Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Genre: Action and Superhero Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: February 7th, 2020 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Cathy Yan Actors: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

 


 

F

ollowing along in the vein of Harley Quinn’s previous theatrical adventure, “Birds of Prey” opens with a trendy soundtrack and a slapstick cartoon to shed a little more light on her backstory. She grew up in the system, was raised by nuns, became a psychiatrist, and fell in love with Gotham City’s most notorious criminal, the Joker. After breaking him out of prison, she soon finds her relationship broken up, though the specifics are never detailed. “I had to find a new identity.”

And so, Harley acquires a pet hyena, tries out the roller derby, and then stifles her sorrow with the thundering pulse of nightclubs and copious amounts of alcohol. It doesn’t help that her association with the Joker constitutes her entire reputation; the town only knows her as that merciless miscreant’s moll. When one of her drunken rants alerts underworld boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) that she’s no longer under the Joker’s protection, the mobster arranges for her capture. But this coincidentally ties into Gotham City Police Department Detective Renee Montoya’s (Rosie Perez) ongoing investigation, as well as a pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) and her nimble purloining of a diamond that holds the clues to a long lost fortune.

Quinn narrates, amplifying the balminess of the only memorable role from “Suicide Squad,” now able to extend her luck-fueled anarchy to the editing, which includes various frame distortions, rewinds, flashbacks, and the breaking of the fourth wall. This is the kind of picture in which continuity issues and plain errors don’t seem to matter. Interestingly, there are very few references to her former, covert collective, as if the creators are opting to generate as much distance as possible from the filmic mess of that 2016 endeavor. Plucking Quinn – the only salvageable component – from that project and dropping her into a new plot (and, ultimately, what feels like a different universe) isn’t unwise. Robbie is, after all, still an exceptional casting decision; despite the flimsiness of Harley Quinn’s character and scripting, Robbie looks and acts the part to considerable success.

But her reappearance alone isn’t enough to warrant a full feature – and here, there isn’t enough material to allow her the chance at a true standalone yarn. Like an updated take on “Tank Girl,” full of painterly color and cartoonish exploits and weirdness seemingly for the sake of weirdness, “Birds of Prey” surrounds itself with eccentric visual flourishes, hoping to generate style for a gathering of personas who have divergent missions and personalities. In fact, so much transpires in the zany setup of the stolen gem and the ploy to retrieve it that the titular Birds of Prey barely have a part. Their introductions are dreadfully generic and arrive much too late, though they do explain their exceptional skills with martial arts (Quinn, on the other hand, is virtually unstoppable with her baseball bat and mallet, yet her background as a physician certainly doesn’t account for her kung fu proficiency).

It’s as if multiple films are intermittently forced together without adequate time for sensible fluidity. It never appears necessary for the Birds of Prey to share the screen with Quinn, even if their camaraderie results in some of the funnier bits. And the chief villain (not to be confused with henchman Zsasz [Chris Messina], who is consistently an afterthought, given little to do and largely dismissed at the conclusion) is over-the-top and occasionally farcical (with 2019’s “Charlie’s Angels,” this marks the second film of late that is written and directed by women, as well as starring a predominantly female cast, that gives a male character the most memorable lines), yet his main foible is cutting the faces off his victims – a sadistic torture and mutilation that doesn’t fit with the outlandishness of the action and the featherbrained routines of the heroine. McGregor is clearly enjoying his flamboyant break from more serious turns. And cursing is also included, as if the filmmakers were anxious for the R-rating, but unsure of how to achieve it in the natural course of the story.

Though a few one-liners punch up the finale, the show-stopping climax – a complicated pandemonium of funhouse skirmishes – is mostly devoid of the humor so desperately needed to even out the violence. Plus, a last-minute resort to fantasy is disappointing; as silly as these sorts of things are, it’s far better when no one actually has superpowers. “Sorry, kid. I’m just a terrible person, I guess.”

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10


The DC Extended Universe


Man of Steel (2013)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Suicide Squad (2016)

Wonder Woman (2017)

Justice League (2017)

Aquaman (2018)

Shazam! (2019)

Birds of Prey (2020)

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

The Suicide Squad (2021)

Black Adam (2022)

Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)

The Flash (2023)

Blue Beetle (2023)

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)