“Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” follows Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in the aftermath of the events of “Suicide Squad.” Her and The Joker have broken up and now, without his protection, the kingpins of Gotham crime see it as an opportunity to kill Harley with no interference, including Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Meanwhile, Harley meets other anti-heroines Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who all have their own vendettas against Sionis to become the “Birds of Prey.” With the film being a direct sequel to the disastrous, “Suicide Squad,” I had some reservations in regard to my expectations for “Birds of Prey.” I at least expected the film to be a little more fun with better action, especially with Margot Robbie returning as Harley and “John Wick” director Chad Stahelski choreographing some of the action sequences. While I can’t say that I loved “Birds of Prey” due to its severe lack of character development and unnecessarily messy narrative, I can say that it is a lot of fun with a big heart and strong performances.
Without a doubt the strongest aspect of the film is Margot Robbie as Harley. If the Academy wasn’t completely against comic book movies that weren’t dark and gritty, Robbie should probably be nominated for an Oscar next year. Her performance, while insane and hilarious, has a considerable amount of damage tucked behind her smile that provides a lot of background to the torture The Joker has put her through. Ewan McGregor also is having so much fun playing Roman Sionis, or Black Mask. It’s such a boisterous take on a character whose comic book inspiration is methodical and calculated, that McGregor’s performance works rather well on its own.
The action sequences in “Birds of Prey” are the real selling point for the film as a whole. Generally, comic book movies don’t have much to offer when it comes to well-choreographed, well-shot, and well-edited fight scenes. “Birds of Prey” excels in its high octane and diverse variety in its action sequences. There are two sequences that standout as some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in a while. There is one scene early in the movie that takes place in a police evidence room that felt straight out of a “John Wick” movie in the best way possible. They’re all incredibly visceral without becoming hard to follow.
My major problem with “Birds of Prey” is how little the film chooses to characterize anyone outside of Harley in favor of a plot-driven narrative. Sure, the cast does a fine job with the material they are given, but I never cared for anyone outside of Harley. A lot of the characters are introduced through flashbacks told by Harley, which rarely ever lands effectively in this movie. Huntress’s story isn’t even told until the third act, which makes her feel even more pointless in regard to the film as a whole. The narrative is not driven by character choices, but by a diamond that Black Mask wants. It isn’t a macguffin of interest to the audience which makes the film feel inorganic in the way it plays out. With the non-chronological way that the film is structured, the story and characters suffer by being underdeveloped and hard to follow at times.
“Birds of Prey” is fine. It has some good things and some bad things. It’s a movie you can watch for 2 hours and have a good time, as much as it’s a movie you will most likely forget about in a few days. Technically, it is well made with strong shot composition and well choreographed fight sequences. However, the film could have benefitted with a more cohesive narrative driven by character choices rather than a diamond that the bad guy wants. The film is on the fringe of being a recommendation from me. If you love comic book movies, I would say that it’s worth a watch, but if you haven’t been a fan of the direction that DC Comics movies have been going recently, I would recommend skipping this one.