BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN)

Suicide Squad is easily one of the worst recent comic book films, but as terrible films often do, it raked in the dough at the box office. Despite many hating it, Warner Bros. doesn’t hate money, so they of course greenlit a sequel. However, when you’re making a sequel to a universally maligned film, what’s the best way to bring those detractors back? Well, taking the character everybody loved and became sort of an icon will surely do the trick. Harley Quinn was already a popular character with comic book fans, but she really exploded into the mainstream with Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie was one of the few well received traits and she clearly enjoys playing the character, so why not make a movie all about her? 
 
In Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the Joker have broken up and it’s clearly not on the best terms. Harley ends up falling into a depression but finds a new purpose when she comes across young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who has just stolent a precious diamond. One of the people after the diamond is sadistic criminal Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), who threatens Harley to bring Cain to her. Torn between doing the right thing and saving her own life, Harley juggles her emotions during her newfound emancipation to see if she should start doing the right thing. 
 
Suicide Squad was all about the ensemble cast, and while Birds of Prey also has an ensemble cast, it’s far more focused on Harley Quinn than anything. The thing is, Harley Quinn’s entire character and the reason she even exists is because of the Joker. Separating them was an interesting direction to take her character, which was also a way to make sure Jared Leto’s negatively received Joker didn’t return (I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoyed his interpretation). So, what’s the story to tell with just Harley? Making her interact with a bunch of more mentally stable people and eventually forming a team in order for her to realize that she’s really an independent woman who needs no man; just some good ol’ friends and sidekicks. She spends most of her time acting as sort of a surrogate mother to Cain, making her humanity she had before bubble back up. She may be off her rocker, but it doesn’t mean she has to be a bad person. Every other member of the Birds of Prey have their own issues as well, which they need to emancipate from to become the people they really should be. 
 
The big issue with the film, though, is how messy the narrative is. Half of the movie is flashbacks to give us context of these characters and their backstories that led them to that point. The main story with Harley protecting Cain is still there, but it jumps all over the place to juggle these various characters and their individual stories. Since that basic emotional core is still there and the characters are all fun, the messiness doesn’t prevent it from being a good time. Suicide Squad was a mess too, but that was more like walking into a hoarder’s house, where you literally don’t know where to start to clean this up, never knowing really what to do. Birds of Prey is more like a kid’s messy room. It’s messy, but you have a general idea of where everything’s at and it doesn’t take much time to figure out and put the pieces back together. The other three members that make up the Birds of Prey don’t interact with each other at all until the very end, but their respective characters are all just as fun as Harley with their unique personalities, even if they lack screentime. 
 
Also like Suicide Squad, the cast is the best part and easily the reason why the audience can have any fun in the first place. Margot Robbie only her portrayal of Harley Quinn, giving us a much more consistently entertaining character this time around.. You can tell this was a big passion project for Robbie, who is a credited producer, and she had a great time, and so did the rest of the cast, it seems. However, her performance and the writing does make the movie come off as a little full of itself. This is the first R-rated film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), so it really goes overboard with the violence, sex, and cursing, which all comes off as little “wink winks” to the audience. Robbie, director Cathy Yan, and screenwriter Christina Hodson clearly tried to emulate the tone of the Deadpool films with loads of cursing and violence. Sometimes too much, because I don’t even recall Deadpool saying “fuck” as much.
 
While there isn’t much to their characters, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jurnee Smollet-Bell are all perfectly cast as them, especially Winstead. The most disappointing aspect is that they’re mostly underused until the end, but the rest of the characters still keep it engaging. Ewan McGregor was the absolutely standout for me. I’m not really a comic book reader, but I am partial to Batman, and Black Mask has always been one of my favorite villains of his. He has always been a C-tier villain, but I was so satisfied to finally see him come to life, both aesthetic and character wise. McGregor imbues him with so much personality. He’s flamboyant, vain, narcissistic, and psychopathic, but that’s just what makes him so much fun to watch. Even better, he feels like a legitimate threat, with no problems cutting people’s faces off simply because of perceived slights and murdering others on a whim. 
 
Where Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) succeeds where Suicide Squad failed, is that it’s actually fun. The direction has style, the action scenes are exciting and creative (the climax at the funhouse is just terrific), the characters are more unique and entertaining, Robbie more than carries the film with her bonkers performance, and Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask is hands down one of the best comic book villains of all time. It’s not the greatest comic book film ever, and not even that great of a film, but if you want fun, Harley Quinn’s got it for you. 
 
6.5/10

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