We can all admit that the only real saving grace to 2016’s Suicide Squad was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn, which seems to be the genesis of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) as the star of this film is that irascible Harleen Quinzel as she flamboyantly bounces around the streets of Gotham City from one wacky moment to the next. So don’t be fooled by the title, even though the Birds of Prey may be part of this cast of characters, what we have here is a Harley Quinn solo picture disguised as an ensemble piece.
In this latest outing of the DC Extended Universe, we find Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) on the outs with her long-time boyfriend the Joker — him kicking her out in such a way that it’s obvious they didn’t want to pay Jared Leto for a cameo — but without the protection of the Joker, our poor Harley finds most of Gotham’s underworld turned against her. It seems while working with the Clown Prince of Crime she made more enemies than friends and now everyone wants to see her dead. Top of that list is club owner and renowned gangster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) aka Black Mask, who, between having people’s faces sliced off by his chief henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina ), is trying to form a mob empire with himself as head cheese.
To achieve said goal, Roman requires a special diamond that once belonged to the Bertinelli Crime Family because within its facets are the bank account numbers that would give Roman the ability to bribe his way to the top of Gotham. Unfortunately, there are a couple obstacles in the way of this plan, with one being the mysterious “Crossbow Killer” who has been randomly killing off mobsters; she will later be revealed to be Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) aka The Huntress, who has returned to Gotham to avenge the gangland slaying of her family. The other problem revolves around young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco ) who randomly chose Zsasz as an easy mark and lifted the precious diamond from his pocket. The remainder of the film is Roman and his goons trying to get their hands on Cassandra and the diamond while Harley Quinn tries to keep her safe. But why is the notorious crazy Harley Quinn helping a kid, you ask? Well, to get Roman to call off his contract on her, she offers to find Cassandra and retrieve the diamond.
You may have noticed I only mentioned one actual Birds of Prey member, that being The Huntress, but we also have Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez) a police detective obsessed with putting Roman behind bars, and then there is Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) aka Black Canary, a singer at Roman’s nightclub who bizarrely gets “promoted” from singer to driver to henchperson because he saw her kick the shit out of a couple of assholes in an alley. Neither of these characters bear more than passing resemblance to their comic book counterparts and for the life of me, I can’t understand why Dinah would be willing to work for such a psychotic criminal as the Black Mask. Dinah is the one person in this movie with an actual superpower, her ultrasonic Canary scream that has ten-fold the capabilities of most sonic weapons, but for some reason, she meekly takes orders from an unstable dude with a thing for creepy masks and murder. This is not the Black Canary comic book fans will recognize.
• We have gangland slayings all over Gotham, yet Batman barely gets a name-drop. Is he at home, washing his tights?
• Cassandra swallowing a rather large diamond has to be one of the dumbest plot points in cinema history. Not only would this object be hard to swallow, but by the end of the film she’d be dead of internal bleeding.
• In the comics, Cassandra is the daughter of Lady Shiva and eventually becomes Batgirl; none of that will have any bearing on this film.
• Notorious serial killer Victor Zsasz is reduced to being a crazy henchman in this outing.
• Apparently, a beanbag gun is all that’s required to successfully assault the Gotham City Police Department. Do the cops in Gotham not carry guns while inside their own department?
• A drunken Montoya manages to hold her own in a fight against Harley despite previous scenes showing Harley acrobatically wiping the floor when fighting numerous opponents.
• Black Mask bizarrely sends a wave of thugs armed only with clubs and knives after our girls. Why, was his gun budget cut along with the GCPD’s?
• Harley Quinn and her Birds of Prey buddies have the memory capacity of goldfish for after defeating that bunch of poorly armed goons, they stroll out of the funhouse with seemingly no concern about Black Mask and the rest of his army of thugs waiting for them.
As in the case of Suicide Squad, it’s Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn that holds this film together, with a decidedly Deadpoolesque narrative device and story structure that should force the producers to pay Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds residuals. The action scenes with Harley are superbly choreographed and varied throughout the film, allowing Marbot Robbie to prove she has the makings of a real action star. On the villain side of things, Ewan MacGregor seemed to be relishing the role of psychotic mobster Black Mask, but his manic charm lessened his ability to come across as anything other than an annoyance. Then again, when our heroes consist of a drunken detective and a nightclub singer, one who seems to forget she has a superpower until the Deus ex Machina moment is required, maybe a big-league villain wasn’t required. On the real crime side of things, we have the incredibly talented Mary Elizabeth Winstead who I’m assuming was told to rein in all that she’d learned as an actress and turn herself into a charisma vacuum of unparalleled boringness. This version of Huntress wouldn’t pass muster on TV’s Arrow.
I’m not saying Margot Robbie stole this movie, it’s more like it was handed to her on a silver platter. I’d say her hyena was given better character development than some of the supposed Birds of Prey we get here.
Comic Book Note: In this movie, Harley adopts a spotted hyena and names him Bruce, after billionaire Bruce Wayne, but in the comics and cartoons, she had two hyenas named Bud and Lou after the famous comedy team of Abbott and Costello.
That all said, I will admit to having fun with this movie and Margot Robbie is a true treasure — I’d watch her read the phone book — but due to the popularity of Harley Quinn, and the actress herself, the character was allowed to dominate the film, thus crowding out her castmates as well as the plot. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is an entertaining enough film, but once viewed, it will most likely be quickly forgotten.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Movie Rank - 6/10
Director Cathy Yan has orchestrated a rather fun and light action film – with enough violence to garner that Deadpool “R” rating – but a little more work on the script would have been nice.