Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a long title for a movie that’s pretty much a Harley Quinn story. Let’s be real on this topic. The character was an original creation back in the 90’s when Batman: The Animated Series had a successful run on Fox. The character has been added to DC’s comic lineup and her popularity has only grown from there. Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the character in Suicide Squad was about the only good thing that came from that movie and the WB’s move for a spin-off was a desperate move.
However, it seems like the move was a smart one. The DCEU has had a few missteps but given their recent success with every movie after (dry heave) Justice League, it looks like Marvel’s rival has finally found their groove.
The movie, directed by Cathy Yan—only her second feature I might add—is the follow up the disastrous Suicide Squad. The details of the plot on a surface level are simple: A group of bad-ass women comes together to essentially beat the bricks off of the man that has done them wrong or in the midst of doing so.
From the jump, Birds of Prey (Every Letter In The Alphabet) is a fun optical ride. Yan has an eye for action for the most part of the movie. Her skills for embedding a colorful visual style in a chaotic setting is the right kind of energy this story needs. This level of detail blends in with the liberating message that many of the female leads are striving for.
A case in point is Harley’s first act of freedom. She destroys her symbolic birthplace in spectacular fashion that would rival any Chinese New Year celebration finale and the eye-gasming police station scene that involves glitter, confetti, and slow-mo.
The cast is another a shining point of the movie. Robbie’s Harley Quinn has now put her in the ranks of “I Can’t Picture Anybody Else In That Role”. You know what talking about: Hugh Jackman, Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sigourney Weaver, and so forth. For everyone else, perfect casting. The chemistry between Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis and Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz was like watching a married couple that would complete each other’s sentences.
Yes, the movie does take a few liberties with the characters’ comic book history backgrounds but it’s not a negative. Cassandra Cain is not the Batgirl that you know, Helena Bertinelli’s history of being raped was not needed for this movie, and this is a different kind Dinah Laurel Lance.
The one person that caught me off guard was Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Laurel Lance, aka Black Canary. Her IMDb has several drama-filled series and Birds of Prey (I’m Not Saying That Long Ass Title) sells her as a dramatic actress. She was able to carry the more serious beats of the movie effortlessly and I think she’s ready to be a leading lady.
The underlying message of toxic masculinity and abusive relationships was well weaved within the plot seams. Christina Hodson’s writing allowed the movie to be funny at times, gave the women a great voice when stating their independence, all the while commenting on surviving trauma without having the need to hit me over the head with it.
Yet, the movie does have its problems.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress comes off as an afterthought in the movie. There were several times when her character would show up and I had to remind myself that she was an essential part of the plot. There’s clear evidence of this when the increased involvement of her character’s place in the story is too late in the game.
For all the praise that I gave for Yan’s direction, some of it can come off as a little too bombastic. The final action set-piece involving the whole team, and set in an abandon amusement park, is a jumbled mess. The steady stream of faceless bad guys started to come off as tedious and could’ve been done better with some wide shots and fewer cutaways.
One thing that was very perplexing to me was the need for a needle drop soundtrack. Suicide Squad was victim to this, and Birds of Prey (Was The Long Title Really Necessary?) started to follow suit halfway through the movie. The tunes in the earlier part of the film really drove home the level of “coolness” but the music started to wear out its welcome when it seemed like someone had later decided to hit shuffle on the player.
The movie is violent but fits the tone of the plot. It’s not gratuitous and the concoction of comedy shows that WB is finally willing to adopt Marvel’s formula with a bit more of an “R” rated flair. The contained story within the film’s world is the route WB seems to be taking and maybe that’s their best choice for now.