Birds of Prey
Jacob Richardson | 08/02/2019
Margot Robbie shines in an at times obnoxiously non-standard, but frequently fun, anti-hero tale.
After The Joker breaks up with her, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) gets incredibly drunk and blows up Ace Chemicals in a public declaration of their separation. What she doesn’t anticipate, however, is the sheer volume of enemies who will come out of the woodwork to take her down once the protective shield of the Clown Prince of Crime is revoked. One of those in particular, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), is looking to peel her face off. Also on his hit list is pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who has swindled an important diamond from him, the Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth-Winstead) and pesky detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). Together, the five must team up to take Roman and his gang of thugs down.
Directed by Cathy Yan, Birds of Prey is colourful, glitzy, crazy and fun. Yan absolutely imparts a distinctive vision on this piece, and it is all the better for its choice to give the director control. Unlike many of the other DCEU films, Birds of Prey feels like a complete, holistic story told exactly how it wanted to be. That cohesiveness makes it feels miles ahead of something like Suicide Squad, or Batman v Superman.
Margot Robbie is electric as Harley Quinn. Whether she is feeding misogynists to her pet Hyena, drunkenly snapping asshole’s legs in a bar, slamming down a tonne of tequila shots, beating a series of goons, or touting her support for Bernie Sanders, Robbie’s Quinn is not only a livewire of unpredictability, but also undeniably enjoyable and engaging. Her castmates, too, also turn in good performances. Smollett-Bell is a powerhouse. Elizabeth-Winstead is hilarious and dangerous, a remarkably competent hero with a distinct inability to deliver hero-esque dialogue. Ewan McGregor is also notable; a subtly camp, outwardly vain and definitively self-conscious villain, whose humor never succeeds in masking his villainous penchant for ripping people’s faces from their bodies.
Visually, too, Birds of Prey is great. Explosions of colour light up the sky when Quinn blows up the Acme Chemical Plant. There’s a visually innovative scene where Quinn busts into a police station in a hail of glitter bean bags and confetti grenades. Even the violence, when garishly painted across the scene, and although often bloodless, is still eclectic and intriguing.
The problem with Birds of Prey is it’s sense of diminishing returns. Intriguing storytelling technique and the unpredictability of the tale are heavily present in the first two thirds of the film, but drop off in the third act, in favour of a more standardised final battle with the big bad. This is even evident in the visual storytelling - the final battle has none of the slow motion, rain soaked visual flair of earlier fights.
Birds of Prey is good and works, but it misses an opportunity to continue its early interesting choices throughout the extent of its story, and in doing so it leaves a taste of blandness in your mouth by the time you leave.
With a star-wattage turn from Margot Robbie, and a powerful directorial vision that turns a bland, relatively standard story into (for at least the first half) something more than the sum of its parts, Birds of Prey is one of the better DCEU movies.