“Birds of Prey” is a good time at the movie theater, but it’s not the best DC Comics Extended Universe offering. That honor still belongs to “Wonder Woman,” which has a sequel coming out in June. That said, the development of Harley Quinn’s character is clever, Margot Robbie’s (Harley Quinn) and Ewan McGregor’s (Roman Sionis) performances elevate the film, and the action is impressive.
Harley Quinn has had enough of the Joker’s abuse in “Birds of Prey.” She once was the punk-rock clown he had eyes for, but his love has faltered. I would guess it has something to do with a man who dresses like a bat, but I’m not a psychiatrist like Harley, so what do I know.
Harley spectacularly reacts to her breakup with “Mr. J” by blowing up the ACE Chemicals factory, the same factory where both Joker and Harley were transformed into pale-faced whack jobs. Everything about this sequence screams DCEU Harley Quinn from the neon-colored fireworks to her strutting away from the destruction in an over-the-top outfit made with caution tape pom-poms.
This opening is stellar, and it frees Robbie’s version of the Maid of Mischief from her ties to the lesser film, “Suicide Squad.” Now she can start fresh and take Gotham by storm — or so I thought.
Her freedom from psychotic men is short-lived because now that she has broken up with the Joker, everyone she wronged is seeking revenge. This initially seems like the plot that will carry us through the rest of the film, but it’s not, and I wish it was. I thought it made perfect sense for Harley Quinn to take down the patriarchy within the Gotham crime empire. This concept has awesome feminist overtones and feels like an excellent progression for her character.
In a way, she does still take down a crime boss, but that is incidental when compared to the larger plot about collecting a diamond, for Roman Sionis AKA Black Mask, that a young pickpocket inconveniently swallowed. While that plot is fun and creative, I think it might be too small for Harley. It’d be a great story for her animated series, but it doesn’t necessarily work for a feature film.
While the film lacks a grand plot, it definitely has big performances that held my attention. Robbie is the movie. She hams it up on the screen like a powerhouse. She wisecracks, kicks butt, and discovers a new side to herself as a surrogate mother for the diamond-swallowing pickpocket, Cassandra Cain. She stole scenes in “Suicide Squad” but in “Birds of Prey” she owns the screen.
McGregor, as Sionis, doesn’t have as much nuance, but he doesn’t need to. He’s the villain in a carnival-like comic book movie. He dementedly cackles his lines and dances through set piece after set piece while his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz, slices and dices. He’s a villain that likely would play nice with Jared Leto’s Joker from “Suicide Squad,” but he’s far more entertaining.
What works the best of all aspects of this movie, though, is the action. Director Cathy Yan refused to make a superhero film with excessive close-ups and choppy editing. She wanted to show the stunts and wow the audience. By taking inspiration from Jackie Chan and the “John Wick” filmmakers, she does it with ease. She gives her stunt performers space and time to work their magic, and it absolutely pays off.
“Birds of Prey” is not a perfect superhero movie, and I think it will be unfairly compared to “Deadpool” or “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Still, it is another step forward for DC Comics as it continues to take risks, and this action carnival emceed by the crazed clown queen, Harley Quinn, is another bright spot on its rise back to the top.