Unpredictable yet interesting, Margot Robbie in all her glory got to spread her true wings this time around with a new DCEU film that doesn’t suck like the franchise’s past outings. When Harley Quinn tells you that she’s a terrible person, I think you may want to believe her. She has a pet hyena in this film for Christ’s sake. It’s interesting in the weekend that this film releases, it somehow feels connected to Todd Phillips Joker scoring Oscars (since Harley and Joker are a thing in the comics). Nevertheless, that isn’t the case as this film takes a different route with her character (and associates) this time around.
After revealing that she and Joker broke up in animated form (like one of those Pixar shorts) after Suicide Squad, Quinn seeks to move on from all this by driving a truck into a powerplant (literally), to publicly announce they have separated completely. From there on out, it becomes a chaotic whirlwind of associating oneself with the lead characters and finding out who or what wants this or that or to exact vengeance against Quinn. It seems that the director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson found a passion in establishing the major characters front and center yet rupture critical plot points, reminiscent of Suicide Squad’s twenty-five-minute mediocre character exposition, to ensure that your faith in these characters will hopefully not falter by the end of the film.
The narration carried out by Robbie’s character explains the main people to focus on. We watch a passionate yet suppressed police officer Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) attempt to uncover work done by the crossbow-wielding youngster named Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a powerful singer that can break glass better than the Fat Lady from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, goes by the nickname “Black Canary” and corresponds with a Gotham villain Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Oh, and lastly there’s pick pocketer Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who becomes the focus for the rest of the story.
This film’s action is undoubtably gorgeous, reminding me of the action crafted by the Wachowski’s Matrix series and John Wick. Robbie is putting on a showcase of her incredible gymnastic skills that are carried out in smooth slow-motion effects rather than the over-the-top CGI that plagues superhero films nowadays. The choreography and destructive fight scenes are fun and stylistic, and Robbie continues to maintain her wit and character to push the film along. Winstead’s quirkiness adds to the film in the unique way, with her story allowing her to maintain a more vengeful stance throughout due to her past.
McGregor’s take on the main villain, Black Mask, in this film is rather interesting. He doesn’t go for the normal “kill them, I’m a bad person” trope, but slips between the personas of understanding and unsettling. Of course, he wants power, but he has narcissistic ways of getting there. Cutting people’s faces off is one thing he does, and he does allow to let someone slip away (until he is disgusted by the snot bubble on her face and immediately changes his stance). He’s not a superb villain, but one that holds some water in this meta-circus.
Speaking of circuses, Birds of Prey unfortunately falls a honorable notch under some of the better superhero films as it tries to justify its own pace and story with an absurd amount of flashbacks, comedy title cards and putting them together messily as if you were trying to please your teacher the next day since you procrastinated on an important essay. It becomes frustrating to keep track of where you are in the timeslot of the film as it enjoys backtracking constantly to give an explanation on who this character is or why this happened. It’s almost as if you’re just about to find the needle in the haystack, yet it keeps being pulled by some metallic force so it’s harder to seek out. At least the film zips along with its 109-minute runtime and doesn’t leave you being dragged along.
Robbie’s narration here feels too derivative of Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool, a character fathomed with such fourth-wall breaking elements and nutty humor. Reynolds works because of his impressive pop culture references and undeniable charisma. Robbie is trying too hard here to mimic his ways and her humor for most of the film falls flat. Even the theater I was watching it in was not emitting the appropriate response that I’m certain the people on the production set wanted it to. That’s a shame since she was a standout in David Ayer’s frail Suicide Squad and the best part of it.
And even with a fresh approach, a fun and stylistic tone and new characters to ride with, it tempts to me to say that this film is underwhelming. Not Batman vs Superman or Suicide Squad type, but it just doesn’t do enough to warrant another viewing experience. You watched Shazam! because it was hilarious, had excellent chemistry between Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer and a clear direction. You watched Wonder Woman because it was a revolution in the makings of superhero films with a leading female protagonist, tied with Gal Gadot and Chris Pine leading the chaos and warfare to a victory for mankind. Even Justice League (2017) attempted to mix several tones and had some fresh action and characters (although three characters’ backstories, CGI and villain were disturbingly weak).
Birds of Prey feels equivalent to one of those films you watch to gain the experience and then never touch again because there’s nothing memorable about it. It’s good, but it’s not great. It’s a mess, but a fun mess. These women are here to support one another and get things done. Once they get together, all the emotions on our faces take a step back due to the structurally anarchic path that unfolded across the picture. Robbie’s and McGregor’s performances, the action and stylistic tone all contribute to a pleasing experience. But that sentiment can be the same thing said for most superhero films nowadays.
After watching some impressive superhero films go above and beyond the genre such as Black Panther, Avengers: Endgame and Wonder Woman, it feels that Birds of Prey can only work at such a level it is content with. You cannot push the boundaries if everyone is floating around in a turbulent disarray; you need to settle down and refocus to acquire new tastes and a better paved route.