‘Birds of Prey’ Review – A Madcap Color Bomb of Action
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is Harley Quinn’s story. Gotham City’s favorite hot mess once again finds herself spiraling down into messes hotter than a vat of acid in a way only Harley Quinn could get herself into. Told through the beautifully insane, colorful perspective of…you guessed it…Harley Quinn herself.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Robbie as Quinn reminds us of what we loved about Suicide Squad…Harley Quinn! She is lovable in her psychotic, almost innocent ways. Even though her mind is a bag of cats, she’s not really that evil. She’s a lost soul who dreams of a normal life, except for the fact that she has no qualms about dispatching anyone who stands in her way by any means necessary. We learn more about her troubled past and why the brilliant psychiatrist was so easily seduced by the Clown Prince of Crime. She makes us want to care about her as a character. You can tell Robbie has a lot of fun in her role. She’s all in as Quinn’s misadventures lead her to almost two hours of non-stop, baseball bat head bashing, agonizing leg shattering, hand-to-hand combat.
“WOOO! Who’s having a good time?”
The film is jam packed with all the charming comic book camp of Suicide Squad, but with a much harder edge. Riddled with profanity (even the child curses a blue streak), and graphic, sometimes deeply disturbing violence, Birds of Prey seems to have taken a page from Todd Phillips’ dark, character study, Joker. Namely, in scenes showcasing Birds of Prey’s chief villain, Roman Sionis / Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor. Ewan does a great job portraying the narcissistic, sadistic and down right evil nightclub owner/crime boss. A man with a rampant insecurity complex and mental instability, he is quick to remove the skin off the face of anyone who gives him a dirty look. Almost immediately you will want to knock Black Mask’s teeth down his throat because he’s that despicable. I hope I can look at Obi-Wan the same way again…
As much as Birds of Prey is being billed as a team-up movie, it’s really a focus on Harley Quinn starting a new chapter in her life. We start with Quinn suffering the heartbreak of splitting up with her puddin’. Like all of us at some point, Harley goes through the same stages of grief. We’ve all sat alone wallowing in self pity, binge eating our favorite comfort foods, while binge watching our favorite comfort programs. We’ve all chopped our hair off, purchased a large hyena for companionship, and have definitely crashed a fuel tanker into the building of our first date (in Harley’s case, Ace Chemicals, in which a towering inferno ensued). I mean, pretty standard stuff, am I right? She gets into a little roller derby as a hobby. She finds a great breakfast spot for her favorite hangover cure…a delicious bacon, egg and cheese on a toasted, buttery ciabatta roll. She’s moving on, trying to live her life in peace. Not an easy task though when you’re ex is one of, if not the most feared psychopaths around.
Once word got out that it was splitsville between Mr. J. and Quinn, Gotham’s scum came out of the woodwork seeking retribution on Harley for any wrongdoing she or the Joker bestowed upon them during their reign of terror. The immunity had expired, and she was vulnerable…or so they thought. Harley proves to be a dangerous opponent to any tattooed, muscle-bound thug that comes her way. Yen drives this point home, showing the audience that Harley is quite capable on her own, and would make a formidable ally in this or any future narrative she may be a part of.
The narrative, acting like a pinball machine, jumps around in time in a Snatch–like manner. Meant to mimic the erratic mind of Harley Quinn, we get bits of back story, as well as the introduction to rest of the Birds of Prey team, at various points throughout the film in a non-linear fashion. As a huge fan of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, I loved following each character around here and there until they all meet at the end. This type of storytelling works for a film like this. I wouldn’t expect Harley to tell a tale on the straight and narrow. Her mind has been put through the blender, and I feel Yan conveyed that disconnect well by telling the story through Quinn’s eyes.
Let’s dive into a brief introduction of the team and find out how their paths cross, shall we?
Introducing your Birds of Prey…
- Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) – Pickpocket and troubled teen. She is the glue that brings the team together. Cain thieves a large and incredibly valuable diamond from the pocket of one Victor Zsasz, Roman Sionis’ (Black Mask) right hand man. Zsasz sees the girl take off from the theft and informs Sionis who places a bounty of $500k on her head.
- Helena Bertinelli / Huntress, aka The Crossbow Killer (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – Only survivor of the Bertinelli massacre. The diamond was the reason her family was gunned down as they were the original owners. Present at this massacre was Zsasz, which is why Huntress shows up. She’s on mission to kill every person involved with her family’s murder. Als0, hates the name Crossbow Killer.
Meanwhile, Harley Quinn crosses Sionis one last time by gruesomely crushing the legs of his personal driver, and has Quinn captured. Harley strikes a deal with Sionis by promising him she’d locate Cain and the diamond, and in return, gets to keep her face. In this sequence, Harley finds Cain. Their relationship gets off to rocky and comical start but eventually Harley begins to take Cain under her wing.
- Dinah Lance / Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) – Night club singer, recently promoted to Black Mask’s personal chauffeur. Hides a shocking and fantastic banshee-like ability. Dinah is Cain’s neighbor and looks out for Cassandra. While driving her boss around, Dinah learns of the bounty on Cain and goes to her rescue.
- Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) – Jaded, hard-edged detective who’s watched too many bad 80’s cop movies and is frequently overlooked on the force by her incompetent superiors. Montoya knows Cain from her frequent arrests, and demonstrates compassion towards the troubled teen in her own way. Hot on Quinn’s tail for destroying Ace Chemicals, Montoya also rushes to Cains aid when informed of her trouble with Sionis.
Our hero’s paths finally converge in an old hideout of Joker’s as word hit the streets of the $500k reward for Cain. As a result, an army of Gotham’s worst emerge to claim their stake. The unlikely team find themselves trapped within leaving them no choice but to fight their way out. The action in this fight sequence was a fun. Joker’s old lair is literally a fun house so there was a nice blend of suspense, bone-crunching and hilarity. Quinn goes right back to her old ways and betrays Cain, and gives her over to Sionis. Maclunkey move, Quinn. Her betrayal is short lived, though. Quinn follows Sionis and Cain and catches up to them at an erie, abandoned “Founders Pier”. After a brief exchange of words and an apology from Quinn, Cain quickly dispatches Sionis with a slight of hand and a grenade. Just like that…POOF….He’s gone. Harley and Cain take off in the sunset, while the rest of the newly formed team vows to continue to serve up justice wherever they’re needed.
I have two major gripes with this movie. First of all, I loved the team, but we did not get much time with them. The vast majority of the film was focused on Harley Quinn which left little time for character development of the other woman. Perez as Montoya was my favorite of the group. I could absolutely see her reprising her role in an actual police drama. That would be so great. Secondly, the ending seemed to go by in a blink of an eye. The film builds and builds and builds…and then it’s over. The ladies meet and battle very late in the third act. I feel with a run time of a lean 1h 49 mins there was room to expand on the team’s interaction with each other, which was very comical, I might add. They were not friends by any stretch. The pier scene of Black Mask’s demise was especially rushed and the least suspenseful scene in the movie.
What I did really enjoy about Birds of Prey was the in-depth look at Harley Quinn. She is quite an interesting character. This movie showed us that she does have a heart by righting her wrong with Cassandra Cain, but is also a complete lunatic. All in all, Birds of Prey is a pretty solid stand alone film. It’s a high energy, colorful, smash-em up, crime thriller seen through the fun-house that is Harley Quinn’s mind. It doesn’t rely heavy on connectivity to previous DCEU films. Now, I know we’ve all been classically conditioned to demand such connective tissue in our super hero films, but if you can accept the fact that Warner Bros. realized they messed up, and are trying to produce quality films, then you might just enjoy the movie.
Bobby Long is a life-long fan of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney and The Simpsons who spends much of his free time running through all his favorite films…again and again. He has a beautiful fiancee, a beautiful daughter, and two of the cutest doggies you’d ever seen. He is eternally grateful to MovieNewsNet for giving him the opportunity to write about his passion.