DC seems to have been getting into the swing of things of late. After trying (and failing) to out Marvel the MCU with catastrophic flops like Justice League and Suicide Squad, they decided to switch things up a little and stop taking themselves too seriously.
From then on, we’ve had Aquaman, Shazam! and last year’s fabulous, Oscar-nominated Joker. But let’s rewind just a tad. You see, while Suicide Squad was a hot mess of a film, it had one redeeming feature: Margot Robbie.
Film execs down at DC cottoned on to the fact that Robbie’s Harley Quinn was by far the best part of the movie and decided to give the character her very own picture. How nice. But is the resulting film a corker? Or are we looking at another bargain basement comic-book adaptation?
It’s open season on Harley Quinn (Robbie) when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz, and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women – Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
Director Cathy Yan, in her first big-budget film gig manages to craft a highly stylised film with some nice action-pieces, but that can’t stop Birds of Prey from having a dull first and second act, before coming into its own for the final third.
While the casting is absolutely spot on for these characters, Mary Elizabeth Winstead once again makes us wonder why she’s not in more big-budget films, it’s a shame that the trailer sells the film as an all-girl team up when that’s not the case whatsoever. Yes, it’s true that the Birds of Prey do feature, but they’re sorely underused and it’s only as we steamroll towards the film’s conclusion that all the characters come together.
Margot Robbie is excellent but the character of Quinn struggles to tentpole a film as big as this and the rest of the cast don’t really make an impact until much later in the movie. This causes the first two acts to sag, and the introduction of some overly stylised time jumps does nothing to alleviate this.
You can tell Ewan McGregor is having the time of his life playing a character that falls so far outside his usual remit and he remains a malevolent highlight over the course of the running time, though he, like so many of the other characters, is mightily underused.
To look at, it’s clear that the audience is going to be fall into one of two camps. Those that love the vibrant colour palette and saturation of all thing’s neon, and those that find it excessively fussy and messily edited. It took some time to get used to, but I’ve sat myself in the latter camp. It’s refreshing to see a film take some risks when it comes to cinematography and special effects.
What is disappointing however, is how little thought has been given in turning the filming locations into Gotham. Compared to the Gotham seen in last year’s Joker, this feels far too much like classic NYC and not the grimy, crime-ridden city we’ve been subjected to for decades.
And while the first two acts do struggle to set up a story that manages somehow to be both simple and overly convoluted, the final third is absolutely bonkers. The finale is staged beautifully, taking our anti-heroines to a multitude of different places around the city, and it’s here that the film really comes alive. It’s just a shame that this reversal in fortunes for Birds of Prey signals the end of the film.
Overall, Birds of Prey is a spirited if messy solo-outing for Margot Robbie’s eclectic anti-hero. Filmed beautifully and cast well, it brings together the majority of what we have enjoyed from DCs collection of better films, and most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s just a shame that the first hour struggles to move itself along – after all, when you’ve given the Joker the boot, you’ve gotta be carrying a lot of baggage.