DC Comics’ Suicide Squad was adapted to the big screen for the first time back in 2016 to mostly negative reviews and reactions. Some, including myself, thought the film was rather fun. One of the main elements from the Suicide Squad movie that just about everyone seemed to agree on was how great Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the fan-favorite Harley Quinn was. It makes sense that DC and Warner Bros. would want to have Robbie return as the psychiatrist-turned-psycho clown in a future film. That’s exactly what we got with the recent Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Is Birds of Prey the step that Harley needed to take to become more of a central character and finally get her own movie, or has Quinn’s popularity worn off? Let’s take a closer look to see if she’s enough to keep this superhero team-up movie afloat or if she just gets in the way of something that could have been greater.
Birds of Prey certainly delivers on the comic book action. Each fight and car chase is extremely well shot and choreographed. Every action scene takes the viewer on an exciting thrill ride. The sets and weapons of choice play large rolls in the action and change it up each time so it never feels stale. For instance, one of the best action scenes in the film takes place at the police station and has Harley taking on mercenaries while trying to get to Cassie. She initially busts into the building with a party-popper cannon, which not only matches the tone of her character, but it creates some unique visuals. Afterward, several random items found in the evidence room are used, adding to the fun chaos. Several of the fight sequences feel as exciting as this, including one that takes place in a fun house that creates opportunity for a riveting and chaotic good time.
The action scenes were not the only parts of the movie that were shot well. Just about the whole film was. The camera angles and movements and each cut add a lot to help create the chaotic yet fun atmosphere. The cinematography also helps a great deal to set up the colorful-yet-sinister aesthetic of the movie.
Margot Robbie once again gives an outstanding performance as Harley Quinn, and the rest of the diverse cast are just as talented. Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya and Ewan McGregor as Black Mask especially shine in their roles. Perez’s performance gets the audience on her side and to root for her character every step of the way, while McGregor’s crazy, villainous performance adds a lot more of the chaotic fun to the film. McGregor’s acting truly makes Black Mask feel like a threat.
One of the biggest and most obvious problems with this movie is that it’s called Birds of Prey, but the actual members of the Birds of Prey are absent throughout most of it and don’t even form the team until literally the last few minutes of the film. This is absolutely way more of a Harley Quinn movie than it is a Birds of Prey movie, which is especially strange since Harley has never been a member of the Birds of Prey. The studio even re-branded the film as Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey while it was underperforming in theaters, which is still not quite accurate given how little this movie has to do with the members of the Birds of Prey. Some of its central members, like the Huntress, only get a few minutes of actual screen time. The characters do have good chemistry when they finally interact, but we barely get to see those interactions.
This film should have just been a Harley Quinn movie, and the Birds of Prey should have been given their own separate movie. That being said, this is still the wrong focus for a Harley Quinn movie. The opening narration tells us (rather rapidly, as if it’s unimportant information) that Harley was a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum who fell in love with the Joker and ran the crime world with him, learned that she is better off without him, and left him. That should be what her movie is, not a quick opening narration.
The storytelling methods throughout the film are sloppy at best. Most of the plot points, especially for the first half of the movie, are talked at us by Harley rather than showing us the story. It jumps between which character is being focused on, and the time it takes place. It doesn’t even catch up to the present day until about 40 or more minutes into the story, and even after that, we still get flashbacks. The characters aren’t together or form a team until the very end, so the plot is scattered and unfocused as it attempts to follow each of the various characters. It feels like a chore to watch as a result.
Certain plot points feel like an afterthought, like Sionis putting on his iconic Black Mask. We see him wear it for a few seconds in one of the gratuitous flashbacks, and he randomly decides to don it for the final fight (until it comes right back off). It feels random that he decides to wear it. We never see the mask’s significance to him. He just has it and puts it on for a scene. It feels like the filmmakers forgot and suddenly thought “oh yeah, he has a mask. Let’s throw that in there, too.” The Huntress’s backstory is brought up randomly as well, which is especially odd since it is vital to the film’s McGuffin.
There may be a few chuckles here and there, but overall, the jokes the film intentionally make aren’t very funny. Not every movie needs to be funny or have any humor, but there was clear intent for this to be a bit of an action-comedy. A lot of the one-liners and quips are cringe-worthy. Some of the slapstick is fun and further adds to the action, but it’s still not funny enough to get much of a reaction.
Birds of Prey is meant to be a superhero movie, and yet none of the characters wear their superhero attire. It’s a little bit of a nitpick, but in the age of great, accurate comic book movies, why not have your superheroes look the part? It’s part of the fun that we don’t get to experience.
Also regarding being in the age of accurate comic book movies, it’s totally okay to have superheroes use superpowers in movies. It’s okay for a movie to feel like a comic book. However, in Birds of Prey, Black Canary uses her Canary Cry literally one time (twice if you count her breaking one wine glass while singing). That’s a huge waste of potential. Imagine a Superman movie where he doesn’t fly or a Thor movie without lightning. It defeats part of the purpose of using the character.
It’s understandable and expected that a film adaptation of any source material will have some changes. However, those changes need to make sense. Typically, the central members of the Birds of Prey are Barbara Gordon, Black Canary, and the Huntress. Black Canary and the Huntress take a huge back seat to Harley and Montoya, who have never been members of the team. Barbara, who is the team’s leader, isn’t in the movie whatsoever. Barbara was instead replaced by the girlfriend of her rapist in the source material, which is actually pretty offensive. On top of that, if they used Barbara as Oracle rather than her as Batgirl, they could have had the first live-action superhero who is a wheelchair user and main character (Professor X is more of a mentor character who doesn’t see as much action). They instead decide not to use the character who should have been the protagonist at all.
Cassie Cain is in the movie, who is another Batgirl from the comics. It’s definitely not an issue that they’d use a different Batgirl for the adaptation. It’s still in the spirit of the source material. However, Cassie isn’t Batgirl in the movie. She’s just a street punk pickpocket. She’s not even officially a member of the Birds of Prey, even once they FINALLY form the team in the movie. On top of that, Cassie is mute in the comics but not in the movie. Why use a character who can’t speak in the source material if they want a character to have a speaking role? Between not using Barbara and having Cassie speak, this is plain erasure of positive representation of characters with disabilities.
The filmmakers even miss the mark with their post-credits content. There’s a voice over from Harley saying that she has a secret. She says “did you know Batman’s…” and is cut off. That’s it. It doesn’t give any extra information, it doesn’t hint at future DCEU movies, and it’s not even entertaining. It’s just there. It’s pointless.
Throughout the movie Harley repeatedly reminds the audience and those around her that she’s over the Joker and no longer needs him. However, the Joker is what she talks about most. It’s annoying in real life when someone won’t stop talking about their ex, nevermind watching it happen for a full movie.
Birds of Prey takes place in Gotham City and features a lot of crime occurring. However, Batman is nowhere to be seen. This isn’t a Batman movie, so it’s fine that he’s not present. It is a little bizarre that they never explain his noticeable absence, though. With this much crime happening in Gotham City, there would need to be a reason why he isn’t stopping it. Harley acts as a Deadpool rip off in a lot of the film, so she could have easily mentioned he’s too busy saving the world from aliens or something of that nature since we last saw him in Justice League facing off against Steppenwolf. Not bringing up why Batman wouldn’t be fighting crime in Gotham is an odd choice.
In the Know
Birds of Prey is based on a comic book series by DC of the same name. Many members have come and gone, but this movie marks the first time Harley Quinn, Cassie Cain, or Renee Montoya have been members. It makes one wonder why they would make that decision.
This is the eighth film in the DCEU, sharing a universe with Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Shazam!, and others. Other than some minor things in Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey doesn’t tie in a whole lot to the other films in this universe.
The post-credits voice-over that Harley gives may have been cut off before even being worth sticking around for, but it MIGHT hint at something about Batman in this universe. Perhaps she knows he is Bruce Wayne. Maybe it’s that they are switching actors and her character recognizes that. Maybe it’s nothing. Only time will tell.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) provides thrilling action scenes that are a lot of fun. However, you can get that with many other comic book movies as well. Besides the well shot, well choreographed action and a couple of spectacular acting performances, the film doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. It has very little to do with the actual members of the Birds of Prey, the storytelling is sloppy and all over the place, it showcases ableist views by erasing characters with disabilities, and is ultimately annoying to watch and exhausting to get through. I’m a big DC fan, so it’s rather disappointing to see a stinker like this after wins like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam!. I used a free RedBox disc rental code to watch this, and it still feels like a waste knowing I could have used it to rent something else. Hopefully we see these characters treated better in future installments of the DCEU.