Director Cathy Yan has delivered a stylish, hyper-energized take on DC’s Birds of Prey. The film brims with verve and off-beat charm, and serves as a proper launch pad for a slew of films starring Margot Robbie’s newly emancipated Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn.
The film loosely follows up on the events depicted David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, while quickly trying to push on in a new direction for Harley, and by keeping the stakes decidedly intimate and personal, it succeeds where that previous film failed. You won’t see any giant portals over Gotham City, or an army of Blackberry Putties surrounding a heavily CG’d villain here. Instead, you’ll meet a fierce foursome of femme fatales, see how their paths converge on one very bad man (and his sadistic partner), and then witness the birth of a team dedicated to taking him down.
Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) has a very straightforward plot, which is a good thing. It keeps the focus on fleshing out its characters and modestly building out its world, instead of trying to wow us with convoluted twists. And yet, Yan’s decision to tell a bunch of the story out of sequence during the first half of the film almost feels like an attempt to distract from how simple the main plot is.
See, some films play with chronology and it works. Sometimes, telling a story by taking a rollercoaster ride through “the events that led us here” can make for a very satisfying conclusion when everything comes together. And some films mess with chronology in such a way that it becomes distracting or disorienting.
I know that after one extended flashback, I’d forgotten where a particular sequence even began. So when we finally returned to the present, I had to try and remind myself what was happening in that scene and how it all connected.
To me, it felt like an attempt to use some of the machinations seen in films like Pulp Fiction and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but without a strong sense for how to make the shifts in time feel coherent.
Speaking of shifts, my only other issue with the film is its uneven tone. At times, it felt like I was watching some badass action movie for adults, and at others it felt like it almost wanted to be a coming-of-age empowerment tale aimed at tween girls. The latter felt somewhat out of place in an otherwise violent, brash R-rated film- especially because many of those moments were a little too on-the-nose, making them feel ham-fisted instead of organic.
Still, I had an undeniably good time with Birds of Prey.
Robbie is the deserved star of the show, and she once again dazzles as the unpredictable yet lovable Harley Quinn. Jurnee Smollett-Bell demonstrates some serious star power as Black Canary, earning some very thrilling moments where her character- and her abilities- get to shine. Meanwhile, Chris Messina is utterly disturbing as Victor Zsasz and Ewan McGregor delivers a deliciously scenery-chewing villain as Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask.
On the negative end in terms of performance, there were times where it felt like Rosie Perez wasn’t quite giving it her all, and I think the usually dynamite Mary Elizabeth Winstead was wasted here. She makes the most of what she gets, but she really isn’t given much.
I feel like there’s a good chance Christina Hodson’s script had more in store for Winstead’s Huntress, as well as Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain, but that it was cut to keep the film a lean, vibrant 109 minutes.
This is a movie that probably would’ve benefited from another 10-15 minutes used to infuse the arcs of its heroines with a little more gravitas, which would’ve made it feel more satisfying in the end and made the overall experience feel less fizzy. But what’s there, is a good time.