I really, really wanted to like this movie. The trailers looked vibrant, action-packed, and fun. I didn’t see how this film could miss. Unfortunately, I can only describe it as “fine.” It wasn’t bad–not at all. However, it also wasn’t especially good.
As I think on it, I believe the biggest misstep occurred by having Harley Quinn share the screen with others. We already know Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad, so the film might have been wise to simply pick up her story and go from there. Instead, they included Dinah Lance (Black Canary), Renee Montoya, Cassandara Cain, and Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), which resulted in a great deal of additional exposition. The movie had to introduce and explain these new characters as it also tried to intertwine them with Harley Quinn’s plot. This resulted in several start and stops, many flashbacks, and more than a few backtracks.
The fact is, Margot Robbie and Harley Quinn can carry a movie by themselves. The more I see Robbie in other movies, the more I appreciate her as Quinn. She really lays it all on the line with this character. There are so many interesting places to take Quinn. After all, she’s a former psychologist, an actual doctor. While treating the Joker, she descended into madness herself. Or, perhaps she finally accepted her own madness. That alone is a compelling thing to explore. Sadly, they only touched upon these aspects and instead chose to focus on her more manic tendencies, which, admittedly, lend themselves to frenetic scenes and a visually exciting experience.
Much of the movie revolved around her break-up with the Joker. For a film that touts Harley Quinn’s emancipation from the Clown Prince of Crime, it spent a lot of time focusing upon that issue. That being said, I found it odd that they neglected to actually include the Joker. They showed drawings of him, or the back of his head or shoulder in a few scenes, but never his face. If they simply said they broke up and left it at that, I wouldn’t have found the awkward flashbacks with him so … awkward. It’s as though they refused to let Jared Leto reprise his role as the villain while Joaquin Phoenix is attempting to win an Oscar for playing the same character.
It was fun to see Rosie Perez (Renee Montoya) on screen again, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Black Canary) stuck me as a true movie star, but they simply weren’t necessary to the story. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was completely mishandled. Her “Huntress” barely even appeared in the film. (If you want to see her at full strength, check out 2017’s Fargo FX series, which also stared Ewan McGregor, believe it or not.)
Speaking of whom, I’ve never seen McGregor so villainous. His take on “Black Mask” kept us off balance because he was at times childish, at times charming, at times brutish, and even feminine in some moments. So while the character remained consistent, we never knew what actions to expect from him.
By the way, the action is mesmerizing. Women fighting men twice their size have to be creative, and there is a great deal of creative fight choreography in Birds of Prey. There’s one particular scene in which Harley Quinn wields a bat, and it is beautiful. I’ve heard others say this is DC’s best action movie, and I think that’s accurate. There’s ample eye-popping action to behold.
I want to recommend a movie featuring not just primarily female actors, but female DC characters as well. I think it’s a meaningful development not just for the genre, but for the movie industry. Unfortunately, Birds of Prey simply failed to capture much of my interest due to its attempt at explaining all of the new characters it included. It’s a fun action movie with entertaining humor and hypnotic visuals, but it could have been far more with Margot Robbie at the helm.