Birds of Prey is colorful and snarky, but ultimately underwhelming

MARGOT ROBBIE as Harley Quinn in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN),” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ & © DC Comic
MARGOT ROBBIE as Harley Quinn in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN),” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ & © DC Comic /

Birds of Prey is a fast-paced, dizzyingly colorful entry to the DCEU with a gaggle of strong characters that suffer from the film’s erratic structure.

After Suicide Squad was panned so badly that it ended up warranting an entirely new reboot after just one film, things were relatively up in the air for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Although she was praised as one of the film’s few bright spots, she wasn’t involved with Joaquin Phoneix’s standalone Joker – a film that went on to snag a handful of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Instead, it was announced that Robbie would helm Birds of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, and a few years later, it’s clear that putting Harley in Birds of Prey was without question the right move for the character.

Although it’s not quite a standalone movie in the sense that the entire plot revolves around her, Birds of Prey does give Harley Quinn some of the much-needed relatability and warmth that was lacking thus far in the DC Universe. In the comics, Harley is one of the most well-loved figures for her wit and unpredictability, so it’s great to see that side of her finally embraced in a film, as opposed to keeping things all serious all the time.

Birds of Prey also treats Harley Quinn as a human being instead of a sex object- while her costumes are still very sexy, she doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of sex appeal, nor is she looked at through a predatory male lens. While the film certainly isn’t preachy about its feminism, it’s the small moments and deeply engrained understanding of femininity that make it far more feminist than other DC films could ever hope to be.

As far as Harley herself, Robbie gives a solid but surprisingly unremarkable performance. Given how much she’s committed to her roles in the past (she made the most of Bombshell and brought the house down in I, Tonya), we just couldn’t find ourselves as emotionally connected with Harley as we have been with some of her other work. It’s difficult to pin down exactly why that is, but whether it’s due to the fast-paced script that doesn’t dig too deep into her character or her performance which is so full of comedy that she seems like a caricature as opposed to a person, we didn’t care about Harley as much as we wanted to.

The other performance that sadly fell flat was Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, a run-down alcoholic Gotham cop who finds herself tangled up in Harley’s web as she attempts to crack a case surrounding one of Gotham’s most notorious criminal. Although Perez commits to the role, the film bounces all over the place in both chronology and tone, so none of the emotional beats land, much like with Harley. Ali Wong plays Montoya’s ex-girlfriend who works for the DA, but her role is so small for an actress of her notoriety that it’s easy to forget about her altogether.

The erratic pace and story structure is a double-edge sword – while it makes the film entertaining to watch and fits with the unhinged nature of Harley Quinn’s mind, it weakens the storytelling and makes it very difficult for the audience to slow down and get invested in what each character is going through.

Although the film’s two leads can sometimes be difficult to truly connect with, the rest of the ensemble cast is full of standouts. Jurnee Smollett-Bell gives the most emotional performance as long-suffering club singer/driver/secret superhero Black Canary, and it’s a thrill to watch her sing just as much as it is to watch her kick ass in bell bottoms. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also wonderful as Huntress, although she could’ve been introduced much earlier or given more screen time –  her character only becomes significant in the last act of the film, which is a shame because she is both deadly in combat and hilariously awkward in conversation.

The two biggest scene-stealers, however, come in the form of a 13-year old pickpocket and a 48-year-old crime boss- Cassandra Cain (Ella Basco) and Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Basco is incredibly endearing as Cassandra and instantly easy to root for- she also often acts as the audience stand-in for the absolute insanity that Harley Quinn brings to the table. On the opposite end of the spectrum, McGregor steals the show as Black Mask, giving a live wire, mesmerizing performance that we don’t hesitate to call the best DCEU villain.

While Birds of Prey‘s characters are undeniably its strongest suit, the aforementioned unhinged structure makes it difficult to get to know them very well. Their stories all show promise on their own, but they cut between each other so quickly we don’t truly get to know any of them.

As a result, when they all come together in the end to form the Birds of Prey, the audience is supposed to believe there’s a camaraderie and chemistry that just isn’t there, despite the mind-boggling fight scene that was supposed to serve as bonding time. The film juggles so many characters that we couldn’t help but wish it was Gotham City Sirens instead of Birds of Prey – the narrative structure would’ve lent itself much better to a trio as opposed to five or six main characters.

Unfortunately, the film is also not quite as witty as it seems to think it is. While there is certainly a lot of humor, much of it is derived from absurdity as opposed to actual cleverness, which results in a lot falling flat. On the flip side, however, the insanity of it all does help to bolster the film’s fight scenes, which are some of the most creatively choreographed and shot in the DC Universe.

It’s unquestionably a step up from the likes of Justice League and Suicide Squad, but Birds of Prey is so overstuffed and off the wall that we can’t get behind it as much as we did for more focused films like Wonder Woman and Shazam. In the end, while Birds of Prey is a step in the right direction for DC in terms of tone and character, it’s still a little too jumbled and hectic to truly be a home run.

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