Birds Of Prey Review: How Fly Is It?
February 26, 2020
It’s amazing how far Harley Quinn has come, hasn’t it?
Harley Quinn, first originating in the 1990’s TV show “Batman: The Animated Series” (possibly my favorite television series of all time), initially intent as a walk-on roll, has become one of the most popular characters in all of DC. So much so that she finally has her own movie, albeit alongside the “Birds Of Prey” (minus Batgirl and Batwoman.) And, with initial positive responses and coming off the heels of Shazam, a movie I really liked, I was expecting quite a bit from this movie. Did I get it?
Here’s the thing.“Birds Of Prey” is not a bad movie. Quite the opposite, I thought it was at least decent, if not outright good. But it feels like a film that has a lot of the same problems that critics chastised films like “Justice League” and “Suicide Squad” for, and yet seems to get something of a pass for it.
Like always, let’s start with the positives, of which there are quite a few. Like “Suicide Squad”, the performances here are pretty solid across the board. I’m not the hugest fan of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (her Bronx accent is a pretty obvious put on, which makes sense given that Robbie’s Australian) but she does deliver quite a few laughs and serves as a decent protagonist, even if she does hog the film’s spotlight in terms of how much screen time she gets. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jurnee Smollet-Bell, despite not having a lot to really do, give excellent performances in their own right, and their characters are both entertaining, and in Bell’s case, genuinely sympathetic. But for me, the stand-out performer here is Ewan McGregor. Yeah, yeah, I know, I pick the dude in the movie full of women, but he deserves it. The way he can switch from being funny, scary, elegant, entitled, menacing, and pitiful all on a dime is nothing short of astounding. On top of that, it’s at least decently written, with a nonlinear opening that’s not too hard to follow, the jokes are mostly pretty solid, and there are some very cool fight scenes.
For me, the problem of this film is largely its story. Simply put: I think there were other things the filmmakers could have focused on that would have been more interesting. I would have loved to have seen Winstead (Huntress) and Smollet-Bell (Black Canary) as more fleshed out characters with more screen time, but there just kind of thrown away for what’s essentially a Harley Quinn movie (which is ironic given that the movie is called “Birds Of Prey”, with Harley Quinn’s name being plastered on the subtitle.) Which is fine, I guess, but even her story feels like it’s focusing on the wrong things. For example, her breaking up with the Joker is just kind of the backdrop. We don’t even see the Joker at all. Granted, I know Jared Leto wasn’t exactly the world’s most popular choice, but you could have recast him. I mean why not have McGregor as the Joker? He would have been amazing!
On top of that, when I saw the ending, where the Birds Of Prey are established and Harley Quinn has a new apprentice in the form of Cassandra Cain (a teenage girl played surprisingly well by Ella Jay Basco) , I couldn’t help but just think: “Wow, this movie would be so much more interesting if this was where we started off.” This is my biggest problem with the movie overall. It just feels like the emphasis, story-wise, is on the wrong things. To make this work better you would either need to A. Beef up this movie’s runtime by at least a half hour, giving us a scene establishing why Harley Quinn and the Joker broke up, giving us more time with Winstead and Smollet-Bell’s characters, maybe even spending more time with McGregor, or B. Split this up into several movies. Start with a film about the Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship (I heard they were going to make something like that with the guys from “The Hangover”, and I’m stumped why they just didn’t do that first), then make a film about Huntress (Winstead), then Black Canary (Smollet-Bell), introduce McGregor’s character in one of them, and then make a movie where they all team up. That way things are streamlined, we know who these characters are, and its more profitable. I mean that’s basically what Marvel did with The Avengers. But doing it this way just makes everything feel cluttered and as if its not living up to its potential.
Oh well. I suppose I shouldn’t judge this movie by what I, as a movie nerd, would want it to be. I should judge it for what it is, and for what it is, it’s decent. It has a lot of good scenes, a lot of good characters, a lot of good jokes, and a lot of good action scenes. If you want to get your girlfriends together and watch a girl squad superhero movie, then this is more or less the only one out there, so, yeah, pick it up. As is, I’m thinking a 6/10 and a passive recommendation, if only for McGregor and some of the other characters. “Birds Of Prey” may have tried to soar, but I think it may have needed a little bit more wind beneath its wings.