- Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for “Birds of Prey.”
- Margot Robbie steals the spotlight as Harley Quinn again in “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).”
- The performances from her, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell will have fans ready to see the group in more films.
- The film’s first hour gets bogged down by its narrative structure, which is told out of order.
- Some may be bummed we don’t see the women teamed up for longer in the film.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If you’re worried Margot Robbie’s performance as the fabulous and quirky Harley Quinn will be the only good thing to come out of “Birds of Prey,” rest assured that’s not the case. Warner Bros. delivers the first of several big female-centric superhero romps of 2020 and the raunchy and violent “Suicide Squad” spin-off is the perfect Galentine’s outing.
After an offscreen breakup with the Joker, Quinn finds herself at odds with two more prominent Gotham City villains as she’s trying to declare her independence in a world that thinks she’s nothing without Mistah J.
Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and serial killer Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) are on the hunt for a diamond that a young girl, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), unwittingly steals from them without knowing its value. Quinn winds up with the girl under her wing and things get wild from there as she teams up with three others -Dinah Lance, Huntress, and Renee Montoya (the birds in the film’s title).
McGregor pulls off a devilish turn as an iconic Batman villain and Robbie reminds you why Harley is the role she was born to play. You’ll be ready for a sequel with the group or more of Robbie’s take on Harley the moment the film’s over.
What to know: ‘Birds of Prey’ is a movie starring a lot of women, made by women
It’s directed by Cathy Yan with a script from Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee”). Robbie is one of the main producers on the film which also stars Mary Elizabeth as Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Lance, and Rosie Perez as Gotham City detective Renee Montoya.
Is this connected to ‘Suicide Squad,’ that last movie with Harley Quinn? Do I need to watch that to understand ‘BoP’? No.
If you’re familiar with Harley Quinn’s appearance in “Suicide Squad” or anywhere in the animated DC universe then that knowledge will pay off. You’ll have a deeper understanding of her and DC characters like Black Mask, Zsasz, and Black Canary if you’ve watched animated DC cartoons, played popular games like “Arkham City,” and watched the CW’s “Arrow.”
What’s hot: DC continues its streak of getting its female characters right. An eccentric Ewan McGregor, colourful costumes, and an excellent Margot Robbie are going to keep fans happy.
Critics may say the DCEU is behind Marvel’s cinematic universe in terms of quality and box office, but DC has excelled in delivering a much stronger roster of fully-fleshed female superheroes and antiheroes, including Wonder Woman, Mera, Harley Quinn, and now Huntress and Black Canary.
DC may actually have more high-profile female characters at this point than male superheroes that people care about. Meanwhile, in the MCU, it took nearly a decade for Black Widow to get her own movie.
Some credit should be given here to Robbie, who serves as a producer on “Bird of Prey.” In an interview with Nerdist, she explained why she pushed for years for characters like Huntress and Black Canary to get a chance in the spotlight instead of familiar DC villains like Catwoman and Poison Ivy, saying she wanted to introduce female characters who audiences may not be as familiar with “who might really have some legs in the DC Universe.”
Fans will undoubtedly fall in love with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress. Despite being deadly with a crossbow, she’s just an awkward and lonely young woman with a heartbreaking background story. She gets one of the film’s funniest moments while talking to herself in a mirror.
Perez’s detective Montoya isn’t getting the respect or promotion she deserves at the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD). Jurnee Smollett-Bell gets to show off some incredible vocals. The film teases a bit about her background for potential future stories.
Through and through, “BoP” is Harley’s show. If you loved Harley in “Suicide Squad,” you’ll be enamoured with her here. Robbie captures the essence of a young woman getting out of a long-term toxic relationship with all of its ups and downs.
She may not care how she looks (a giant pink onesie and crooked bangs she cuts on her own? Sure!); she may make some irrational purchases (a pet hyena? Check!) and decisions (a few too many drinks at Black Mask’s club); and she may just want some comfort food.
Breakups aren’t easy and Quinn’s trying to figure out how to make a name for herself. That’s tough when she believes people have only tolerated her because of her connection to Batman’s most infamous villain.
Make no mistake. Joker isn’t used as a storytelling crutch here. The film spends a few minutes explaining Quinn’s heartache before moving forward. This is Quinn’s story. “BoP” doesn’t have time to waste on a toxic man.
Instead, “BoP” allows Robbie to bring the charm of the free-spirited harlequin to screen while reminding us she’s no dummy. (She does have a PhD in psychology, after all.)
If 2019’s “Joker” was shown through the dismal negative aura of Arthur Fleck, “Birds of Prey” is the complete opposite. No one’s going to be complaining about this DC movie being dark and dreary. Bright, colourful, vibrant hues fill the screen. Harley herself has 13 different costumes that allow the audience to view the world through Harley’s upbeat and rose-coloured lens. Get ready for many cosplay variations of Quinn and Lance at this year’s San Diego, New York Comic Con, and beyond.
Undoubtedly, comparisons are going to be made between “BoP” and Fox’s R-rated “Deadpool,” which also has a fourth-wall-breaking antihero. Any similarities are only surface level.
If you’re squeamish, the film takes advantage of the R-rating with several rather violent bone-crushing moments that feel straight out of the comics or DC’s adult-centric “Harley Quinn” series.
Women will appreciate how realistic and grounded the female characters feel. You can tell this movie is made and written by women. The film’s production notes mention the costumes are made with glamour, comfort, and functionality in mind. Late in the film, when Harley busts her footwear, she kicks it off and continues her pursuit in nothing but socks. When the women are fighting side by side, Twitter user Kailey Keiser pointed out Harley passes Dinah a hairband which she uses to tie her hair back mid-kick.
That’s the subtle kind of detail you can’t bring into the story unless you try running in heels and with hair flying in your face. Crime-fighting isn’t pretty.
The women aside, we need to discuss Ewan Mcgregor for a moment. He typically plays your average good guy, but he is so deliciously wicked and vile in this film. Who knew bad looked so good on him as the vain and eccentric art collector Black Mask (who yes, wears a black mask in the film). He’s the best villain in the DCEU right now.
For what it’s worth, that’s not too high of a bar. A lot of the villains in the DCEU (Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is not a part of the DCEU) films have been pretty subpar. Aquaman’s brother? Pushover. Dr. Sivana? Next! The only one who probably comes close is Michael Shannon’s General Zod in “Man of Steel.” The CW shows have had better villains.
It’s a bit slow at the start, the story structure is unorthodox, there’s at least one giant plot hole, and the trailers give away far too much
There’s no getting around it. The first hour of “Birds of Prey” is a bit confusing. The story is told out of order up until that point. Even if you’re a big DC fan, you may find yourself struggling to understand the point of the film.
I think most will forgive it since the entire story is narrated from Harley’s perspective. Though her narration is reliable, she’s not the friend you would pick to share an evening’s events. There’s some rambling, multiple asides, and some backtracking. If you’re a fan of Harley, you may appreciate this. Otherwise, it’s a bit clunky.
DC and Warner Bros. are fantastic at creating three-dimensional characters to get behind, but, for whatever reason, they have suffered in telling compelling, cohesive narratives for a few of their last big films (“Batman v Superman,” “Justice League,” and “Suicide Squad” are prime examples of great characters stuck in lousy movies). “Birds of Prey” does a better job than them all, but it still gets bogged down by its unorthodox narrative structure.
Once you’re past that hour mark, the story revs up. When the women band together, the film hits its sweet spot. Getting there is a bit of a journey and the time the women get to share the screen together isn’t long enough.
Some fans may not be pleased we don’t get closure with Jared Leto’s Joker from “Suicide Squad.” His name gets mentioned several times and a quick reference to the 2016 film gives the briefest look at his backside. Understandably, “BoP” keeps the focus on Harley and the women. But it’s a bit strange he’s not there at all, especially since DCU’s adult animated “Harley Quinn” show currently has a similar storyline including the Clown Prince of Crime as Harley works through their complicated breakup.
Exes don’t magically vanish no matter how strong the desire. This seems like more of a convenient fix to write out Leto’s character.
Joker’s absence leaves other questions about the character. Why isn’t he in Gotham? Is he dead? It’s unclear. All we’re told is that Black Mask has taken over as the new godfather of Gotham City. If you’re a DC fan, that only invites more questions. In what world does Black Mask – a “C-level” Batman villain at best – take over Gotham as its main bad guy? Are the Penguin, Riddler, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and the rest of the rogue’s gallery on vacation?
If you haven’t already watched the film’s many trailers, do yourself a favour and skip them. So many scenes are critical moments in the film. Even the final beats of the movie are heavily shown in trailers. Some things, like Harley’s pet hyena, could have been kept a surprise.
Lastly, there’s a Black Mask sequence in his club that probably didn’t need to be there. It’s unsettling and cringe-worthy and will make your skin crawl, but it serves the purpose of showing you Sionis is a truly demented, sadistic killer in addition to a calculating mobster. It makes everyone in the scene uncomfortable except Black Mask and Zsasz.
Overall: This is the perfect girl’s night out with an outstanding Margot Robbie
It’s about time we got a superhero film that focuses on several badass women and “Birds of Prey” more than delivers. This is not a perfect film, nor is it the DCEU’s best. But it is immensely enjoyable because of its characters.
Everyone won’t gush over “Birds of Prey,” but if you’ve ever survived a bad breakup, been underestimated, or have felt like men are taking credit for your achievements, “BoP” is for you.
“Birds of Prey” is in theatres Friday, February 7. Watch a trailer for the movie below.