure through Gotham City’s criminal underbelly. Having been dumped by the Joker, Harley finds herself in limbo. Although torn apart by the breakup and uncertain about her future, she also relishes in her newfound liberation. There’s just one little problem- the untouchable status she had while serving as the Joker’s right-hand henchwoman has disappeared. Now those who she’d wronged in the past are eager to have their revenge. One of them is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), an eccentric crime lord who, in exchange for sparing Quinn’s life, demands that she fetch for him a highly valuable diamond. The other little problem? Said diamond has wound up in the hands of young pickpocketer, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Needless to say, Harley’s got a full plate on her hands, and keeping the mission running smoothly quickly proves to be easier said than done. Oh, and the Birds of Prey are in this too.
So here’s something you’ve probably never heard me say in a review for a Marvel or DC movie- I’m not at all familiar with the original comics. I don’t think I’ve ever read a single one. Any knowledge I have comes from film and/or TV adaptations, so I tend to have no idea what’s an accurate portrayal of a comic book character and what isn’t. I only judge what the film presents to me, and what Birds of Prey provided me was a hell of a fun time.
The film is by no means perfect or anything great. Objectively-speaking, it has a lot of same problems its 2016 predecessor, Suicide Squad, suffered from- a choppy story structure, weak characterizations, and messy pacing. The two even have similar plots that include a rag-tag group of misfits teaming up to take out a higher evil. Though what makes Birds of Prey outshine Suicide Squad is its personality. Director Cathy Yan takes an unapologetically stylistic approach to this story. The cinematography is beautiful. Each frame is bursting with color, and the action sequences, while brutal, are set up in fun and clever ways. Even the smaller details showcase a campier tone- including an opening animated sequence, an awesome soundtrack, guns that shoot bean bags and confetti rather than bullets, a sensuous sequence devoted to the making of a breakfast burrito, and a pet hyena named Bruce. The film throws a lot at you. For me, a lot of it stuck. But I’ll admit, sometimes the storytelling techniques were a little much- case in point, the excessive use of Harley’s voice-over narration. I can totally understand why viewers could see the aesthetics as stylistic overkill, especially if there isn’t enough substance in the character-building department to balance things out.
I firmly believe that if you aren’t going to take the time to flesh out your character(s), at the very least let them have personality. Birds of Prey attempts to do both. The actors are clearly having a blast in their roles, and each does a good job of endowing their characters with a distinct identity. Margot Robbie in particular kills it as Harley Quinn. The character seems fully realized and three dimensional here, and at this point I can’t really picture anyone else in the role. Another standout is Ewan McGregor as the over-the-top villain, Black Mask. He doesn’t play a typical comic book antagonist here, which is interesting. Although you don’t get much information about his character, McGregor is still wildly entertaining in the part. He’s intimidating, unpredictable, funny and weirdly charming at times. The rest of the cast is good- Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rose Perez, Chris Messina- and it would be wrong to not give them a shoutout.
The film gives us some brief insight into who these people are and where they come from, but the pattern in which they provide it is disjointed. Certain characters get more screen time than others. Others are introduced at the very beginning, then it’s half an hour or so until they come back into the picture. This inconsistency is due to the film’s messy structure and pacing. Rather than follow a narrow line, the plot beats are shuffled around and become lost among the ruckus. On top of that, this really isn’t a Birds of Prey movie. I mean they’re in it, obviously, but they don’t band together until the last third. The events of the film are told entirely through Harley Quinn’s perspective. Her journey is the primary focus. Her arch is the most significant throughline of the narrative. It’s her movie from beginning to end, and a Birds of Prey movie from halfway through to the end, which is disappointing.
So yeah, the film is a bit of a clusterfudge. Was it bad enough to hinder my viewing experience? Not really. Although the flaws are unavoidable, I had no problem shutting my brain off and enjoying the film for what it was. It was awesome seeing a bunch of women take names, kick ass, and not take bull from anyone. I can’t argue it’s a great movie or that it’s a good DC adaptation, but if you’re willing to submit to the madness, you’ll have a good time.
Cosmic Grade- 3.7/5 Stars