I was not looking forward to Birds of Prey. I don’t really know why but there was just something about the film that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was the way the film was promoted or how, besides Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, none of the characters really don’t look like the characters from the comic. Even the first trailer failed to inspire me to think Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was going to be good. I mean, a trailer is supposed to get a person excited to see a film. But what Warner Bros and DC decided to do was show us this bland preview of the film.
Thankfully, looks can be deceiving and, while it does have problems, I did enjoy most of the entire 109-minute runtime Birds of Prey had. Oh, and I will be calling it Birds of Prey from now on. It’s just too much of a bother to type in the entire (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) bit. It’s funny because of how long it is but it’s just too much of a hassle.
Also, since the film hasn’t really been released just yet in most Western locations, this entire review will be a SPOILER FREE review.
Anyway, Birds of Prey takes places some time after the events of Suicide Squad. Harley Quinn has broken up with The Joker and now, as she doesn’t have Mister J protecting her anymore, a lot of people want to kill her. After all, she did do a lot of super nasty things while with her puddin’. So, how do the rest of the characters tie into the story? Well, as this is a SPOILER FREE review, I can only give you a really vague description. Basically, there’s this certain macguffin Black Mask wants and the entire plot generally revolves around everyone trying to get it.
I would say a lot of the fun I had with Birds of Prey was because I did come in blind about what’s it supposed to be about. The story is told in a rather spastic manner as the story is told from Harley Quinn’s point of view. There are flashbacks and even flashbacks within the flashback, which could’ve been confusing but they were executed in such a way that they were intelligible, as long as you were paying some attention to what’s happening on the screen.
The action scenes are extremely good. In your typical superhero film, you half expect some big CGI battle somewhere along the way. You don’t get that in Birds of Prey. There are slow motion shots but they’re utilized to emphasize bone crunching blows. Everything is easy to follow and, yes, there are no shaky cam fight scenes! I did feel there was a certain John Wick quality to the action scenes and it really works well with the overall feel of the film.
I mentioned earlier I had some trepidation about the film because of the casting. While I was not totally convinced that there could have been better candidates to play Renee Montoya, Huntress, Black Canary and Cassandra Cain, the women Warner Bros. and DC put in the roles were still really good. The definite standout among the four I mentioned is Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s version of Black Canary. She definitely made the role her own here. I also was very impressed by Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya but, then again, Rosie Perez is a really good actress.
I can’t really comment all that much on Mary Elizabeth Winsted’s Huntress as, well, she isn’t in the movie that much. I did like her while she was on screen but it’s hard to say if her performance was actually good because she isn’t in the film all that much. The weakest performance was Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain. She’s supposed to be this streetwise pickpocket but it just didn’t hit the right notes for me because, well, she didn’t act all that smart throughout the film. Even so, the chemistry when any of them are interacting with each other was just so fantastic, I did let those issues go.
Of course, the standouts in Birds of Prey are Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask. There was no doubt that Margot Robbie was going to kill it as Dr. Harleen Quinzel. I mean, she was one of the only things worth watching in Suicide Squad! And, no. I’m not just saying that because of that one show where she was getting dressed. She was really good in the film!
What really surprised me was how effective Ewan McGregor was as the sadistic Black Mask. It certainly looked like he was enjoying himself while he chewed the scenery! Yet, when he needed to be scary and intimidating, he managed to pull it off. I’ll even say he was much better than that weak sauce Joker we got in Suicide Squad! You can say that he’s a rather one-dimensional villain and you’d be correct. However, there is something to be said about an easy-to-understand bad guy. Birds of Prey didn’t need a complex villain so Black Mask was perfect for the film.
As much as liked Birds of Prey, I do have a few issues with it. The middle part is kind of uninteresting and kind of not in tune with the rest of the film. Throughout the first part of the film, we get to hear Harley Quinn narrate the events in a voice over. We also get to see her antics as well as the general backstory of Renee Montoya and Black Canary. As the film goes on, we do get less and less of Harley Quinn’s narration. This is very evident by the middle of the film, making it feel not in the same tone as the early parts. It just loses a lot of energy and, while it never drags the overall pacing of the film, it just isn’t as fun as the first and ending moments.
The second issue I have with Birds of Prey is the not-so-subtle subtext that this is a female empowerment film. It never hits you over the head with an “all men are bad” message. But I couldn’t help but notice that, outside one, maybe three, males, all the guys in Birds of Prey are either misogynists, sadists or a jerk in one way or another. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but that was the impression I got by the end. This issue didn’t really miff me all that much but it does worry me how some people may read into this “message” the film is trying to say.
I’m also mixed about the film’s length. At 109 minutes, that’s including the credits, Birds of Prey isn’t a long film but it did manage to wrap everything up by the end. But at the same time, there are just a few niggling things that could have been delved into a little bit deeper. The biggest thing they gloss over is the character of Huntress. They just tell enough so you get an general idea of what her motivations are but her story is barely fleshed out, especially when you compare the time devoted to Renee Montoya’s. Even Black Canary’s story arc comes off as a little undercooked. Same thing for Cassandra Cain. If you’re familiar with the comics, you won’t have any issues but, if Birds of Prey is your first introduction to these characters, you’ll definitely want more than what’s told here.
But the biggest issue I do have with Birds of Prey is the decision to leave out Oracle. Yes, this is the comic fan in me talking but it just seems weird that Barbara Gordon AKA Oracle, one of the original Birds of Prey with Black Canary didn’t even get a mention! I have no problem with adding Renee Montoya or even Harley Quinn to the team and I literally have no idea how they could insert Oracle but it just seems odd she’s not there.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). It’s an entertaining movie that tells an energetic tale filled with some fantastic action scenes. I say give it a watch.
Have you seen Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!