Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Warner Brothers Pictures/ DC Comics
Written by Christina Hodson
Directed by Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco and Ali Wong
After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.
From its animated opening to its quick cuts, there was something about Birds of Prey that felt familiar.
I went into the latest film from Warner Brothers and DC Comics with no expectations or preconceived notions and there are many moments in this film I found fun and entertaining. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a lot there to work with for both the characters and the world the filmmakers are trying to create.
The plot is clever. Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) is building his criminal empire in Gotham and needs a specific item to bring him the money and influence he needs. The rest of the characters are either directly linked to Sionis’ actions, run afoul of him in some way or are looking to bring him down. Their proximity to each other and connection to the events is handled in a way that doesn’t force the characters together in a convoluted way, but brings their personal stories to a head naturally. McGregor is charming and scary as Black Mask. His unpredictable performance is exactly what the character requires and Chris Messina’s Victor Zsazz is the perfect sycophantic sociopath who’s jealousy keeps Sionis isolated, paranoid and dependent on him.
Margot Robbie has nailed the character of Harley Quinn and she is fun to watch on-screen. There is a brightness in her eyes when she’s playing the character and that makes her engaging to watch. Unfortunately, there was too much of her on screen for it to be a “Birds of Prey” film. As great as her performance was and as funny as she is, the film itself seemed to take too many cues from similar films like Deadpool when it went for the quick takes and fun animations. Similarly, when Harley breaks the fourth wall either on-screen or in narration, she is channeling Deadpool almost every time. Even the dream sequence and cocaine scenes felt derivative, but they were fun.
As dynamic a character as Harley is, there was so much of her in the film that the rest of the characters got the short end of the mallet. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Huntress with a single-minded intensity that makes her social interactions awkward and stilted, which I loved. Jurnee Smollet-Bell’s Black Canary is dealing with her own inner conflict regarding the legacy of a family member and what it cost her and Rosie Perez’ Renee Montoya is fighting for her place in a male-dominated department who benefit from her intellect while taking credit for her work. All of these character traits and performances are interesting, but they aren’t given time to develop because they’re filtered through Harley’s Deadpool-esque quick cut flashbacks.
Birds of Prey tries to do a lot in its run time and it had the potential to do a solid team building origin story. All of the actors are great and their performances are compelling and in any other circumstance, the characters they created would have room to grow and evolve. Unfortunately, Harley Quinn is the focal point and focus of this story and everything is filtered through her. Which means the rest of the characters get truncated as Harley’s arc becomes the only thing we see. This is a Harley Quinn movie featuring the Birds of Prey and as fun and interesting as Margot Robbie’s Harley is, the other characters, who are just as compelling, deserved more.