Chaotic is the word that best describes “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” Lights, colors, explosions, random acts of violence, music, snippets of animation, and ADHD narration add up to a film that is a mess but is never boring, surprisingly funny, and fantastically feminine.
It’s difficult to be objective going into a film like this when so many things seem stacked against it. What was originally supposed to be a Birds of Prey origin story was suddenly hijacked when Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) became the sole redeeming element of 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” Next, Batgirl/Oracle, one of the founding members of BoP, was ejected from the script when it was decided it was best for her to have a solo film. Instead, she was replaced by a version of Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who although once took on the moniker of Batgirl, has nothing in common with the wheelchair-bound leader. Then came the marketing materials. Sure, they featured a lot of bright colors and interesting details, but what a mess.
On the positive side, a lot of talent was being attached to the project. Having a female writer (Christina Hodson) and director (Cathy Yan) certainly bodes well for the subject matter. In addition to Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez was cast as Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, and Ewan McGregor as the extra villainous Black Mask. Further filling out the filmmaking ranks, the cinematographer for “Black Swan”, “Mother!”, and “Requiem for a Dream” (Matthew Libatique) came on board, along with the stunt choreographers from “John Wick.” With all these ingredients what kind of movie could this possibly be?
For better or worse, “Birds of Prey” ends up being the sum of its parts. While occasionally non-sensical, even within the comic book world, it’s a visual treat. An animated intro gives everyone a little backstory on Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel which brings us up to date with Joker dumping her. She then quickly goes through the various grieving steps which include being an obnoxious drunk, breaking legs of nearby douches, and symbolically destroying a symbol of her abusive relationship. This manages to catch the attention of not only the local law enforcement, and the mentally unstable Black Mask, but every low-life she’s ever wronged. (And there are a lot) The remaining two acts play out like a kinetic fever dream. Harley narrates as best as she can, occasionally breaking the 4th wall, and often rewinding to fill in massive plot gaps she’s previously skipped. All of this exposition is crammed between the real stars of the show, Harley’s unique personality, surprisingly great action set pieces, and Ewan McGregor‘s impressive scene-chewing. The script also has some nice nuances bookended by all the insanity. In an interesting touch, every main character in the film is struggling with feelings of betrayal, even the lead villain. It’s hard to find “your people” when so many others have done you wrong.
As mentioned above, this is a chaotic movie, not a great movie. The editing is a bit wonky at times, but the fight scenes may be some of the best in the DCEU to date. The only noticeable CGI belongs to a hyena named after Mr. Wayne, which means all of the fights, action, and flying bodies are practical. That alone is a huge step up from “Justice League” and “Suidice Squad.” “Birds of Prey” certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for a feminist comic book flick beside “Wonder Woman” this won’t steer you wrong. At least this one doesn’t fail the Bechdel Test.
Birds of Prey