From watching trailers and reading articles online you already know what Birds of Prey is: the gathering of the titular group in live action but with a focus on Harley Quinn. Fine. Dandy.
What you get when you sit down to watch this movie, surprisingly, is a full length feature showing that Warner Bros. can learn from its mistakes, if only incrementally.
Yes, we unfortunately have to evoke the name of DC’s most redheaded stepchild – Suicide Squad. You know, that movie that was the gathering of the titular group in live action but with a focus on Harley Quinn?
What Warner Bros. learned from Suicide Squad was to reduce the scope, focus more on the comedy, and not make everything look like its caked in mud with an oppressive grey filter.
To that end Birds of Prey has a smaller main cast, a plot that doesn’t involve saving the world, more jokes at every turn and a colourful (and more importantly) interesting art style.
Does this add up to a movie that’s better that Suicide Squad? Yes, but it doesn’t make anything great or particularly notable
The story here is rather straightforward – Harley Quinn and the Joker have broken up before she gets embroiled in a scheme by Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) that pulls in the other characters who eventually become the Birds of Prey.
Saying anything else would delve into spoilers so we won’t but the way the story unfolds is important here because of screen time. Harley Quinn is in most scenes but, surprisingly, you see Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) as a close second. we’ll get to the dreaded topic of children actors in a second.
The story here is more than serviceable and, thinking back on it hours after the screening, it’s actually rather smart in the way it brings all the characters together and interchanges how they need to work together or fight among themselves at various stages in the plot.
Sure, it’s contrived, but it’s a masterpiece compared to the “world end, form team” yarns of Suicide Squad and Justice League. It goes in some fun places but takes some odd turns to keep things interesting, such as playing around with non-linear sections. This gimmick is dropped half way through which makes it even stranger and more apparent that the plot needed a kick in the pants at that point.
It fails, however, at being surprising in any way and just about as corny as possible. Some jokes and scenes just fall so hard on their faces that it takes the film ages to get going again. In Birds of Prey there isn’t a gradual building of tension to a big finale payoff, but spurts and starts all the way to the credits.
As humour is subjective how much you get out of the writing will vary, but we did find ourselves getting in a few good chuckles but wince at some other attempts at humour.
Performances here were a real mixed bag, and this is where we need to return to the screentime each character gets.
Margot Robbie is great here. She’s taken the character she cultivated earlier and builds on her in this movie. When Harley Quinn varies wildly between heroic, alliances, dumb and genius depending on the scenes, you do believe that’s how this version of the character would behave which Robbie really sells.
On the other end of the performance range is Basco, who was just lifeless throughout. We really can’t pin this on the actress, as the writing for her was probably the worst out of all the main characters. You spend so much time with her in this movie, and grow to dislike her with every scene. On top of this the character of Cassandra Cain doesn’t do much of her own accord here except being the literal vessel of a MacGuffin.
And now we get to the worst part of an ensemble movie as the little screentime that’s left needs to be juggled between the remaining characters.
The big bad Black Mask is probably right behind Robbie in terms of performance. McGregor looks like he was having a grand ol’ time hamming it up here, recognising the silliness inherent in this version of the character and just rolling with it. Black Mask had a lot of great scenes (along with some fun wardrobe details) but most of them were accompanied by many more that were just strange or outright bad.
The last great one we want to mention here is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the Huntress. Out of the Birds of Prey she likely got the least amount of screentime, but will be many people’s favourite. Winstead absolutely killed it here portraying a newbie hero who is simultaneously awkward but also confident in her abilities.
Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) all gave decent performances but suffered from a lack of development throughout.
Birds of Prey is a decent flick and we can see a lot of people having a great time out at the movies with it. A few hours later, thinking back on the show, and we think that most will start to pick apart the myriad problems here.
Aside from what we mentioned above there’s a decent soundtrack that relies too heavily on remixes, action scenes that have a great sense of pace that get their momentum killed by slowmo, and a general lack of wanting from many parts of the movie that fully undercooked.
A sequel that learns from these mistakes could be great, and the movie you can watch today will leave most satisfied.
Okay, let’s end off with the DC universe stuff because we know everyone will ask even though we’re not sure it even exists anymore.
Birds of Prey does have some loose connections to past movies, it kind of sets up future ones, and you can go and watch this not having seen any previous films or having read any comics related to it.
There’s an Easter Egg reference to a past movie that’s rather subtle, and there’s no end credits scene apart from some meaningless audio, so you can leave as soon as the white text on black background pops up.