This movie may be titled Birds of Prey but there’s so doubt the subheading is more applicable here as this is a Harley Quinn movie in every way imaginable. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, if you enjoyed Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad then you’ll find a lot to love here. In the years leading up to this films release there were multiple reports about what WB and DC wanted to do with this character, reports varied from her own solo movie to an all female ensemble, and the result is definitely a mix of the two which leans more towards the former than the latter.
Even though the film’s already out I will still be avoiding major spoilers to the best of my ability, though if you want to go in completely blind then maybe come back to this once you’ve seen the movie.
Everybody’s favourite maniacal phycopath narrates us through the entire story, now as you can imagine this makes for a wild ride as we’re essentially living in Harley’s head, which as you can imagine doesn’t always make for straightforward storytelling. The plot jumps around all over the place, there are many scenes which begin confusingly before Harley speaks directly to the audience and takes us back to how she got there. If you think this sounds familiar then you’d be correct, you can tell the filmmakers took a lot of inspiration from Marvel’s Deadpool movies here. I’m not knocking it as those movies are brilliant but it’s definitely something that’s obvious throughout and instantly made me compare the two. Deadpool wins that battle all day long I’m afraid, why? Because as entertaining as Harley is, she’s nowhere near as funny as Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool and doesn’t quite carry the film in the same way. But Margot Robbie’s performance in this is more than good enough to justify her own flick, which is fitting given the film’s main story arc deals with Harley trying to prove she can survive on her own without now ex-boyfriend – The Joker.
Speaking of Joker and the rest of the Suicide Squad, for those who are worried that this is nothing more than a sequel to that terrible excuse of a move then fear not. Yes this is the exact same character from that movie, though if you ask me, she was the stand out part in that film as I think many others would agree but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Yes there are subtle nods to Suicide Squad but that’s it when talking about Birds of Prey as a sequel. That’s not to say there aren’t other similarities, the whole visual style of Birds of Prey definitely takes elements from Suicide Squad. Whenever Harley is doing her narrating gag, the screen is often littered with neon coloured graffiti and even the plot essentially centres around a group of misfits who come together to fight a bigger baddy than themselves, just like Suicide Squad. I can confidently say though that this does a way better job than its predecessor, so although there are fair comparisons to be made, don’t let that put you off.
Let’s talk about the big bad guy shall we? Ewan McGregor is the main antagonist in Birds of Prey in his role as Roman Sionis, better known as Black Mask. McGregor himself unsurprisingly does a great job with the role, he’s entertaining to watch and owns the scene every time he’s on screen. Unfortunately that’s the only positive to take away from this character as the way he’s written is just not that interesting. Due to the fact that the story requires him to be more evil than our wayward protagonists, he falls into the trap of being a bit over the top for no reason. With zero backstory he’s not fleshed out enough and the audience is never given a reason to care for his character either way. In recent years comic book movies such as Black Panther and Avengers Infinity War/Endgame have shown us that these movies can portray a villain with a certain level of sympathy and understanding, so when we now see a one-dimensional forgettable antogonist like Black Mask, it’s no longer good enough. This is not to say he’s terrible, in fact just compare him to the DCEU’s other awful villains and he’s probably right up there as one of the better ones, plus he isn’t some CGI eyesore so he has that going for him. He is also flanked by Victor Zsask who acts as his right hand man, played by Chris Messina. All I’ll say is that if you’re a fan of this character from the comics then lower your expectations immediately because he is completely wasted here, this side character is nothing more than Roman’s paid for thug who happens to have scars and did not need to be named as an iconic Batman villain.
So the villain’s a bit of a mixed bag, but what about the Birds of Prey themselves? The fact it’s taken me this long to mention these title characters probably says a lot. Like I said before, this is Harley Quinn’s movie without a doubt and if you like her character then you’ll already be enjoying this flick. This does mean however that the other Birds of Prey are slightly left behind in the process. We do get to spend a half-decent amount of time with them all individually and they each get a backstory which I liked. The only issue I had was how late they really come into play, I understand the story has to get them all into place but it does make the title quite misleading. The highlight of the team for me outside of Harley was definitely Black Canary played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell. I didn’t really know much about this actress going into the film and found myself pleasantly surprised with how good she was. She’s a badass who’s able to carry herself well alongside the firecracker that is Harley. She easily got the best character arc of the other girls and I really hope we get to see more of her in future. Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya is another fun character who I enjoyed my time with a lot and the same can easily be said for the much younger Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco. The only slight disappointment was Huntress, not because she’s a bad character but because I wish we’d had more time with her. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is funnier than I was expecting in the role and has great chemistry with the rest of the team, it just felt as if the film was over just as I began to get into her character. Overall the film is built upon this misfit team and for the most part, they are great entertainment and a lot of fun, even if the time spent with them as an actual unit is brief.
Outside of characters and story, the film is exactly what you’d expect. It’s an in your face thrill ride which is benefited from its higher age rating. Birds of Prey is a 15 (R rated for our American readers) which enables for more brutal action which it most certainly delivers on. Some of the set pieces in Birds of Prey are absolutely outstanding and is the main reason I want to see the movie again. There’s one particular action scene in a police station evidence room which is just a feast for the eyes and well worth seeing on the big screen with a big audience. The exciting action is mixed in nicely with a pop punk soundtrack and is everything you’d expect based of the trailers we’ve seen. It’s also worth noting that the film’s locations were a surprising highlight as we get to see our fair share of famous Gotham City locations which I won’t spoil here.
Yes, Birds of Prey has a lot of similar vibes to Suicide Squad. It’s a team full of edgy individuals who come together in a neon lit environment to take on an even bigger baddy. The difference here is leaving the cinema after Birds of Prey, I was thrilled by the fast paced R-rated action, the fun characters and some great classic Gotham environments, which is pretty much the opposite feeling to what I had when leaving the cinema after seeing Suicide Squad. So for that reason alone, this gets a thumbs up from me. Although the villain doesn’t quite hit the mark and the story can be a bit all over the place, Harley Quinn is a great lead character for what is definitely just that – her own movie more than a Birds of Prey one. Unfortunately for WB and DC, she’ll never be Deadpool like the studio clearly hopes she will, but she’s still a badass none-the-less. I highly doubt we’ll be talking about this as a contender for movie of the year but that won’t stop you having a really fun time with it regardless.
I give Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn