Thank the nerd gods I can finally wash the taste of Suicide Squad out of my mouth.
Taking place after the burning garbage fire that was 2016’s Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) sees our parenthesized protagonist strike out on her own after blowing off, or rather, blowing up her relationship with The Joker for good. Free for the first time in her criminal career to do as she pleases, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) almost immediately draws the attention of crime boss and overall crazy person, Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), and his psychotic accomplice, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), for transgressions that are not immediately clear, but apparently warrant needing to peel Harley’s face off as soon as humanly possible. But with a handful of other like-minded individuals looking to either bring down Black Mask or stop him from attaining his goals entirely, including jaded GCPD detective, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), orphaned street thief, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), club singer and sorta Black Mask lacky, Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell), and badass girl on a mission, Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Harley must find a way to not only survive on her own without “Mistah J’s” protection, but also find a way to become the fantabulous harlequin she’s always wanted to be…oh, and make new friends along the way of course!
No matter which way you cut, when the original Suicide Squad was released a few years back, it was a bad film. It felt so forced, so amateurish, so meddled with from outside forces that the final product seemed to only flirt with the idea of what a film like this could achieve rather than successfully become a competent flick with any true substance or direction. It was a practice in missing the mark and then continuing to smash the same spot over and over again until the credits rolled, so I for one had exactly zero expectations for this spinoff walking into the theater. But luckily for comic nerds and this still budding DC movie universe alike, Birds of Prey is literal leaps and bounds better than our first introduction to the Harley Quinn character, and finally gives us a movie worthy of our attention.
For one, Margot Robbie is officially perfect in the role of Harley Quinn, finally fulfilling her dream-casting role now that the filmmakers she’s working with know how to handle her character properly in both her actions and words. Not only does her crazy, fractured mind step up into the spotlight fully this time around, but her struggles to become a better version of herself while still being a bit of a hot mess is as endearing as it is disturbing. It’s a much more vibrant and fun portrayal of the character than previously seen and although Harley is front and center throughout, the Birds of Prey supporting cast is just as fun to watch when they do show up, even with considerably less screen time than what was previously advertised.
With a genuinely entertaining and fun third act that shows off what a real “team-up” movie could be like if all of these characters shared the screen at once, this film as it stands, is more of a Harley Quinn story with a dash of Birds of Prey mixed in for good measure, rather than a straight up Birds of Prey origin tale with Harley being the annoying wrench thrown into their plans as the title might suggest. Regardless, you have to hand it to stellar Bumblebee screenwriter, Christina Hodson, who finally got some things right when it comes to our femme fatales as well as sophomore director, Cathy Yan, for giving the action sequences and colorful characters some much needed flair and personality. This is a creative duo I’d like to see more of in the future, so fingers crossed for another follow-up after this one bows out of theaters.
If there’s any real issues I had with the film, most of them stemmed from a purely nerd standpoint. Rather than adapt characters as is from the comics, the filmmakers have taken extreme creative liberty with a few characters, Black Mask and Cassandra Cain being the most notable in a slew of off-brand characters. Ewan McGregor is just fine on his own as a more flamboyant, insane criminal mastermind than we’re used to, but he’s no Black Mask, at least in the “traditional” comic book sense, and same goes for Cassandra who is more or less a pale imitation of her comic book counterpart. My point being that while there’s nothing as bad as the creative choices that gave us Jared Leto’s Joker trashy look from Suicide Squad or the overall shoddy delivery of half of the other characters in that film, there’s enough of a discrepancy with the characters here to wonder why they were even attempting to be the ones they are based on when the filmmakers could have easily plugged in any number of random characters, comic book tethered or otherwise, and had the same results.
That being said, my nerd gripes with these characters changes won’t really affect the normal audience at large, so since they work relatively well within the context of this version of Gotham City, it’s easy to let it slide a bit even if it makes my nergasm a little less strong than usual in regards to movies like this. Other than that, the plot does a lot of stutter stepping as it tries to jump from scene to scene via Harley’s unreliable narration, and while it does work most of the time to great effect, there are instances where it frustrates more than it should, giving the feel of a story that seems to go nowhere over the course of a handful of scenes only to swing back into laser focus when the script feels like it. Overall, and even with some questionable choices in character portrayals and some odd pacing and delivery of story beats, it’s a fun and well written script, executed in an entertaining and stylish matter which is all a flick like this needs to be a success.
A film that finally manages to marry the wacky, dark and violent tone that Suicide Squad wished it could pull off while also adding a handful of amusing moments and inventive action set pieces to boot, Birds of Prey is a much better put together film than its predecessor that genuinely entertains from beginning to end in all of its comic book glory. Margot Robbie feels much more at home in a role that she was born to play, and with a handful of kick-ass female supporting characters backing her up, is able to continue the upwards trend of recent DC super hero flicks (not you Aquaman) with ease. While I do have a lot of issues with the portrayal of some characters either feeling like shades of the ones they are based on from the comics or only those characters in name, most of what happens here works for the film, even if I was left wanting a bit more from the entire “Bids of Prey” aspect of it all. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and look forward to seeing what James Gunn has up his sleeve for this character in the next Suicide Squad film.