For heroes to be born, they need an epiphany, a revelation, a sensation, etc. Superman realizes his true sense of belonging. Batman witnesses his parents shot dead in an alley. Ironman redeems himself completely at the last moment. Well, you get the point.
In Birds of Prey, the tragic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) finally breaks out of her shell in her latest motion picture. This occurs when Harley agonizingly says her adieu to her former partner-in-crime and “lover”, the Joker.
A new Harley Quinn is born
Gone are the days of Harley being the punching bag, sometimes literally, of the Joker. Finally, she recognizes the one-sidedness of that relationship after the breakup. When her acquaintances begin to gossip and comment on how Harley will always be an appendage to “Mister J,” with nothing that distinguishes her from the rest of the unnamed thugs, Harley finally has enough.
The real romp begins in the movie, however, after that straightforward breakup that lights a fire inside Harley Quinn. Narrating the entirety of the movie a la Wade Wilson, Harley takes the viewer through the new life of Harley and her gang of Femme Fatales on her own. Meanwhile, the Harley crew gets themselves tangled with a new fickle villain, a piece of jewelry, and even a child.
It is a lot of background information for what most of us are probably going to the cinema for: Harley and friends crushing and smashing the bones of bad guys for a couple of hours. But it doesn’t hurt to know, does it? It probably does, when you realize none of the extra fluff really adds to the movie. Seeing bad girls brutally crushing bad guys’ legs in multiple ways would have been enough to scratch that John Wick-esque itch you have.
Spectacles have a quality all on their own without forcing through a whole lot of exposition or heart-wrenching pathos. And when the fight sequences are as well-orchestrated as they are in Birds of Prey, a lackluster narrative distracts from what is otherwise excellent eye-candy. Better to keep it a spectacle if it was intended that way.
Heroes and villains
What happens to good ol’ Harley in the movie is she becomes something like an “excommunicado,” by saying goodbye to the Joker and his protection. Everyone who has a beef with Harley now bays for her blood. Margot Robbie portrays the former sidekick to the Joker with aplomb, blending humor, violence, and drama together. Either she amuses herself with the carnage or gets mad when bringing herself into a tight spot.
Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis also doesn’t disappoint by bringing the same level of mania and villainy. The mob boss doesn’t miss a chance to show off his fabulousness and sociopathy. Whether it’s throwing unlimited resources at eliminating Harley, being horrified at the sight of the “unrefined,” or sticking around his insane partner Victor Zsasz (Chriss Messina), Sionis showcases it all.
In the middle of the crime boss and the new queen on the block are a whole host of noteworthy personalities. From the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) to police officer Renee Montoya played by Rosie Perez, they all have something to offer. Whether it’s Montoya’s straight-shooting personality or Huntress’s social phobias, the characters all step up.
But the movie does confuse at times trying to tie all these characters together. The timeline jumbles around often in conjunction with Harley’s ADHD-style of narration. Again, here’s when background stories don’t always add to the quality.
The fun stuff in Birds of Prey
What really sets Birds of Prey apart is the complete brutalization of what constitutes the human body seen throughout. If you remember the Endgame scene in which Captain America painfully wears the shield on his smashed-up arm, there’s a lot more of it here. Fighting in this movie shows it’s possible to combine flair and style with brute force on your bones. Every cast member of the Birds of Prey has their own way of dishing out punishment. This includes Harley’s resourcefulness or the street-fighting techniques of Black Canary.
Birds of Prey also treats fans to plenty of Easter Eggs littered from beginning to end. If you are a keen observer, watch out for the Ace Chemicals factory that Harley blows up after breaking up with Joker. Fans of the Batman animated series would recognize Harley gets a pet hyena for herself. The hyena is also named after a certain billionaire who likes bats and crime-fighting. Harley also hallucinates herself into making a tribute to a Marilyn Monroe tribute, so that’s nice.
A great segment that proves the core of the movie lies in the awesome fight scenes takes place during a jailbreak. Watching the fight from Harley Quinn's eyes, smoke, bright colors and confetti accompany the carnage of guns, bombs and blunt instruments. It's a surefire way of telling the audience Harley isn't quite "right" in the head, and the world she sees is just a bit off from the rest. Meanwhile, the physical gags add that touch of comedy to Harley obliterating the gaggle of thugs sent to deal with her.
When all is said and done, it’s quite a shame that Birds of Prey can reach the heights of thrilling action but bumbles its story-telling just as much. The girl-power flick ends up being a series of high-adrenaline montages tied together by poor narratives and superfluous information. Perhaps it’s important for a movie to try to deliver something substantial in an age of female empowerment. But in this case, we’d rather just turn off our brains and leave the politicking aside.
Birds of Prey is in theaters now.