“Do you know what a harlequin is? A harlequin’s role is to serve. It’s nothing without a master. No one gives two shits who we are, beyond that.”
2016’s disappointing Suicide Squad left us wanting more of one thing: Harley Quinn. It’s only fitting that we grasped the only good thing to come out of that movie. Now we have this year’s Harley vehicle in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. Yes, it’s a mouth full. But at least it brings us the always talented, Margo Robbie, returning as Joker’s diabolical girlfriend. This time she’s on her own, struggling to find her way after Joker dumped her. Now without her ex-paramour to help her, all the notorious villains who she’s wronged in the past, are gunning for her. Most notably, Black Mask. Harley must survive through her use of violence and quick wit. But as much as we love Harley, Birds of Prey is filled with too many problems to make this a great DC Universe film.
Truth is, myself, as I’m sure so many others, crave a bad-ass female movie coming from the DC Universe. Although Wonder Woman is incredible, it would be nice to have another female included. Birds of Prey is Robbie’s baby. It’s rumored that the idea for this film came from Robbie wanting to recreate Harley Quinn in her own story. And to be honest, if you love Robbie in Suicide Squad, you’ll enjoy her here too. The problem with Birds of Prey doesn’t rest in Robbie’s performance. Nor does it rest in the exciting action that plays throughout the film. No, the problems rest with pretty much everything else.
Birds of Prey’s story escalates after Harley’s drunken mistake of blowing up Joker’s hideout. Now she’s fair game as she quickly falls into the hands of Roman Sionis, or Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). And while McGregor tries to be a villainous character, his performance comes off as dull, and not even a little bit, intimidating. He’s not the vicious Black Mask the comics make him out to be. So of course Harley makes a deal, in effort to save her own skin, which is when she runs into the young Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). If there’s one character that could have been omitted from Birds of Prey, it would have been Cain. Her and Harley’s buddy relationship turns into what I can only describe as an older kid having their annoying younger sibling tagging along. We continue with Harley’s crazy antics… blah blah blah, which leads us to the forming of the Birds of Prey, or the women who will soon make up the Birds of Prey. Something like that. The title doesn’t fully come into play until the final act. Basically, the women who lack the character development to make up the Birds.
Among the chaos, the supporting cast of women includes both Black Canary (Journee Smollett-Bell), a lounge singer turned bad-ass, and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), an ex-cop frustrated by the “boys club” mentality of her precinct. These two characters, although key players in the storyline, don’t have much to stand on in terms of interesting origin stories. It’s all just smoke and mirrors by creating characters that can throw a mean uppercut, but lack the tenacity that could have made them great. What made me want to root for them? Nothing, really. The performances from both Smollett-Bell and Perez weren’t bad, but they just didn’t jell with the rest of the movie. But to say that, means the movie knew where it was going, and I have a feeling it didn’t. By utilizing these lackluster characters, Robbie’s talents and humor gets lost in the shuffle. Birds of Prey tries to introduce all these women, but doesn’t have the time to fully flush them out. And in the end, they come off weak and unimportant.
Of course it’s all about Harley for the majority of Birds of Prey; she’s what brought us here in the first place. However, it’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, The Huntress, that needed more screen time. Huntress constantly hides in the shadows, wielding a cross-bow (let’s be clear, it’s not a bow and arrow) at her side. I believe that Huntress’ storyline, although predictable, has the most potential. I wouldn’t be mad if DC made a solo project about her, but I doubt that’s ever going to happen. It’s only towards the end of the film when we get to see Winstead’s talents as this character. Her quick one-liners, and awkward personality, made Huntress even more appealing than the rest of the cast. Winstead has shown-off strong female characters within her filmography, but she needs to be given an opportunity to really shine in an action movie, and not just be a sub-plot character.
When it comes down to it, Birds of Prey rests on its laurels, and rests solely on the fact that Robbie’s star-power, and a female-driven storyline, will garner itself some recognition. But because of this, the writing feels lazy. Birds of Prey can still conjure up some interesting, action-packed, entertainment if Warner Brothers decides to take another go at this franchise. I’m not counting it out just yet. This may be a great jumping off point to really utilize this group of women. However, there’s nothing here that really sets apart Birds of Prey from other DC films, or superhero films in general. With weak characters and an uninteresting story, paired with an R-rating, it’s no wonder Birds of Prey couldn’t capitalize on the popularity of one Harley Freakin’ Quinn.
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Ewan McGregor