Here’s our review for “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” which opens in theaters on Friday…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
Ever since DC and Warner Bros. stopped trying to compete with Marvel — an ill-fated attempt to build a shared universe between movies — the studio has managed to churn out more than a few enjoyable films.
“Aquaman” was probably better than it should have been. “Wonder Woman” was quite enjoyable. And “Joker” has been nominated for a slew of Oscars for a film that may not have ever been made if movies like “Justice League” and “Batman V. Superman” actually worked.
The latest stand-alone film with ties to a past DC bomb is “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which sees Margot Robbie return as Harley Quinn — former girlfriend to the Joker except in this movie she’s breaking apart from Mr. J and striking out on her own.
Well she’s not alone for long because soon Harley finds out that it’s not easy being a solo star because she ultimately teams up with a girl group of fellow ass kickers to take on a crime boss in Gotham.
Of course, Robbie made her debut as Harley back in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” and she was the only part of that movie worth saving. While this new film slightly ties into that movie with a few references, “Birds of Prey” largely stands on its own.
Also worth noting, this new adventure of Harley Quinn is rated ‘R’ and the movie goes a long way to hammer that home by dropping “fuck” or “motherfucker” as often as possible. There are a few bloody scenes that count for the graphic violence but overall it felt like the rating for “Birds of Prey” largely came from the screenwriter wanting to pepper the “F” bomb throughout the movie to make it feel edgier than it really is.
When it comes to DC’s slate of films, “Birds of Prey” definitely stands above many of its predecessors but this was clearly an attempt to offer a “Deadpool” alternative. There are definitely some fun moments and a couple of memorable performances, which helped overshadow a paper thin plot with a cartoon for a bad guy.
With that said, let’s get to our full reviews of “Birds of Prey,” which opens in theaters everywhere on Friday…
Harley Quinn has broken up with the Joker, who doesn’t actually make an appearance in this movie, but she’s adjusting to life on her own without telling anybody that she’s single now. Under the guise that she’s still Mr. J’s girlfriend, Harley can get away with just about anything in Gotham but when she finally decides to make a very public declaration that her relationship with the Joker is finished, that’s when the real trouble begins.
Harley soon realizes that she’s not nearly as terrifying to the criminal underworld when she’s not living under Joker’s protection and everybody she’s ever wronged is now gunning for her.
Add to that, the newest mob boss in town — Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) is trying to solidify his power base in Gotham and he even had a grudge against Harley. That is until he needs her to find something for him and Roman promises her safe passage through the city if she delivers.
In the midst of all this, Harley runs into a Huntress seeking vengeance on the gangsters who killed her family, a Black Canary, who has a heart of gold while still working for Roman Sionis and a cop named Renee Montoya, who desperately wants to do the right thing but she can’t seem to get ahead because the system is keeping her down.
Needless to say all of these various characters end up running into each other and they all find out there is a common enemy amongst them. That calls for a team up!
ACTING, DIRECTING AND SCRIPT
Without a doubt, Margot Robbie is once again the shining star of this film. While the entire premise is a team up, this is really a Harley Quinn movie with a sprinkle of some new super friends. Robbie is obviously an incredible actress but she really lets her freak flag fly while portraying Harley and either she’s really good at playing pretend or she legitimately has a blast playing this part.
Much like Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, it’s going to be tough to see anybody else playing Harley other than Robbie for a very long time to come.
Jurrnee Smollett-Bell also deserves a lot of praise for her portrayal as Dinah Lance aka Black Canary. She’s the only other person that manages to shine under the spotlight any time Harley Quinn is sharing the same scene. Newcomer Ella Jay Basco also gets a standing ovation for playing Cassandra Cain, who spends more time with Harley in this movie than anybody else and the two of them find a really nice rhythm together throughout.
Unfortunately, that’s where the accolades end.
Listen, Ewan McGregor is a phenomenal actor but his cartoonish portrayal of a vain crime boss named Roman Sionis is more annoying than menacing. He’s so over the top that McGregor is desperately trying to be funny and intimidating all at once yet he accomplishes neither goal.
The same can be said for Chris Messina, who has played some very strong parts in past films, but he’s the least terrifying henchman in history while serving as Roman’s right hand, Victor Zsasz.
As far as the rest of the supporting cast — Rosie Perez was just lifeless playing Renee Montoya and Mary Elizabeth Winstead was a two-note character as Huntress. Perez had none of the fire than made her a spark plug in “White Men Can’t Jump” and Winstead just didn’t have any good material to work with in this movie so really her performance can be blamed more on the script than anything else.
The direction in this movie from Cathy Yan is solid — the film looks great and the visuals, especially when talking about the action choreography are excellent. Can’t say the same for the script, which features a bad plot and even worse villains to oppose the Birds of Prey. Also, there’s a major problem with the character development in this movie in that there is none outside of Harley Quinn.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE MOVIE?
Two major problems haunt this film.
First, much like many DC movies, the villains in “Birds of Prey” are not very good at all. As previously mentioned, Roman Sionis is annoying but certainly not the kind of mob boss that would feel threatening to anybody who is supposed to be afraid of him. He seems like he’s constantly hopped up on too much espresso and even though we spend a lot of time with him in this movie, the character has no real depth whatsoever.
Both DC and Marvel have struggled at times to make truly compelling villains, who can stand toe-to-toe with the heroes. The difference is Marvel has still managed to pull it off from time to time — Thanos, Baron Zemo, the rise of Hydra, etc — but DC is still struggling to find a really worthy adversary.
“Birds of Prey” does nothing to dispel that criticism because Black Mask and Victor Zsasz are completely forgettable bad guys.
The second issue is a ridiculously shallow plot.
Without giving away any spoilers, the reason why Roman spares Harley and then tasks her to complete a job will make you wonder if the writers for this movie actually tried to come up with something better or if they pulled a story from a Saturday morning cartoon and just dumped that into “Birds of Prey.”
Unlike “Justice League,” the script does manage to give reasons to all these characters for wanting to converge into the same storyline, although it takes so long to get there that you’ll probably forget why it happened in the first place.
It feels like putting this team together with a better story and you might have a real solid film on your hands. Sadly this film wastes some truly outstanding performances on a pointless plot.
Despite the villain problem and a laughably thin plot, “Birds of Prey” still manages to be a fun trip to the movies. Robbie steals the show as Harley and getting to meet Smollett-Bell playing Black Canary is worth the price of admission by itself. Also the action scenes in this movie are some of the best that DC has done since the relaunch of its film universe. The fights and the interaction between the main characters are really what sells “Birds of Prey” because it’s not going to be the story or the cartoonish bad guys coming after them.
“Birds of Prey” gets 2.5 out of 5 on the Skolnick Scale.