Warner Brothers has had a very difficult time getting audiences to care about most of the DC Comics films the company has distributed. They’ve now almost completely abandoned a shared universe approach, and instead are focusing on singular heroes (and villains). Following the relative failure of Suicide Squad, WB is hoping the brightest point of that film, Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn, will carry a very similar film. That basic premise has merit, but the execution was considerably lacking thanks to some poor executive decisions from WB. Let’s take a deeper dive into our review of Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
In Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn was just wild enough to make things fun, while maintaining a certain level of control. She worked well with the ensemble cast and kept everyone on their toes. Now she’s been taken out of the Suicide Squad world and placed into a world where she didn’t belong in the comics, Birds of Prey. It’s actually strange that WB opted to go this route given that the film plays like a pseudo-sequel to Suicide Squad, as told from Harley’s point of view, and is essentially the Harley Quinn movie.
The original members of the Birds of Prey only factor into about 25 percent of the film, and that’s okay because they’re mostly bland and boring. As with many other DC films that like to take an entire film to introduce a character, everyone except Harley and the main villain, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), do not get to shine until the final conflict toward the end of the movie.
The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the only worthy member of the Birds of Prey, and her lines are few and far between. Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is a detective who’s supposed to provide comic relief through 1980s style dialogue, but it’s all a complete miss. Cassandra Cain stands out as the worst of the group thanks to some very poor acting from Ella Jay Basco, and while Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) isn’t as bad, she doesn’t make any scene her own and is just kind of there.
While there’s only one bad actress in the group, the real problems with Birds of Prey began at the concept level. WB brought in Cathy Yan to direct the film, who is far too inexperienced for such a uniquely visual film. Birds of Prey is told from the perspective of Harley Quinn, and it tries to showcase this by offering a heavily stylized approach to filmmaking. The pacing and visual flair are somewhat similar to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or a Guy Ritchie film (Snatch, The Gentlemen, etc.). Unfortunately, the execution is very poor and Birds of Prey ends up being a bland film that’s trying (and failing) to be stylized. Perhaps there were some behind the scenes issues, but without in-depth knowledge of the production, the blame falls squarely on Yan for her lackluster direction here.
The script is lacking as well, with Christina Hodson getting the sole writing credit on Birds of Prey. If you don’t recognize that name, she wrote the Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl thriller, Unforgettable, which was very forgettable at the box office making only $18 million worldwide. She also wrote Bumblebee, which was a nice change of pace from Michael Bay’s Transformers films, but also the least Transformers film of the entire series aside from the opening on Cybertron. She’s clearly got the attention of someone over at WB, because she’s been tapped to write upcoming screenplays for The Flash and Batgirl films. Expect those to be equally bland.
One odd note about Birds of Prey is that the film is rated R, yet it fails to really put that rating to good use. Sure, it’s got some gore and a few F-bombs, but you could easily knock this down to a PG-13 rating and the film wouldn’t change much. Deadpool and Logan are great examples of how to use an R rating in a comic book film. Birds of Prey just seems to be rated R because they could. Nothing creative is done with the mature rating.
If you were hoping for a proper Birds of Prey film, this isn’t it. If you were hoping to see more of Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad, you’ll get that here, but she’s a bit more contained than she probably should be. You see more of the brain behind the insanity, but it would’ve been nice to see Robbie let go a bit more and really lean into the character. She’s still the best part of this film, which definitely isn’t the worst movie in the DC collection. Let’s just hope DC starts picking things up because they have a long way to go before these films are truly entertaining.
Score: 2 out of 5
Plot: After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.
Genre: Comic Book
Director: Cathy Yan
Writer: Christina Hodson
Stars: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Length: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes