Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 109 Minutes
Director: Cathy Yan
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (seriously, what a title!) is the newest film in the DC Universe, acting in many ways as a spin-off and semi-sequel to the highly promising, yet ultimately disappointing Suicide Squad. Taking the same basic concept of a team-up of anti-heroes and villains who don’t have a huge moral compass whilst implementing the best aspect to it that worked about the 2016 predecessor, that being Harley Quinn, this newest comic book romp seeks to write the wrongs of what failed last time, whilst keeping most of its focus on one of DC’s most intriguing characters in the form of the psychotic Harley Quinn. Through taking this idea in a new director through director, Cathy Yan’s impeccable vision, Birds of Prey certainly does a lot to make a rollickingly good fun, if somewhat uneven rollercoaster of thrills that certainly earns the film’s obnoxiously frantic title.
Harley Quinn, once the Joker’s right hand woman, romantic partner and one of the biggest criminals in Gotham finally breaks up with her emotionally manipulative boyfriend, and seeks emancipation for her actions in the past and yearns for a fresh start. But now that she doesn’t have the protection of her ex, she discovers very quickly that there are hundreds of people out to kill her, including the villainous Black Mask, who is seeking a young girl named Cassandra Cain, who has stolen something precious to him for her own financial gain. Managing to find Cain and also recognising that she is also on the run from a bunch of other women who are trying to seek Harley for their own personal reasons, Quinn on her journey of self-discovery has to join forces with this badass troupe as she realises that they all deep down seek the same form of redemption in life that they deserve.
Taking a much more Deadpool-esque approach to its storytelling and general creative style than any other film in the DCEU, it definitely doesn’t take long to realise from the outset that this film is very much a Harley Quinn movie in every sense of the word. Birds of Prey opens with one giant 2-D animated sequence that gets into the weird, psychologically messed up mind of this harlequin’s brain, and the use of narration from Quinn along with a chunk of 4th Wall Breaks makes it abundantly clear that what you are watching is basically what would happen if Harley kicked down the door to an editing suite and started to tinker with what would be a different director’s inherent vision. This among anything helps Birds of Prey to have a wonderfully unique and distinct vision, and even though it could be debated as to whether or not narration in film could be considered intrusive to an audio-visual medium, in a film like this where we are meant to be on the same wavelength with our main character, it sets a really solid mood. All of this encompasses what is this film’s biggest strength: everything related to Harley. It’s very difficult to figure out a way to make your audience find a way to care about a character who is a villain at her core, but progressively through the story slowly forms into a unique, unconventional anti-hero, and even though in many ways it could feel like tonal whiplash, Margot Robbie completely tells us into this character and how she yearns for a fresh start in life despite the world basically telling her it isn’t that easy when there are many people out for her head. The film takes a fairly bold approach to how trying to right your wrongs is never that easy, especially when you spend years being the romantic interest of one of the most diabolical crime lords. Everything in regards to Harley Quinn serves as the film’s greatest strength and the thankful fact that it is such a remarkable asset to the film helps to compensate for some of the major problems Birds of Prey unfortunately has to face.
The biggest problem in this film because so much of it is so solely focused on Harley and her emancipation, is how the film basically handles the supporting cast. While this doesn’t amount to everyone, the biggest hurdle that the film unfortunately doesn’t land is what the film’s title is all about: the “BIRDS OF PREY”. Because the film is so dead centred on Harley’s arc, there are never that many moments throughout the story that the other vigilantes get much of an opportunity to shine. Rosie Perez does a solid job as Renee Montoya, a GCPD cop who attempts to uncover a criminal case linked to Quinn, but Black Canary and ESPECIALLY Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress get mostly sidelined, with very little time to shine. The same issues are also linked to how Ewan McGregor’s character, Black Mask, is handled. For the most part, there is never much of a legitimate reason for us as the audience to believe he is any less evil than how Harley Quinn ever was, which not only fails to make him much of an intimidating presence despite how he relishes in slicing off people’s faces (SERIOUSLY). He’s also written in such a way that feels quite one-dimensional with not too much depth to him, which could also be said to the same extent as Black Canary and Huntress, and when it all finally comes to the film’s climactic moment where these women have to finally team up to make Black Mask down, it never feels earned which is such a shame because the cast in this film is good. Each one of the members do everything in their power to make their characters shine, and because of this, the film has such a great sense of fun, with there rarely ever being a dull moment.
Despite the weak characterisation for the most part, it never stops Birds of Prey feeling like it lacks charisma and a genuine sense of style and sass, which fits the film’s vigorous and flimsy tone, which can also admittedly act as a double edged sword. The film’s editing by Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff tries everything in its power to keep this story feeling as coherent as possible despite how the film’s constant 4th wall breaks and out-of-order film structure can sometimes make the film feeling quite messy. And even though you could argue that this could feel completely intentional given how this is a Harley Quinn film and how we are supposed to be experiencing the story in this way, given the film’s already stylish flair and action, it wouldn’t be hard to perhaps sacrifice some of that messy structure to make the film easier to follow as long as it stays true to its characters in practically any other conceivable way. A lot of this does boil down to Christina Hodson’s tightly written if messy screenplay, but it all doesn’t detract from how well the creative team here has managed to bring all of these different cogs together. As for everything else, the cinematography by Matthew Libatique is very well done, focusing on mostly wide angle shots to capture the stunts and action in their full glory, the production design is very colourful and fits the personality of Harley Quinn’s character, and even though Daniel Pemberton isn’t all that memorable, the general soundtrack which goes for a mixture of original songs and covers of other classic tracks helps to keep Birds of Prey on the same wavelength to Suicide Squad whilst still keeping to a unique general theme to differentiate itself from it’s predecessor.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn in many ways can be best described much like who Harley Quinn is generally as a character: very fun, cooky, clumsy but all around well-intentioned despite her mischievous misdeeds. The film acts as a fun dissection of one of DC’s best insane characters and despite some of the weak supporting cast and the mixed bag that is the film’s tone and editing style, the film in many ways still encompasses the true core of this unique character and why she has always been worthy of having her own film, despite sharing the film’s title with an iconic group of vigilantes who don’t get the same screen presence. It is quite understandable how some DC advocates might not like this film given how much it deviates from its source material, but the important thing to note is that critics and general audiences are here to watch a film, not a comic book. And as this stands, Birds of Prey is a solid time at the cinema, and its central character and its unique style help to make this a film worth seeing despite some of its shortcomings.
FINAL RATING: 6/10 (OKAY)
The Great Stunt Work and Action
A Unique Sense of Style and Flair
The Colourful Production Design
A Inspired, if Messy Structure