I have a love/hate relationship with the DC Extended Universe. By which I mean I hated Justice League and every film before it (I thought Wonder Woman was mediocre at best), and I loved Aquaman and everything after it. DC has learned a valuable lesson that has saved their films – while before they were simply about undeveloped characters (because why develop them when some people have read a comic or two) taking part in the biggest, most convoluted plots, now they are about well developed characters, with simple goals in very low-key stories. Well, okay maybe not Aquaman but that film was just bonkers. But, something about Birds of Prey worried me.
Birds of Prey is a follow-on from Suicide Squad. Suicide Squad being the worst of the bunch so far was enough of a turn off for me. I don’t think that trailer helped either – being unfunny and having some very uncomfortable Michael Bay-ish vibes. Everything about the advertisement felt a bit poor to me. So, no I am not surprised that the film is apparently underperforming at the box office.
Honestly though, it is a shame because I came out of Birds of Prey having really enjoyed it. It was far from perfect but there was a great sense of energy to the film. Instead of falling in line with a Michael Bay production, I got more of a Guy Richie sense from it. The film plays out as if it was really narrated by Harley Quinn – the film’s main character. It feels disjointed.
There is a moment where, after a really fun action scene involving a gun that fires confetti, bean bags and paint, where the film pauses and we hear Harley say “Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain how I got here.” We then proceed to spend a good chunk of time seeing the events that led us here. I feel that, in any other film, this gimmick would have fallen flat and felt annoying. But considering that the story is so tied in with that character, it feels strangely natural.
Director Cathy Yan does a great job with the film’s visuals and seemingly uncontainable energy. Whether the film is going for a rough, urban feel or, well, confetti and paint being shot out of a gun, the film is lovely to look at. It gets more and more crazy as it goes on – ending, literally, as a fair ground of colours and acrobatics. Just from the film’s opening – an animated segment that looked like the style of Chuck Jones – I knew that this would at least be a visual treat.
At the center of all of this is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. One of the biggest shames of Suicide Squad is how it wasted Robbie’s talent as an actress and her casting as Quinn. Here, we get to see it all. And, honestly, I can’t think of a better actress for the job. Robbie loses herself in the role, becoming almost unrecognizable (outside of a pretty weak Bostonian accent that is) and is easily the standout performance of the bunch. Although, actors like Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ewan McGregor certainly add their own flare to the mix. McGregor in particular is a treat to watch as he chews the scenery. He’s detestable in every way, and it’s hard to not love him for it.
But, for all the films performance and flare, it can’t cover a script that has little meat on its bones. From the writer of Bumblebee, I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare, but even Bumblebee had a cheesy, Saturday-morning-cartoon feel to it. Birds of Prey does have that feel to it, but its darker and viler than that tone suggests. I was a little surprised with the violence – there is plenty of messy shootings and cracking bones on display. There are scenes where a villain literally peals off people’s faces.
I don’t mind violence like this, and I feel it added to the visuals. But for the tone they were going for, it probably wasn’t the best call. The story is also criminally simple – it’s literally about Harley having to find a diamond for the villains. As, unfortunately, are the characters. Quinn is very well developed. Everyone else…not so much. The villain enjoys killing people and getting away with it, as well as being a misogynist. The Birds of Prey have one quirk each. Everyone else is just there. It’s a good thing that the actors playing them are as talented as they are.
This film shouldn’t have been called Birds of Prey – they’re hardly in it. They should have just called in Harley Quinn, because that’s the focus here. And as a Quinn film, I could have had better, but I did enjoy it. I really enjoyed it actually. I would say it was the worst one since Aquaman. But I loved it for its talent, its mad craft and above all its personality. The script is underdeveloped in places – and is probably a little too trigger happy with the man-shaming thing that the likes of Ghostbusters 2016 and Captain Marvel flaunt.
But the directing and acting do manage to find some gold here and there. It’s worth a watch, although most will probably wait for the rental price.
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