The Peanut Gallery Reviews Birds of Prey
PG Score: 7.25/10
Birds of Prey is a refreshing addition to the DC Extended Universe. It’s not without flaws, but it does enough things right to make it a win. Combining mostly effective humor, a wildly amusing protagonist, an equally entertaining villain, and a plentiful helping of bone-breaking carnage, BoP proves to be more than just an impressive Harley Quinn vehicle. The plot follows Harley Quinn immediately after breaking up with the Joker. She then joins forces with other vigilantes to save a young girl from evil crime lord Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). While Harley isn’t the only attraction, she certainly is the main one. Fear not, as the character, as well the actress behind her, are worthy of the attention they draw. Margot Robbie is at the top of her game here. As evidenced in Suicide Squad, she was born to play HQ. She’s a natural fit in everything from her quirky mannerisms, dizzying inflections, kooky facial expressions, and unique delivery. Quinn is an absolutely insane character and Robbie captures all of her craziness to an astonishingly effective degree. Ewan McGregor does a superb job as Black Mask, the nemesis opposite Harley Quinn. He plays the maniacal villain role well and never tries to do too much. He’s not a physically imposing bad guy but the power that comes from his wealth and connections heavily outweighs his lack of fighting capability. McGregor wholeheartedly embraces that dynamic and embodies this brand of egotistical evildoer in an engaging fashion. He’s also responsible for some of the film’s funnier moments and has good chemistry with Robbie. The two make for very entertaining onscreen adversaries. The group of supporting characters is hit or miss. It feels as though some of them don’t receive the backstory and character development they deserve. The movie is narrated by HQ and, as such, it follows her zany personality in both storytelling style and chronology. As a result, some supporting characters have their origin stories very quickly recapped. Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Helena Bertinelli, aka The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), are two who fall into this unfortunate category. They’re both integral to the plot, yet their stories and motives aren’t given the proper dedication. Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is granted more screen time, so her character and her backstory hold more weight.
All of the actresses do a fine job in their respective roles, but as a direct effect of the sparse character development, they aren’t given enough opportunity to truly stand out. This issue becomes especially apparent during the climax when these characters come together to form the literal Birds of Prey. It feels as though they’re all just thrown together for a common cause without much rhyme or reason other than a relatively brief exchange. With the necessary character development, the film’s finale would’ve packed a bigger punch. Director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) does an admirable job in accomplishing most of what she aspired to in this movie. It is clear early on that Birds of Prey is meant to be very empowering to women. It’s a film filled with strong female characters who are fighting back against the male-dominated system that wronged them. She doesn’t force the issue and shows commendable restraint in refraining from pushing the agenda down the viewer’s throat. It’s conveyed in a subtle enough manner where it becomes desirable to pay attention and even reflect. Instead of piping in blatant one-liners and all-too-familiar monologues, Yan wisely chooses to allow the characters’ actions to do most of the work for her. It’s a decision that benefits the movie from both a messaging and entertainment perspective. The writing is decent for the most part. It is often funny and filled with clever remarks and witty zingers that are guaranteed to garner at least a few chuckles. It does suffer from a few lapses and some jokes do miss. However, it adequately serves its purpose overall.
It’s also worth noting that the mash-up of color palettes is extremely effective. The gritty and bleak Gotham backdrop is interestingly accompanied by a multitude of vibrant costumes donned by Harley. This unique pairing provides a contrast that surprisingly works quite well. Another plus is the killer soundtrack. It matches the onscreen action nicely and is particularly fitting during the fight sequences. The action itself is frequent and overall, satisfying. Birds of Prey makes good use of its hard R rating and focuses heavily on melee combat. Harley and friends use bats, brass knuckles, knives, sledgehammers, and anything else they can get their hands on to maim, crush, break, stab, and absolutely eviscerate their foes...and boy, are there a lot of them. The body count is through the roof and there are a few deaths/injuries in particular that are delightfully grimace-inducing. Yan doubles down on the fight sequences and revels in the mayhem that the femme fatales produce. While a lot of these set pieces are very good and some even great, the climax fails to measure up. The hits don’t feel as hefty and the violence overall isn’t as impactful. Considering the beautiful brawls that are witnessed leading up to it, this drop-off in quality is a big disappointment. Cathy Yan has injected some much needed success into the lifeblood of the DCEU. Despite its mishaps, Birds of Prey is still an entertaining romp that is worth seeing on the big screen.