Birds Of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) lands in theaters this weekend and you should definitely go see it if you enjoy DC Comics and Harley Quinn in particular. The movie doesn’t bring out any of the big guns—no Batman and, remarkably, no Joker for that matter—but it has a smart script, terrific performances and plenty of fun action.
Let’s take a look at what works and what doesn’t in the new film from director Cathy Yan, writer Christina Hodson and star Margot Robbie.
Without spoiling the story beyond the premise, Birds of Prey follows Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) after her painful (and ultimately quite dangerous) break-up with the Joker. She and “Puddin’” are through for good and it’s time for Harley Quinn to stand on her own two feet—something that proves to be a lot more difficult than she expected. Without Joker’s protection, she finds she has a rather large target on her back.
The other titular Birds of Prey are Dinah Lance / Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Helena Bertinelli / Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and young pick-pocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).
The top bad guy is Roman Sionis / Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and his henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina).
All these characters come together in the end for the final conflict, though mostly they’re on different sides throughout the movie.
Mostly the movie works because it’s funny, exciting and has great characters. I liked all the female leads, but Robbie’s Harley Quinn really steals the show. She’s just fantastic. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress is also a very funny character with a great backstory. And I really liked Black Canary in this as well, though I think she should have busted out her super-power a bit earlier.
The movie isn’t as funny as Deadpool, but the humor works. Every time Harley Quinn is on-screen something funny happens. She reminds me a bit of an even more eccentric Holly Golightly. With a bat and a mallet and a penchant for violence.
There’s a whole scene dedicated to her buying the perfect breakfast sandwich and then getting chased through the Gotham streets with it tucked into her shirt. She plays roller derby with a vengeance (something my roller derby-playing girlfriend was very excited about) and drinks like there’s no tomorrow. She has all her best ideas when she’s drunk, after all.
So the humor works, and so does the weird disjointed way that Harley tells the story. She narrates, first in an animated opening segment, and then throughout, but she’s not very good at keeping things in order, so the movie bounces around a little bit with timelines. She has to back up more than once to fill in some details. It’s clever and there’s never any confusion about timelines.
A lot of the stuff I enjoyed about this film would spoil it, so I’ll just say it’s a very fun movie with lots of laughs and some almost cartoony fight scenes that are a lot of fun. And Black Mask, while not the most compelling DC villain, was pretty fun thanks to McGregor’s excellent performance. (Though I do agree with Paul Tassi that he feels like an odd sit-in for the Joker).
So what doesn’t work?
First off, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this movie did not need to be R-rated. Most of the R-rated stuff is completely unnecessary. Harley Quinn doesn’t need to be as drug-addled as she is; she doesn’t need to curse so much more than she did in Suicide Squad (which is an odd tonal shift to say the least). There doesn’t need to be the sexual assault stuff which is basically the line I draw for showing this one to my kids.
Birds of Prey should have been PG-13. It would have been a better movie with a less edgy tone and it would perform better at the box office if families could go see it. I also like how it really emphasizes tough female characters and think it’s sort of a shame that it isn’t more appropriate for younger girls.
My other big gripe is with the final fight scene, so this is a bit spoilery. Throughout the movie we see the various tough female protagonists deliver some pain to the various thugs and goons. Black Canary beats up two guys outside Roman’s club who were trying to abscond with a very drunk Harley Quinn. Huntress is a stone cold assassin out for revenge. And Harley Quinn takes down all sorts of bad guys and cops (usually non-lethally) with style and pizaz. Each of these women is established as a serious fighter, and that’s great.
But I’m still not sure that such a small group could take down dozens and dozens of armed opponents with essentially just their fists.
Other than Black Canary, none of these characters has any real super powers. Huntress, Montoya and Harley Quinn are all great fighters, but we’re talking about a group of four adults and one young teenager outnumbered maybe 5 to 1 by a bunch of armed thugs. Those aren’t great odds when you only rely on fists instead of wits.
Honestly, it’s not even that they were able to win it’s that they were able to win without doing anything very clever. The final showdown should have taken some cues from Home Alone. Booby traps, clever defenses, using the location to their advantage, taking out thugs one-by-one. A big brawl just feels like a wasted opportunity.
Besides, simply going bigger doesn’t make a fight scene better. That’s something Warner Bros. still needs to learn.
The chase scene and final confrontation between Quinn and Black Mask, on the other hand, was great.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed Birds of Prey even though I agree it would have been stronger if the Joker had been the primary antagonist instead of Black Mask. It’s a shame they went for an R rating on this one (unlike Joker, it didn’t need to be) and I think the final fight scene could have been a lot more interesting.
But the humor and zany action throughout the film were on point, and Robbie is clearly having a great time as Harley Quinn, a role she was born to play. It’s great to see the DCEU continue its winning streak here and hopefully that continues with Wonder Woman 1984.
I think I basically agree with the consensus on this one. It’s not as good as Wonder Woman or Shazam! but better than Aquaman and the earlier DCEU entries. Not perfect, but a lot of fun and definitely one to see on the big screen.
Also, now I want one of those breakfast sandwiches. Those looked good.