“Do you know what a harlequin is? A harlequin’s role is to serve. It’s nothing without a master.”
The DC Extended Universe, or DCEU for short, has been an incredibly mixed bag since its initial inception. “Batman V Superman,” “Suicide Squad” and “Justice League” were the films that should have jump started the DCEU into hyperdrive, but fell flat of expectations by being muddled, choppily made machines that favored style over deep substance. Then somewhere mixed between those films, the DCEU found success by the name of “Wonder Woman,” “Aquaman” and “Shazam.” While these films had their respective issues, they presented an uptick in quality in the extended universe when it needed it the most.
Now bursting through the uneven shreds of the DCEU comes “Birds of Prey,” the aptly-named “girl-gang” film that features another incredible performance from Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn who was featured in 2016’s much derided “Suicide Squad.” Robbie’s Quinn was delegated as a side character in that film, but here in “Prey” she has been blessed with a leading role and we should all be better off because of it. Robbie was arguably the best part of “Suicide Squad” because she commanded the screen when nothing else could in that messy film. She completely stole the show, and now in “Birds of Prey” Robbie has perfectly embodied what the character of Harley Quinn should be and I genuinely don’t think anyone else could have pulled off the character as effortlessly as her. There’s not much more in this world I want than Robbie portraying this character forever.
“Birds of Prey” has been a film I’ve been anticipating for a while now, so I am elated to say that the film is an unabashed success. Director Cathy Yan imbues so much energy, creativity and color into the film that it’s hard not to get swept up in all its manic glory. Seriously, let her direct anything she wants after this because she is such a natural at it. The screenplay by Christina Hodson matches up perfectly with Yan’s direction because it’s equally as wild with a dash of R-rated crudeness to boost. I had some skepticism regarding her screenplay due to some of her previous scripts — the Katherine Heigl thriller “Unforgettable” and the Naomi Watt’s thriller “Shut In” are on her resume — but her screenplay here is really great thanks to its snappy dialogue and entertaining tone.
Energetic is the word I most associate with this film and all the actions scenes are the very definition of energetic. Chad Stahelski of “John Wick” fame helped to pull off the wild action sequences in this film, which is immensely evident because the action scenes reminded me of those in the “John Wick” films. There is a sequence near the middle of the film where Harley breaks into a prison that features some of the most exciting, kinetic action scenes I’ve seen since the “John Wick” and “The Raid” films. They’re immensely exciting and should please even the most die-hard action fans looking for another thrill.
However, the film does pull back a bit when it bounces back and forth between multiple time jumps. It begins to explain something by way of Harley Quinn’s narration, but then it stops and takes us back to a completely different time or even back to a previous scene and tries to interweave something else that was apparently going on at the same time. While there are a few instances that make these transitions pretty seamless, there are also a few instances where it can get confusing because it takes its time explaining something else that happens when we were already in the middle of another scene. For example, a 15-minute flashback scene is wedged between the middle of a completely different scene.This particular instance was really quite jarring, and it does this back and forth time jumping pretty often, so it can sometimes be a bit confusing narratively.
While Robbie’s Quinn is definitely the star of the show, the film rises on the strength of its supporting performances, too. Another standout is Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, who completely sells the character as the complete badass she is. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a great Huntress, even though I wish she could have had more to do in the film. Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain and Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya also deliver commendable performances. When the script calls for them to shine, they do exactly that. The aforementioned Birds don’t end up teaming up until the very end of the film, so I would have liked to see more of them all together, but their individual performances are all solid enough to help soften this blow a little. Ewan McGregor is a wildly over-the-top villain as Roman Sionis/Black Mask, so much so that anytime he was onscreen, it was apparent he was having the time of his life portraying such a crazed villain. His chemistry with Chris Messina’s Victor Zsasz was another major highlight of the film as well.
“Birds of Prey” is currently my favorite film in the DCEU, not only because it did indeed give fans the proper characterization of Harley Quinn that we so deserve, but because it’s such an immensely fun, entertaining film that does something different with its comic book roots. I want more comic book movies that take such wild risks while being so entertainingly fun like this one does.
Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas