Review: Birds of Prey
PLOT: After getting dumped by Joker, Harley Quinn decides that it’s time to cause a whole lot of trouble. However, without her old flame’s protection, she finds that she’s made a massive amount of enemies over the years. Thankfully, she soon discovers a brand new cause when she decides to help a young pickpocket she takes a liking to. Along the way, she enlists Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya to take on an evil crime lord by the name of Black Mask.
REVIEW: If you look at the full title of the latest from DCEU, it appears as BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN. The second part of that is perhaps a more honest description of what the new movie featuring the return of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn really is. Certainly the characters that will eventually form and bring the big screen version of BIRDS OF PREY to life are all here, and my oh my is the final act an absolute blast of violence and insanity. However, this truly is Quinn’s emancipation from her turbulent relationship with Mr. Joker. In fact, it isn’t until the final act that all the girls go mano-a-mano against a bunch of goons led by a scene stealing Ewan McGregor, who brings Roman Sionis (aka Black Mask) to life in what may be his best performance in awhile. The new film directed by Cathy Yan, and written by Christina Hodson, is a wild and sometimes beautiful disaster. And frankly, I mean that as mostly a compliment.
Coming off their adventures in SUICIDE SQUAD, Joker has officially broken up with Harley (Robbie). She is devastated, so much so that she declares the news by blowing up Ace Chemicals, the place where she truly became Harley Quinn. Unfortunately for her, she made a ton of enemies as Joker’s gal, and now that he’s not interested in protecting her, there are a ton of folks who want to make sure she can’t cause anymore trouble for anyone else. One such man is the slimy nightclub owner Roman Sionis (McGregor), along with a psycho henchmen by the name of Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). In the middle of all of this is a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who manages to lift a very special diamond off of Victor. Knowing what Roman would do to Cass, Harley teams up with the young girl in an attempt to get the diamond herself. However, as Roman and his crew get more desperate, Harley and Cass seek the help of Gotham Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Roman’s “songbird” Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell), and a mysterious woman in black known as The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
The first half hour of this flick introduces you to a chaotic, yet strangely appealing look at what happened to Harley Quinn after her previous adventures. She is heartbroken after her failed relationship, so clearly she’ll deal with it in fairly destructive ways. This strange beginning introducing a whole lot of unique elements is a bit messy. The script brings in villainous gangsters, legends of Gotham, a detective who is just as frustrating to her boss as Quinn is to pretty much everyone else, and did I happen to mention the hyena? And then there is that diamond. Once we get to the gist of it all, it ultimately revolves around several characters searching for this priceless and powerful jewel. Without giving too much away, this story feels a bit too chaotic for the first thirty minutes or so. In fact, it’s a bit difficult to describe my own personal feelings for the movie in the beginning as I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about the madness on display. Yet in the end, Quinn and crew won me over.
Margot Robbie is utterly delightful as the childlike and occasionally vicious Quinn. While the character is certainly made a bit more heroic here because she’s the headliner, she still manages to get a bit of nastiness in there. Thankfully, the actress brings so much energy and charm to Harley, that it’s nearly impossible to resist her. By giving her the opportunity to break the fourth wall and discuss the convoluted structure that happens before our very eyes, it makes the hyperkenetic tone make a bit more sense – it’s entirely plausible that Harley would tell her story very close to how its told here. Yet after awhile, this colorful, crazily stylized, albeit surprisingly grounded feature begins to make sense. Instead of following an obvious structure, we are told the story through Harley’s twisted mind. Oftentimes throughout, she will begin a narrative, and then suddenly change her mind and decide on a different approach. In many ways the structure is similar to Ryan Reynolds delightful madness in DEADPOOL. Although the R-rating here appears to mostly be for the multiple times the characters say “F*ck” as opposed to tons of language and super gruesome bloodshed.
Aside from Robbie, it’s Ewan McGregor who truly shines. The actor – fresh off stepping into Stephen King territory in DOCTOR SLEEP – is clearly relishing playing a baddie. In fact, his Roman Sioris is one of the best and most charismatic superhero villains I’ve seen in either Marvel or DC as of late. McGregor brings a bit of flamboyance, mixed with brutality, and a heaping amount of insane charm to the role. Every single time he’s on screen you simply can’t take your eyes off of him. The same can be said about Chris Messina who is wickedly delightful as the dyed blonde baddie Victor Zsasz. These two make a formidable pair of foes for Harley and her pals. And yes, there are a couple of moments that help remind the audience just how disturbed Mr. Sioris truly is. Funnily enough, when it comes to on-screen violence, this flick didn’t feel all that more intense than some of the PG-13 superhero adventures that have come before it. Even still, Victor does have one scene that is actually quite disturbing and a bit gruesome.
When it comes to the BIRDS OF PREY themselves, they certainly collected worthy talent. It’s especially a treat to see Rosie Perez taking on the tough talking, alcoholic Detective Montoya. As well, Smollet-Bell brings a little soul to the nightclub singer with a secret, and young Basco adds a bit of charm to Cass. And then there is Mary Elizabeth Winstead who offers a ton of humor to her “crossbow killer.” The actress’ deadpan delivery makes for an enjoyable performance, one that stands out in a world where crazy is the new normal. As I mentioned previously, while the film’s title is BIRDS OF PREY, the filmmakers focus on Quinn don’t fully allow for the supporting characters to get the chance to make as huge of an impression as they could. Even still, the cast is uniformly strong, and I’m very much looking forward to what will happen when the are brought together for the likely sequel.
BIRDS OF PREY is a bright and insane world. While it took a bit for this viewer to appreciate the grandiose display of exaggerated violence intermixed with a bit of reality, it became harder and harder to resist as its less than two hour run time went on. Once you get used to the hyper stylized storytelling and direction, you’ll find much to enjoy here. Robbie is a wonder as Harley Quinn, and she manages to bring a glorious sense of fun to her morally questionable and selfish anti-hero. And then there is McGregor. The actor relishes with delight what his monster of a man is capable of. While the violence doesn’t necessarily seem like it deserves an R-rating – aside from a scene or two – the energy that Cathy Yan creates manages to make this all work in the end. It’s certainly not perfect, but with a ton of bright spots – including an ode to Marilyn Monroe – BIRDS OF PREY manages to take flight near the end of the first act making for a engagingly giddy ride.
However, here is a minor word of warning… depending on how you feel about post credit scenes, this one may give you a laugh, but it may anger the hell out of you a the same time. Let’s just say that it’s only a voiceover and a tease, so do with that what you will. There is certainly a possibility that they’ll add another scene to the official release, but this is the only one revealed to critics.