Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Genre: Action, Comedy

Director: Cathy Yan

Screenplay: Christina Hodson

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor

Running Length:  109 minutes

Synopsis: After splitting up with The Joker, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and three other female superheroes – Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez)- come together to save the life of a little girl, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Bosco) from an evil crime lord.

Review: It was not difficult to tell that Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the lone bright spot in the frankly rather disastrous Suicide Squad in 2016, and it was only natural for her to get a movie of her own, especially after the success that Warner Bros and DC saw with Wonder Woman. Best described as something along the lines of Deadpool meets John Wick meets Kill Bill, at its best Birds of Prey is a kinetic action film with great action choreography, topped by the excellent, mesmerizing performance of Margot Robbie (and to a lesser extent, Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary). At its worst, the movie is a glorified mess, with a narrative structure that tries to be a little too smart for its own good; visuals, sound and music cranked all the way up to a migraine-inducing 11, and having a bunch of characters be nothing more than glorified plot devices while being onscreen.

Credit has to be given where it’s due, and Harley Quinn in her second outing has managed to cement her position as one of the most interesting characters in the (admittedly smallish) cast of characters thus far in the DCEU. Margot Robbie puts 110% into the role and absolutely nails all facets of Harley Quinn’s character, from the sadistic, psychotic, ass-kicking killer babe to the “girl next door” who’s looking for some kinship and bonding amongst birds of a similar feather. It’s a great, memorable character, and the expanded screen time that Robbie has been given for headlining this film pays off in spades.

Unfortunately, none of the other female characters manage to fare as well, and while the film is named Birds of Prey, nothing here suggests that the actual members of the Birds of Prey would be interesting enough to hold their own in a movie. It’s also rather disappointing that after the extended amount of time that was devoted in the film to putting the five female characters together in one room, the resultant denouement is such an underwhelming one, ending the film with an action sequence that is easily the least impressive of all the action scenes that preceded it. Also, the less that is said of the men in this film the better – Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina stick out like sore thumbs with their scenery chewing, and the whole campy angry white male shtick they adopt simply fails to take off entirely.

Christina Hodson makes some strange decisions with the screenplay, regularly breaking up the narrative timeline for no reason whatsoever, and while it sometimes works (Harley Quinn is mentally disturbed after all), there are other times where the movie feels very choppy and unfocused. There are some great scenes – Harley’s ode to the perfect egg sandwich almost rivals the iconic grilled cheese sandwich sequence in Chef, and an early fight scene where Harley beats out a bunch of mercenaries to rescue Cassandra Cain is hard-hitting in the best way possible. Yet, these are few and far between, and while there is enough to keep most audiences entertained, Birds of Prey feels too much like a chore to sit through for a good chunk of its runtime that it can’t earn an unequivocal recommendation.

Rating: * * (out of four stars)

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