The DC film series has certainly had its ups and downs as of late. With 2016’s “Suicide Squad” being completely thrashed by audiences and 2017’s “Justice League” bombing at the box office, it really looked like it was over for DC. However, the surprise billion-dollar hits of “Aquaman” and “Joker” gave Warner Brothers a comeback with their films.
“Birds of Prey” follows the breakout character from “Suicide Squad,”, Harley Quinn, after the Joker broke up with her. No longer under the protection of the Joker, Harley is on the run from the police and every low life criminal in Gotham that has a grudge against her. She eventually gets roped into a complicated plot to retrieve a special diamond for the film’s antagonist, Black Mask. By the end, Harley joins with the other characters to form the Birds of Prey in order to protect Cassandra Cain, a child who ate the diamond, putting herself at the center of the conflict.
While the premise sounds fun on paper, the execution leaves much to be desired. If the movie was solely about Harley Quinn then this could have worked, however, there’s the whole team of the Birds of Prey that also need screen time to be developed. As such there are too many characters with too much plot happening for the film to focus on Harley, who is the only character audiences already would care about. The other Birds of Prey: Renee Montoya, Black Canary and Huntress all feel like afterthoughts in the story. The worst offender is Huntress, as she shows up sporadically throughout the movie and you don’t learn anything about her character until the end. When she finally gives her backstory, her character conflict had been already resolved, making Huntress feel like a completely pointless character.
The film’s biggest issue is how it was edited. Scenes are edited out of order, so there’s no natural story progression. The movie will follow Harley for a while then cut to a scene that has no context, then jump back to the beginning of the movie to show what also happened at that point then allow the film to catch up to where we originally were. The movie does this several times. Because of this, we are told information about the plot and characters either too late or too early in the story.
Warner Bros. should thank their lucky stars that they casted Margo Robbie as Harley. Robbie perfectly captures what made the character so lovable from the original Batman animated series. Ewan McGregor is also very good as Black Mask. He brings a flamboyant energy to the role that makes his scenes fun to watch. Even though most of Black Mask’s scenes are just him doing nothing except being eccentrically evil, they are a welcome edition. The rest of the cast is very unremarkable. Ella Jay Bosco as child pickpocketer, Cassandra Cain, is easily the weakest actor. While it’s expected that child actors would not be up to par with the adults, that doesn’t make the performance any less unbearable.
The movie’s biggest saving grace is the R rating. Having DC be the studio to release low budget R rated superhero movies aimed at an older audience makes them much more interesting than simply being a Marvel Studios clone. While this movie hasn’t been successful at the box office, the smash hit of “Joker” proves the model can be profitable. The R rating really allows for some stand-out excessive gore, which makes the action so much more fun and memorable. The over-the-top violence is very fitting to Harley Quinn. Without it, the movie would have been unforgivably boring.
It’s impossible to judge this film without drawing comparisons to its precursor “Suicide Squad.” While far from perfect, “Birds of Prey” feels like a more realized version of its predecessor. There’s a consistent tone and style. The movie even has a point of female empowerment. Even though it has more going against it than for it, “Birds of Prey” can still be a fun watch, especially for fans of Harley Quinn.