“Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” is a confetti cannon of chaotic carnage. It’s fanatical, fun and fiercely female. It serves as the follow-up to 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” and has been critically favorable – a positive shift from the reception of its predecessor.
The first R-rated DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film stars Margot Robbie (who also serves as producer) in her second time playing Harley Quinn, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco and Ewan McGregor. It is directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson.
“Birds of Prey” tells the tale of Harley Quinn (Robbie) after her breakup with Joker, which leaves her vulnerable to both sides of the law. In the search for a valuable diamond sought after by crime boss Roman Sionis (McGregor), Harley is chased throughout the city by Detective Renee Montoya (Perez) and vigilantes Huntress (Winstead) and Black Canary (Smollett-Bell). When a young pickpocket (Basco) is thrust into the dangerous pursuit, the women must join forces to protect her.
As far as performances go, Robbie once again nails her role as the amoral baddie. She is very funny and her energy drives the movie forward. McGregor is both frightening and striking as the ostentatious Roman Sionis/Black Mask. Most of the other performances fall flat, as the majority of the good lines belong to those two. The writing doesn’t leave a lot of room for the secondary actresses to shine.
Visually, “Birds of Prey” hits all the right notes, especially near the beginning. Gorgeous videography during the film’s rare slow parts helps balance the movie’s pace. The fight sequences, while not exactly inventive, are well-crafted. Yan places a focus on the characters’ surroundings to aid them rather than relying on exclusively hand-to-hand combat. Not only are the action sequences choreographed well, but the use of colored backgrounds and slow-motion amplifies scenes and makes them fun to watch. There were, however, a handful of noticeable continuity misplacements which for a brief moment takes the viewer out of the scene, such as henchmen magically appearing and undeniable body position continuity errors.
The screenplay by Christina Hodson (who also wrote “Bumblebee”) falls short of satisfactory. Elongated flashbacks during the first half-hour of “Birds of Prey” were certainly a stylish choice, but are unnecessary and keep the story from actually starting until too late into the film. Further, a couple of elements such as the unadulterated sadism of the villain and heinous threats against a child are dangerously close to the tasteless territory.
Although it is not perfect, “Birds of Prey” eventually takes flight in its humor, direction and visual style. While the stakes are much lower in this movie compared to other DCEU films’ attempts to save the world, the story is more personal than other DCEU films. The emotional toll of a breakup is used as a vehicle for manic energy throughout. Yan, in her second feature, gives a fresh feminist feel to a fast, frenetic film following friends (formerly foes) fusing to fight a freakish fiend.