I’ll start by saying that I really wanted to enjoy this film!
Not all is lost in the film, it’s not steaming hot garbage or even anywhere close, it feels truly earnest in it’s attempts at being a fun girl power comic book action flick. But the execution feels clunky and strange, as though it passed through a dozen or so writers and re-shoots. Ultimately ending up as a mishmash of cool ideas and set pieces but without a strong story to piece it all together.
We can start with the good – everything I enjoyed. The acting in general is solid! No un-forgiveable or boring performances, everyone tries to make the most of whatever material they have to work with. The most notable performances would be Ewan McGregor who alongside Margot Robbie, is relishing his role as a DC villain. Robbie herself is outstanding in her role as Harley Quinn. I can confidently that nobody else could do it like her and it was a joy to watch her again, if you enjoyed her in Suicide Squad. I particularly enjoyed smaller moments and pieces of dialogue that showed her background in psychology and her life before the Joker and how she is in fact, very intelligent as well as ruthless and insane. Huntress as well for her part was personally my favourite out of the Birds Of Prey ensemble, her story and character felt so classically comic book and corny that I could not help but enjoy her moments of ‘badassness’ along with the awkward attempts of trying to stand tall as a vigilante.
It is worth mentioning that there are significant improvements made from Suicide Squad’s version of Harley Quinn. The director’s stance and the way he presented and dressed the female characters. Gone are the leery camera angles of characters getting undressed and the impractical short shorts and replaced is a more colourful and fun presentation that shows clearly a woman’s voice and involvement that are crucial. The action was also very well done. The film leans into its R rating without becoming a gore fest – the brutality and unpredictable fighting style of Harley is extremely fun to watch, seeing her go from shooting glitter bombs at cops to pelting mobsters with a baseball bat and a bag of cocaine was delightful. She gets a fair share of brutal hand to hand combat set pieces, which is refreshing. Not surprising considering that a lot of the film’s action pieces had to be re-shot by the action choreography director behind John Wick.
Now, onto the bad and ugly.
While Ewan McGregor’s performance as Black Mask is earnest, it is confused and muddled because the script isn’t certain of what it wants him to be exactly. He strides a strange line between sadistic and chilling to comical and gleeful, which is fine but the problem arises in exactly how serious the film wants to be in this depiction of the sadistic villain. There are scenes of his brutality on display, but they’re so disconnected from the rest of the film that they almost seem thrown in just to make sure that the audience really knows for certain that he’s mean. It seems meaningless to have a scene just for the audience to see how evil he is, if the other characters are totally unaffected by it. His motivations are also cloudy at best and nonexistent at worst. Harley makes a tongue in cheek joke about it, and how he could have any number of reasons for why he wants to hurt her, but doesn’t actually give one or even allude to one other than the fact that he’s ‘crAaAaAazy’. It’s tiring and old.
Next gripe is a little more comic book nerdy on my part, but it must be acknowledged. Cassandra Cain is not Cassandra Cain. At least, she isn’t who her comic counterpart is. Adaptation of comic books for the big screen necessitates some sacrifice of story or character beats, which is understandable. But in the film, Cassandra Cain gets it the worst to the point where the only thing she shares with her comic counterpart is her ethnicity and name. A mute and silent lethal assassin brainwashed by her parents to kill Batman only to eventually become his protege and take up the mantle of Bat-girl has now been turned into a snarky pickpocket orphan who cannot fight and has little to no personality other than idolising Harley Quinn. It wouldn’t be a huge disappointment if she was just a side character. But she is the central crux of the film who other characters and the whole plot revolves around and her lack of personality or any real bite sticks out like a sore thumb against the other more fleshed out realised characters. They could have used anyone else, but I can’t shake the feeling that they wanted to include Cassandra to expand the amount of representation seen on screen in this film. An admirable feet, but ends up destroying the real character of Cassandra Cain for anyone who might want to read comics or media with her after this film because she is so different.
The pacing was a turn off. It’s almost laughable how quickly elements and pieces were introduced and then dropped or forgotten. Here is a character who is defined by his kindness and how he will never turn on Harley Quinn! Two minutes later, he has sold her out for money landing her into immediate danger. The narration and non linear storytelling left much to be desired. I can understand why they were implemented as a sort of comedic interruption similar to Deadpool, but they hindered the movie instead of moving it along. Harley’s interruptions often cut through the action and killed the momentum of the story. They are largely abandoned for the second half of the film but it’s still strange to think of why it was even there to begin with. The writing as well had a lot of the jokes falling flat. Another personal gripe for me at least is the lack of a real soundtrack, similar to Suicide Squad where scenes are punctuated by remixes and songs written or copy-written for the film, making it feel more like a trailer cut.
You could also tell there moments included in the film solely for their inclusion in the trailer, Harley’s big Marilyn Monroe sequence shown so clearly in the trailers and advertisement isn’t even one minute long, instead just cut quickly and briefly to some music to portray her being slightly dizzy after being beat up. Disappointed to say the least.
I understand that most comic book movies aren’t supposed to really big shiny artistic set pieces to push the boundaries of a film. Sometimes they can just be a fun mess you can go watch mindlessly without needing to know much of anything and purely on that level, there is something to be gained from this film as pure fun joyous spectacle. However, the problems that arose were ones I could not ignore while watching. There are better, more visually interesting action films to watch and ultimately this film left a lot to be desired. The most profound and lasting effect of Bird’s of Prey is that it gave me a month long craving for bacon egg and cheese sandwich and I likely won’t go see it again. If you’re on the fence of thinking about checking it out, I’d say go for it. Don’t go in expecting the Mona Lisa but don’t just settle for a Lisa Frank.