Review- Birds of Prey
Yes, its true, superhero movies have got to this level. A Suicide Squad sequel, part Harley Quinn solo movie, part Birds of Prey origin, with Batman characters Renee Montoya, Cassandra Cain, and Black Mask sprinkled in for good measure.
To its credit, it's very much in the spirit of the comic company DC and the style those books take on, banding together different characters from various titles. On the back of successes like Aquaman and Shazam! How does Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn fair?
The film takes place in Gotham City, where a now free Harley is adjusting to life since breaking up with her puddin/ Mr. J (Joker). With half of Gotham now after her for various reasons, Harley becomes entangled with crime boss Roman Sionis to find a valuable diamond, that will give him more money and control than any villain in Gotham. The story intertwines many characters and heroes all of whom have a link to Sionis and the diamond, leading to Harley, Black Canary, Huntress, Montoya, and Cain teaming up to save themselves and the city.
Describing the story really does make it sound more ridiculous than it is, but has that really changed when it comes to this genre? Birds of Prey if nothing else is further proof that giving these films a unique voice and style allows them to stand on their own and jump off the screen.
Margot Robbie as Harley was one of the most beloved aspects of Suicide Squad and while the film itself may have dampened that, along with the potential avenues DC could have gone down, Birds of Prey still makes it clear she's a key player in future movies.
Robbie gives Harley energy, enthusiasm, and charm. It makes the film work, especially with her as the lead character. One of the biggest questions before this film was the choice to place Harley into a team she has no history with in the comics. Birds of Prey cleverly becomes a bridge to transition Harley from a Joker obsessed team player, to her own character (exclusive with her very own Hyena), something a Gotham City Sirens or Joker and Harley film could not achieve quite as well.
The film is narrated by Harley herself, adding a fun, Deadpool like charm. Ironic, considering the idea Quinn has become the Deadpool of the DC universe…His last film even saw him protecting a rebellious youngster, as Quinn does here with Cassandra Cain.
Along the way we are introduced to characters like Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), more commonly known as Black Canary and The Huntress, both original members of The Birds of Prey in the comics. The film and script do a great job of integrating these characters into the story and making them a part of the action.
Reports of reshoots involving John Wick and Deadpool stunt director Chad Stahelski caused fear for many fans, but the changes seemed to have certainly made a difference with effective and kick-ass set pieces that do a great job of providing comic book action that doesn’t rely on guns or cheap effects. Harley’s police department break-in and final chase are great examples of visually fun and inventive moments.
While the film provides great hand to hand combat it does, unfortunately, mean superhuman abilities such as Black Canary’s cry are pretty underwhelming, becoming little more than a wail used once in the final scene.
Despite this, the film makes a valiant effort to make Huntress, Canary, and Montoya, funny, charismatic and layered, with memorable moments from each of them. The final fight at the abandoned Fair is inventive and ties them all together, meaning it will be great to see them again on the big screen in the future.
Other standouts include Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain, and Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz. Basco gives Cain a down to earth presence, mixed with some spunky attitude, leading to a believable relationship with Harley, which is unfortunately limited on time in the film’s overall story. Messina gives a hypnotic and driven performance as Zsasz, showcasing director Cathy Yan’s ability to reign in and ground her performers, especially here as we see Zsasz so clearly besotted and loyal to Ewan McGregor’s Sionis.
Speaking of which McGregor’s portrayal of Roman Sionis/ Black Mask is one of the most interesting and fascinating villains we have had for a long time. While he spends very little time in the famed mask, it is the man under the mask that is far more fascinating, playing an elaborate, particular and unhinged boss, which we get plenty of time with, in the first half. Unfortunately, his time is cut short in the second part of the movie. The script and film are clearly making up for it’s rumoured altered story, which originally would have taken away from Sionis’s grandeur.
The film rightly focuses on setting up all our female heroines and ending on a high. But to see the complex character of Sionis more integrated with the story, and adding more tension, would certainly have elevated the finale. Harley’s flipping back and fore of different events, and the overall lack of conflict leads to a thin story that is again saved by the script and performances.
One of the film's biggest strengths is definitely the luxurious and detailed sets and costumes showcased in every scene. Yan again shows a great ability to make the sets and costumes shine and become a part of the story in every detailed frame.
Birds of Prey gives us a fantastic justification for more Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, with a fun evolution for her character, and a truly different look at Gotham City.
The soundtrack looks to make a big statement but is largely overshadowed by the better visuals, with the film bringing back an element criticized in Suicide Squad by layering graphics and titles to explain parts of the story. While this does work better with Quinn's aesthetic and narration, it is still somewhat lazy. The Birds of Prey themselves have plenty of potential, in a fun ride, especially at a time of year when action isn’t dominating the box office.
Birds of Prey features laughs, striking visuals but a mixed story that should still please the majority of audiences, but misses some opportune moments for bigger drama.