The DCEU has been a mixed bag quality wise since its inception in 2013. While it’s had its highs (Wonder Woman is still the peak thus far), there has also been the likes of Justice League, Batman vs Superman, and most relevant to this review: Suicide Squad. The latter is arguably their worst effort to date, a two hour mish-mash of noise and colour with little coherence and the narrative heft of a standard music video. The fact that the trailer (which was admittedly fantastic) was better than the final product speaks volumes after all.
Nevertheless, the problems with Suicide Squad were no fault of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and with Birds of Prey, audiences finally take a look at a film entirely devoted to her character. There has been some discussion online about whether the movie centring purely on Quinn is wise. The Birds of Prey are a group after all. But to be fair, when a character as popular as Robbie’s Quinn is in a film, it’s rather difficult to resist making her the star (and indeed chief selling point).
The film is from her perspective. Harley is down on her luck, freshly split from the Joker, and struggling to forge an independent identity. Various shenanigans ensue (don’t they always?) leading her to team up with other badass female anti-heroes, in order to take down crime boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). It’s hardly a revolutionary premise: form a team, defeat a villain, done. But when you have a character as dynamic and interesting as Harley, that hardly matters.
Yes Robbie is superb in the role, as we all knew she would be. Unlike in Suicide Squad however, she’s able to fulfil her full potential on both a drama and action front. She excels in the conversational scenes through wacky and chaotic characterisation but brings an effortless sense of fun to the violence on screen. The character is anarchic and takes joy in large scale fights, and Robbie imbues the character with that spontaneity.
That’s of course helped by fantastic fight choreography (possibly the best the DCEU has produced thus far), and Director Cathy Yan (with the help of reshoots helmed by Chad Stahelski) produce zippy and colourful action sequences. They’re easily the best aspect of the film, and likely what it will be remembered for. Kudos to Yan for coming straight from the Indie scene to major blockbuster entertainment seamlessly.
Where the movie falters is in its structure and writing. It’s clear that with the R rating and heavy use of narration is inspired by the likes of Tarantino, and even more so Guy Ritchie. Similar to The Gentlemen last month, the script dips into ideas of unreliable narration, non-linear story structures and continuous introductions of new and returning characters in a large ensemble cast. On a surface level, this provides for a fast and energetic pace, but it also results in little depth or attachment to character. By the end of the movie, you will no doubt be thrilled, but it can’t help but feel a little empty.
This sense of insubstantiality is even clearer during the climax. While the final action sequence is exceptionally choreographed, the payoff is anti-climactic and a little lazy, and it’s clear that the filmmakers were rushing to a rather standard and familiar conclusion. Five more minutes would have been enough to bring a sense of narrative heft to the film’s wrap up. In a way, that in itself is remarkable. How often do you hear someone wishing a film were a little longer?
6.5/10: Birds of Prey is a sugar rush of comic book crazy, but a script that relied less on zingers and invested more in character and plot would have made the thrill more meaningful.