Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Movie Review
Just because a supporting character steals the show in an otherwise terrible comic book movie doesn’t mean she deserves her own movie. Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie, takes the lead in Birds of Prey, a spinoff/sequel to the maligned Suicide Squad, but the results are just as bad—if only for different reasons.
Robbie is a terrific actress and immerses herself in the role of Quinn, the Joker’s somewhat psychotic girlfriend/accomplice. The thing is: do we need a movie where she’s the main character? Yes, indie director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson (who wrote the Transformers redemption story Bumblebee) have made a movie that revolves around her, but the experience fails to explain why we should care for her or any of the characters in this dark but not particularly cool, funny, or edgy action-thriller.
Between Suicide Squad and Sony’s immensely popular but downright terrible Venom, Birds of Prey is the latest to attempt to create a property out of a comic book villain, an approach I still don’t entirely understand or agree with (the Oscar-nominated Jokerdoes it right by trying to buck the superhero world altogether). It’s also R-rated (Suicide Squad was PG-13), allegedly looking to strike a similar note to Marvel’s immensely popular Deadpool.
The problem is that Harley Quinn is not exactly a character who needs her own movie, which is why, for better or not, Yan and Hodson attempted to pair her with a bunch of other badass women, most notably Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell)—even though, despite its team-based title, Birds of Prey is very much a Harley Quinn showpiece.
Given that its lead character is a psychopath, you’d expect the film to be sort of weird, off the wall, and a bit f**ked up. It’s really none of those things, with only a few brief moments causing me to smirk or chuckle out loud. It isn’t funny even though you can see it’s trying to be, and worse, it isn’t at all edgy, or at least cleverly told like Deadpool. If anything, Birds of Prey is a surprising bore—something I couldn’t even say about Suicide Squad—I checked the time at least 10 times through the movie, hoping we were nearing the conclusion.
The conclusion ratchets up the energy and fun, but by this point it’s too little too late. You may have some connection to Quinn, but Winstead’s Huntress is underdeveloped and underdeveloped while Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya is so bad you have to wonder if they injected the whole “she talks like a detective out of a trashy cop show” bit in postproduction.
Still, Birds of Prey boasts a couple decent action scenes and stunts, and while the movie fails to take advantage of its R-rating with its screenplay, it at least delivers a few satisfyingly gruesome deaths. The movie should also be credited with trying to be different, even if it ultimately fails in that endeavor. Interestingly, for a movie that is all about badass women, Ewan McGregor—who plays the main villain Black Mask—is the only one who truly taps into the film’s undercurrent, delivering a satisfyingly twisted performance.
Birds of Prey isn’t as directly awful as its predecessor Suicide Squad, but it’s convincingly duller.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.