Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has been dumped by the Joker (no one). Desperately trying to find a new identity, Harley finds that the protection she enjoyed whilst dating the Joker will no longer prevent the many people she has wronged from hunting her down, including the sinister Roman Sionis (Ewan Mcgregor). She soon teams up with a group of women who have all in some way been wronged and are in need of emancipation.
Birds of Prey takes a while to find it’s feet and doesn’t stick the landing, but everything in between is very entertaining. Director Cathy Yan utilises the colourful aesthetic, that was so incongruous in Suicide Squad’s first fifteen minutes, to great effect here. Overlaid stylised graphics are not expected to do narrative heavy lifting or substitute for character moments but are principally used for jokes. This is a brightly coloured dark comedy that only occasionally veers too hard into the darkness, resulting in some uncomfortable scenes. When the oppression feels real and the liberation cartoonish, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
The action sequences are engaging, playful and violent, perfectly striking a darkly comic tone that the rest of the film struggle to match. The fight choreography suits the individual characters especially Harley Quinn’s casual approach to brutality, Songbirds gritty brawling and Huntress’ elegant gun-play. Innovative use of environments keep the sequences from becoming repetitive. The climax of the film in which all the women fight Roman’s goons in a funfair is perhaps a little disappointing but only because the sequence isn’t as gruesomely playful as the earlier sequences.
Birds of Prey does deliver a roster of exciting and entertaining new heroes
Jurnee Smollett-Bell stands out as Dinah Lance/Black Canary, the put upon singer and driver for Sionis. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is effective and surprisingly endearing as the vengeful Huntress and Rosie Perez works well as the hard-boiled cop. Margot Robbie is still very well suited for her anti-hero harlequin even if the script isn’t always as clever as she is. Ewan Mcgregor is also giving his all as the film’s villain to great effect. Not every character is allowed the screen-time to make the impression they needed to make, but it’s a long way from Suicide Squad.
The characters all work well enough on their own but the group dynamic that emerges in the film’s finale is abrupt and incongruous. Dinah becomes the snappy, sassy one whilst Huntress is now the awkward one. The dynamic feels a little forced and inconsistent with earlier characterisation. This is the disadvantage to only drawing your heroes together at the very end of the movie. There’s no time for their bond to evolve. They simply slot into predefined conventional roles.
Bird’s of Prey is a messy film
Although there is a definite overall theme of female empowerment over Male oppression which is of course quite cathartic, subtler themes of individual liberation, friendship and trust feel a little rushed. It’s easy to forget about Harley Quinn’s breakup and subsequent identity crisis for most of the second and third act. Characters disappear or feel disconnected from the action for swathes of screen time.
Connections to the rest of the now very ill-defined DCEU are tenuous. The movie steers as hard as possible away from Jared Leto’s joker without even a wall-breaking wink about the absent clown prince of crime. A few references to Batman cant help but make you wonder which Batman is now canonical. The now delineated DCEU is reminiscent of the relaxed chronology of comic books with characters present as widely understood ideas instead of actual people.
Birds of Prey is a little short of cohesive but it’s fun enough to carry you through the two hours of bumpy road. The loose plotting, focus on character and entertaining mayhem ensure that even if you’re not fully brought on board by this new team, you certainly shan’t be bored by them.