Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).
The DC Extended Universe has been a rocky journey, including the surprisingly good Shazam and Wonder Woman movies, but also having the (my opinion) atrocious Suicide Squad. The best part of Suicide Squad was undoubtedly Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, so it’s understandable that they’d want to capitalize on that and give her a sequel, now with a new cast of misfits.
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has parted ways with the Joker (a never-shown Jared Leto). In her downward spiral, her drunken antics lead her to cross paths with a dangerous mob boss named Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Sionis is looking for a diamond, worth millions, and will do anything to get it. Quinn must reluctantly work with an odd assortment of heroines (or villainesses) to stop him. She pairs up with a metahuman named Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a rogue police detective named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a crossbow-toting vigilante called the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and a pickpocket orphan named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Sionis seeks this diamond with everything he has, including a maniacal killer named Zsasz (Chris Messina) who delights in absolute torture.
This story belongs to Harley Quinn and Margot Robbie (again) kills it in this role. This movie is rated R, as opposed to Suicide Squad’s PG-13, so Harley is able to be even wilder. You can tell Robbie is having a blast here, the movie is electric.
Now, when a movie gets a R-rating, you might think it’ll veer towards the dark and grim (ala Logan). Instead, Birds of Prey gets an infusion of life, full of color and vibrancy. Yes, it’s violent and the language enough to make most of you blush, but it is thoroughly exciting from start to finish. The art style is incredible, playing with the fact that Harley’s reality may not be reality, so we get animated sections, musical numbers, it’s all happening so fast.
And the action is better than anything Suicide Squad attempted to deliver. All of our leads have moments to shine and the movie smartly zooms out and lets us see these action sequences, instead of fast cuts and editing to trick us into thinking the action is impressive.
While Harley is the lead, our other women leads are fantastic too, though definitely underutilized. Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco get significant screentime, while Smollett-Bell and Mary Elizabeth Winstead get a tad less. When they get screentime though, all of our ladies manage to impress. And then we have our villains, played by Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina. They are out there, especially McGregor, but at least it’s interesting. They’re not boring villains, but they also don’t really get much motivation. Is money the only reason they’re trying to murder all these people? They serve their purpose, but they’re not going to be remembered among the best comic book movie villains out there.
I also appreciate that DC is going places where Marvel won’t. They embrace the R-rating and introduce us to multiple LGBT characters with no hesitation, which is a big win for representation (especially considering the one or two lines of dialogue in the entire MCU given to a throwaway supporting character).
What doesn’t work?
If you’re a fan of the comics, you’ll be both delighted and disappointed here. Some characters feel much more true to their comic roots than others, though casual fans won’t even know. Harley, Montoya, and Huntress all feel pretty true to form, aside from maybe comedic beats from Huntress. There were significant changes to Black Canary and Cassandra Cain. Cain especially feels like a completely different character, they just needed a young girl. So know that going in.
Also, some of the outlandish performances may rub you the wrong way. I’ve seen a lot of division over Ewan McGregor’s performance. I thought it was lively, hilarious, and sometimes terrifying, but you may find it a tad over the top. I didn’t mind.
And while I’m giving this movie a good score, it’s because it is a fun movie, which is what it set out to do. It’s not an award-winner (though I guess, if Suicide Squad won an Academy Award, anything is possibly). Temper your expectations and have a fun time.
I enjoyed nearly every moment of this movie. It’s bright and vibrant and fun, so if you’re looking for escapism and some big colorful explosions, this movie will absolutely do it. Fans of the comics may be disappointed by some changes, but if you’re unaware or can leave those concerns behind, this film will leave you smiling. It’s got great action, plenty of humor, and is a refreshingly fun take on an R-rated superhero film.