To say Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) starts with a bang would be a massive understatement. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is back in a big way, having once and for all shattered the shackles of her abusive relationship with the Joker. Her new-found emancipation is short-lived, having triggered deadly unforeseen consequences. Now with a price on her head, and every Gotham thug gunning for her, Harley has to enlist the help of unlikely allies.
This city-wide woman-hunt, led by Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), results in hilarious, bone-crunching fashion largely alleviating the sour taste Suicide Squad left. First and foremost, Margot Robbie is the enigmatic pulse of Birds of Prey. She isn’t just the Joker’s scantily clad girlfriend anymore; she’s standing on her own two feet and has no qualms about kicking in your teeth. Robbie dazzles in her most maniacal and refined portrayal of Harley yet.
Due to Suicide Squad’s somewhat flippant use of her, I think it was fair to question whether or not she could carry an entire film. Director Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey primarily serves as a resounding yes to that (now laughable) question. A continuously humorous and sympathetic look at this beloved DC villainess proves she is more than just a tights-wearing, mallet-wielding crook. Peeling back her numerous layers allows the audience to understand how logical a team-up film is for her character.
While at times focusing on a more serious understanding of her character, Harley’s murderous and happy go lucky nature is splashed across every frame of the film’s aesthetic. From freeze frames listing ludicrous grievances that thugs have with her, to Harley adopting a hyena whom she names Bruce (“After that hunky Wayne guy”), Birds of Prey is dripping with outlandish personality.
So for as much fun as the film is, it’s a shame that its larger narrative is relatively vanilla. While not entirely surprising given that it’s an origin story, I was disappointed by how long it took to introduce and have the Birds join forces. Getting to know Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez) takes far too long, given the strength of the ensemble. Scenes where we see firsthand the Birds’ personalities conflicting with one another provide consistent laughs. It’s a shame that we didn’t receive more moments such as this, as they are primarily reserved for the latter half of the film.
Birds of Prey also has a tendency to frequently rely on flashbacks. This kills the momentum crafted in its opening moments, resulting in a disjointed, but still highly entertaining, R-rated superhero movie. By fully leaning into its rating, the film results in brutal fights – some of the best so far this year – and silly, but mostly self-aware laughs. The forced edgelord humor of the Suicide Squad is mostly missing. Humor is intrinsically tied to Harley’s personality, which screenwriter Christina Hodson runs wild with in an extended chase scene through Gotham in which Harley professes her love for a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.
This humor also comes across in the film’s plentiful, kneecap-shattering fight scenes. Harley’s playful brutality will have you laughing one minute and cringing at the punishment she deals out the next. A cocaine-fueled evidence locker fight and confetti launcher police precinct assault are standouts with tremendous fight choreography.
Likewise, the massive finale fight that unfolds within a dilapidated amusement park features countless memorable moments of the Birds putting aside their differences in the name of crushing skulls. No one Bird feels the same, each bringing their unique personality and fighting style to scenes.
Furthermore, Birds of Prey’s approach to lesser-known villains is vital to the identity of the film. As Black Mask and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) aren’t exactly household names, their relative obscurity ensures they never upstage the Birds themselves. The other side to that being that we never explore them to the degree I’d have liked. Ewan McGregor’s maniacally chaotic villain energy is gleefully outside of his usual rapport. His sporadic mood shifts transition from controlling but calm to furious and murderous in the blink of an eye — a fitting antagonist for Harley. And while we only ever get a brief snippet of his backstory, this ensures that plenty of time is given to Harley and the rest of the Birds.
Similarly, we’re given just enough to be intrigued by each member of the Birds of Prey, while never exploring them to the extent of Harley. This is more than likely done to entice interest in a potential sequel or spin-offs, but a deeper understanding of these characters would have been welcome.
Birds of Prey is easily the most enjoyable post-Suicide Squad DC Comics film yet, fully embracing its heroine protagonist’s liberation and allowing her personality to run rampant. The film’s wishy-washy narrative is underwhelming but serviceable enough that it enables this girls-night-out to be a hell of a lot of violent fun.
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Margot Robbie dazzles with her most refined and rambunctious endeavor as Harley Quinn yet. While its narrative can be disjointed at times, Birds of Prey fully leans into its R-rating, making for a hilarious and violent good time
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