Harley Quinn and her super friends.
The first of two DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movies in 2020 has arrived and it officially kicks off as the first major comic book adaptation of the year. Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go; Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) should have been called Harley Quinn And The Birds Of Prey instead; a title which is much truer to what the movie actually is.
I went into this movie expecting that, considering how much of Harley Quinn was featured front and centre (literally) at the heart of the movie’s marketing and promotional material. While I find myself begrudgingly admitting that the movie itself isn’t bad by any means, I still cannot accept that that this is a Birds Of Prey movie. It is a very much a Harley Quinn (and friends) movie.
Directed by relatively new director Cathy Yan, Birds Of Prey is a decent movie. Margot Robbie is the only DCEU actor reprising a role from a previous DCEU flick, and the movie surprisingly acknowledges the events of 2016’s much-maligned Suicide Squad. Don’t expect to see Jared Leto’s Joker though, as he has been edited out like he never even existed; good riddance.
The movie serves as an origin story for the Birds Of Prey, but they still play second fiddle to Harley Quinn herself.
It’s criminal that the one character who founded the Birds Of Prey team in the comics is absent from her own live-action adaptation.
I’m referring to none other than Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl. Well, she was technically still the physically-challenged Oracle in the source material when she founded the team. While it’s possible that Batgirl could still join the team in future DCEU movies, it’s still a sore spot. Imagine a Justice League without Superman/Batman or the Teen Titans without Robin. That’s how integral the character is to the Birds Of Prey mythos.
Birds Of Prey is entirely from the perspective of batshit crazy Harley Quinn, who continually narrates and monologues throughout the duration of the movie.
Due to her mental instability, she comes off as an unreliable narrator, which causes funny random flashbacks resulting in a non-linear narrative of sorts.
The movie clearly wants to be DC’s equivalent of Marvel’s Deadpool films. This evolution happened in the comics several years ago thanks to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (who are both mentioned in the movie’s credits), and this movie’s Harley Quinn is mostly inspired by that version of the character.
The (Un)killing Joke
Unfortunately, the comedy in Birds Of Prey doesn’t quite hit its mark. The jokes still feel a bit juvenile and cringe-worthy (despite the massive amount of F-bombs and mature content), though I did chuckle a few times. In comparison, I laughed out loud at almost every joke in the two Deadpool movies.
The comedy does attempt to go meta in some instances, but not as often as I’d liked, though some would argue that too much would be immersion-breaking. One particular gag involving Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress is probably the funniest and most memorable of them all.
An Explosive Flurry Of Colour & Action
The highest praise I could give Birds Of Prey is its colourful and striking visual cinematography, as well as the dynamic action choreography. I was worried that the movie would look too garish from the looks of the trailers, but the movie proved me wrong with vibrant visuals that pop out, evoking the style of the comics that the movie was adapted from.
If there’s anything to highlight in Birds Of Prey, it would be the action scenes, which look believable and exciting at the same time.
Bones break with an uncomfortable crunch and blood splatter, but never in an exaggerated way like in the two Deadpool movies, or even 2016’s Suicide Squad, likely because Birds Of Prey doesn’t rely too much on fugly CGI like those films.
It’s definitely no surprise that Margot Robbie dominates the movie as Harley Quinn, but Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask certainly was, in a good way.
I was ready to hate this version of the character, but I loved the complex Roman Sionis as portrayed by the brilliant actor of Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi fame.
He is flamboyant and charming when calm but only manifests his true violent and sociopathic self when things don’t go his way. The allusion to his queerness doesn’t affect his character in any significant way whatsoever, as it adds more character to this iconic villain, though I would love to have seen him wearing his Black Mask more.
The other supporting characters receive little to no development and some more than others. The movie bizarrely gives more focus on Rosie-Perez’s Renee Montoya instead of Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary or even more shockingly, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress who manages to make the most out of her criminally-underutilized and brief screentime.
Out of all the supporting characters, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress deserves just as much screentime as Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
She shined brightly albeit her limited screentime, and I would love to see her role expanded in future DCEU movies.
She’s the closest thing to a traditional and most comics-accurate character in this movie, yet it seemed like the filmmakers didn’t know how to properly take advantage of her and thus moved her to the sidelines.
As for Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain, she’s nothing at all like her original comic book counterpart. They also butchered her character by making her an annoying kleptomaniac kid who talks like she’s from the ghetto or something. I don’t see how this version of the character will ever become the iconic Batgirl or Orphan that we know and love from the comics. Even if they adapted her into a different character, the one we have still come off as cliché and tired here.
Emancipate Us From This Movie
Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) is not my cup of tea, nor will it satisfy hardcore fans of the comic book version. However, it remains a decent fluff of a film, and definitely one that is far superior to the messy farce that was 2016’s Suicide Squad.
If you like Harley Quinn’s crazy antics and kookiness, you will like this a lot more than you should.
If you come in expecting a faithful adaptation of the Birds Of Prey, that’s an altogether different story.
Final Score: 60/100