Time: 109 minutes
Age Rating: Violence, cruelty, offensive language and sexual references
Margot Robbie as Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli/Huntress
Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Laurel Lance/Black Canary
Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya
Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz
Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain
Ali Wong as Ellen Yee
Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis/Black Mask
Director: Cathy Yan
It’s open season on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women – Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
Birds of Prey was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020. As a fan of the DCEU (barring Justice League and Suicide Squad), I’m generally interested in seeing whatever they put out next, and indeed their latest movie looked quite promising. While Suicide Squad left quite the divided response, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in that movie was already a fan favourite the moment she appeared, so it was a given that she’d be involved in more DC projects. This movie would have Robbie’s Harley involved with creating the Birds of Prey, and with a cast that included the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ewan McGregor involved, it had a lot of potential, and I was looking forward to it. I had a lot of fun with Birds of Prey, and it was generally entertaining from start to finish.
The script by Christina Hodson is really solid, and the handling of most of the characters is great. The story is told from Harley’s perspective, and that was one of the highlights of the movie. It’s a really chaotically told story, and with Harley being an unreliable narrator, it made it a lot more fun to watch. For example, it might introduce a character in the story, and then the movie would rewind back in time to explain who that character is. While that sometimes worked, some of the later occurrences started to disrupt the pacing quite a bit. The R rating is quite freeing for Birds of Prey and works for its benefit. With Suicide Squad there was feelings of it being cramped in and restricted, and it couldn’t really go as crazy or as far as it might’ve wanted to go. While Birds of Prey is generally less graphic than the Deadpool movies (outside of one particular scene), you can really tell that they had a lot more to play with here, and so didn’t have any things that had to avoid. The third act was the highlight of the movie for me. The movie could be quite messy with some of its storytelling (and I’m not sure how well it’ll hold up on a second viewing), but given the storytelling, that actually works quite well. Something I have to address is that the full title of the movie is Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn). Most people won’t use the full title when talking about it, but there’s a reason why it’s given that very long title. Make no mistake, this isn’t a Birds of Prey movie, it’s first and foremost a Harley movie. WB was looking to make a Harley Quinn spinoff, but Margot Robbie also wanted her to be part of a group, in this case the Birds of Prey, so this movie is how they’re being introduced onto the big screen. For most of the movie it’s Harley’s story with appearances of the members throughout it as supporting characters, before they all come together and team up in the third act. While I understand that approach and I like the movie as it is, I certainly hope there is a follow up that’s a full on Birds of Prey movie.
Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn, and she’s once again great, she really was born to play this character. While she was good in Suicide Squad, she’s got a lot more to work with here, and certainly benefits with no restrictions whatsoever. Again, this is her movie through and through, and Robbie excels throughout. Then there’s also the Birds of Prey themselves, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, and Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya. They don’t get quite the screentime and attention that I’d hope for, nonetheless they do a lot to make an impression on you and are great, and are excellent together. I’m really looking forward to seeing them again in future DCEU instalments, especially Black Canary. There’s also the character of Cassandra Cain who plays a big part in the plot, and I think she’s really the only character in this movie I took issue with. Now I’m not very familiar with her in the comics, but I know there she is one of the characters who assumed the role of Batgirl and is an excellent fighter. In this movie however she is a pickpocketer… and that’s it, she probably could’ve been named anything other than Cassandra Cain and she probably would’ve worked much better. It’s not a major issue, she functioned well enough in the story, and actress Ella Jay Basco played her quite well, but the changes to the character were unnecessary. The villains were also effective in Ewan McGregor as Black Mask and Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz, two formidable and threatening antagonists for this story. McGregor’s Roman Sionis is one of the most memorable comic book movie villains in recent years, flamboyant, over the top, and deliciously evil, he was a blast to watch, and was the standout performance of the film after Margot Robbie.
Cathy Yan’s direction of Birds of Prey is fantastic. This movie tells its story from Harley’s perspective, and Yan does a great job at putting you inside her head, from the narration from Robbie’s Quinn and occasional breaking of the fourth wall, to some animations on screen which work very well. It’s also a great looking movie on the whole, the use of colour particularly is great, and the grimy setting of Gotham is captured incredibly well. Stylistic wise it has some similarities to Suicide Squad, but they take it to the next level here. The action is also well directed and fun, particularly the fight scenes. Apparently the stunt people involved with the John Wick movies were brought in to beef up some of the action in Birds of Prey, and you definitely feel it. The music is also quite good, from the score by Daniel Pemberton, to the selected soundtrack.
Birds of Prey is a bit messy and has the occasional pacing issues, but on the whole was a chaotic, stylistic, and very entertaining flick, probably the closest that we’ll get to a Quentin Tarantino inspired comic book movie. It’s visually stunning, well directed, has some good action, and features a great cast that perform excellently together. I certainly look forward to seeing Harley Quinn and the other characters again in future DCEU movies.