BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) -- An Ambitious but Overly Convoluted Superhero Comedy
Review by Sean Boelman
Although it will likely come to be known as the “Harley Quinn movie”, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is so much more, but that may not be a good thing. At the same time a breakup movie, a discussion of feminism, a fish-out-of-water comedy, and a superhero flick, there is a lot going on in this script, and while director Cathy Yan’s attempts to bring them all together are admirable, it is disjointed to the point of feeling overwhelming.
The film picks up long after the events of Suicide Squad with Harley Quinn and Joker now having broken up, sending Quinn on a quest of self-realization when her past comes back to haunt her. Ultimately, there isn’t a particularly strong plot in the first half of the movie, the narrative simply following Quinn as various figures (somewhat entertainingly) try to kill her. But when the main plot does kick in, it is a far too convoluted telling of conventional beats.
Arguably the biggest issue with this film is that it tries too hard to be funny. The first twenty minutes are far more aggressive than the rest of the movie, artificially trying to hook the viewer with awkwardly-timed humor and over-the-top visual gags. Although there are some laughs to be found in this portion, the film is much more satisfying once it gets over these attempts to be tongue-in-cheek.
The way in which the movie handles its characters is also questionable at times. Although there is a strong and positive feminist undertone in the film, it feels like more could have been done with some of the characters. One of the most frustrating things about the script is that it portrays Quinn as ditsy and sometimes even lacking in intelligence, even when the movie addresses her background as a brilliant psychiatrist.
(L-r) MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD as Huntress, MARGOT ROBBIE as Harley Quinn, ROSIE PEREZ as Renee Montoya, ELLA JAY BASCO as Cassandra Cain and JURNEE SMOLLETT-BELL as Black Canary in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN),” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Claudette Barius & © DC Comics.
That said, Robbie is charming as ever in her role as Quinn. She was the biggest standout in Suicide Squad, and now that she has gotten a movie of her own, she is able to prove just how great she is at commanding the screen. She is also surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast, the MVP of which is Ewan McGregor in what is arguably a career-best turn as the film’s antagonist. He chews the scenery, and is a ton of fun to watch every time he is on screen.
Additionally, the movie features some very impressive and creative action. Although the CGI is a bit lacking at times, the choreography for the fight scenes is excellent and creative. Yan brings a visual style to the film that feels both unique and reminiscent of a comic book, filled with vibrant colors and accompanied by an energetic soundtrack. This is particularly evident in the two main action sequences which are packed with energy.
The movie isn’t a total slam dunk on a technical level, though. There are a handful of sequences that are overly chaotic or edited in a messy way. Granted, everything feels purposeful unlike Suicide Squad, which was simply haphazard, but an ambitious swing and a miss is arguably more disappointing than a safe but messy popcorn movie.
There are a lot of great moments in Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), but it is sadly too convoluted for its own good. Still, this is very much a step in the right direction for the DC Extended Universe, as this and Shazam! prove that they are moving towards more standalone auteur-driven fare.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) opens in theaters on February 7.