Birds of Prey: and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quin – Review

Oh, Suicide Squad. Remember that garbage pile? Well Birds of Prey is Warner Bros latest attempt to put things right with their DC Universe. Essentially being a Margot Robbie led Harley Quinn film, they decided to bet on one of the few things to come out of Suicide Squad with any praise. The trailers were colourful and crazy, two words synonymous with Harley, so that gave me some hope that this would be a fun time.

Having spent my week watching Drama’s and Best Picture contenders, Birds of Prey was been a great palette cleanser. The 6th film of my week was by far the most colourful and striking visually. Describing this as a palette cleanser is perhaps doing the film an injustice, it’s more like I have spent my week eating Michelin star cuisine, and this is a chicken vindaloo from a takeaway.

It’s loud, bombastic and fast paced. The films firmly focused on Harley Quinn for the majority of the film and having just broken up with Joker, she’s trying to figure out what her life is now she’s no longer the clown prince’s right-hand gal. The Joker’s shadow hangs heavy over the both Harley’s mind, and on the film in general. You can tell they’d have liked to use the Joker for parts of this film but due to the controversy over how Jared Leto was received they just kind of awkwardly step around it.

Once Harley and the film are into their own stride, Margot Robbie takes over completely and is clearly enjoying her time as this character. She does all she can to embody the anarchic yet fun personality the character has always had. She uses Guns, exploding glitter bombs, Mallets and baseball bats and you believe she’s just having a great time doing so regardless of who she’s using them against.

The rest of the birds aren’t developed nearly as much as Harley, but they’re all fun in their own way. Rosie Perez as frustrated detective Renee Montoya is a believable bad ass, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is entertaining and then funny when needed, and she plays it really well. Those two are pretty undeveloped throughout the film. Both are given backstory through the running voice-over from Harley Quinn, but they aren’t really given much to do besides that.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Black Canary and of the other members of the Birds, her character came closest to having an arc worth noting. Youngster Ella Jay Basco plays Cassandra Cain and does well with what she’s given, but she is essentially a plot device for large parts of the film. They have good chemistry together, but I’d have liked to see a little more of their stories rather than rely on voice-over from Harley.

I understand why this film was so focused on Harley, as she’s by far the biggest named character in here, but her character is the only one we see go through anything and show any growth of note. The rest of the film adopts a “Tell, don’t show” approach which is the opposite of good storytelling in film.

As the main protagonist, it’s odd to find yourself cheering for her as she battles her way through a police station or blows up a chemical plant. She’s a psychopath and a serial killer, but she’s fun to watch. When you have such a flawed protagonist, you need a real dick as the antagonist, and this time round we have Ewan McGregor chewing up scenery and oozing arsehole-ish charisma.

He plays Roman Sionis, also known as Black Mask. I can’t say I have read many comics featuring him but from what I know of the character he’s a crime boss and a pretty feared one. His right-hand man is Victor Zsasz, a character who keeps popping up in live action batman media that doesn’t contain batman after his appearance as a key character in Gotham. That’s not really relevant, I just find it interesting how he keeps popping up.

McGregor clearly just threw himself into the role of being a dickhead, as the character has no redeeming qualities. They say the best villains are the hero of their own stories, well there is no way he is a hero in anyone’s eyes. He is fun to watch, as he always is in any role he pops up in, but there just isn’t much to the character other than he wants something, and these women are in the way.

That brings me onto the heavy-handed Women V Men angle this film takes, and whilst I have nothing against it being this way, it’s never really acknowledged. Sionis builds an army of mercenaries, but none of them are female. There is one moment when a female is trying to get out protagonist’s and it’s a short exchange with a stick of dynamite. This film doesn’t give enough time to developing the group and making them feel like strong characters. The bond between them isn’t there, we are just told they’re a group of strong people, and then they fight their way out of situations to prove it.

When you focus a film so much on the plot and what the antagonist is after rather than the characters, you need it to be an interesting plot. Roman Sionis, whilst definitely a dickhead, just want’s something. Harley and the Birds of Prey are between him and that, and that’s the conflict. There is nothing deeper at play. That type of plot is fine in films where the characters are strong and well developed throughout the movie and it becomes more about them and their interactions than the plot, but Bird of Prey doesn’t do that.

Birds of Prey is an entertaining film and it’s a feast of visual candy for the eyes. Harley Quinn is front and centre, and perhaps that’s needed for the first one of these films, assuming there will be more. There is potential for a franchise here, as the characters have enough to intrigue me further, just I wanted more in this one. This film gets much closer to where Suicide Squad was trying to get to, and if you’re into the superhero genre, it’ll be a lot of fun for you. If only this had come out years ago, pre joker, and they just hinted at him throughout before a reveal in The Batman next year. If Only.

Good: Margot Robbie is electric; the cinematography and colours are a treat and the violence is really well executed. Also a great soundtrack.

Bad: Underdeveloped characters for all but Harley, and a very basic plot.

7/10 – Colourful Fun