It’s clear from the outset of “Birds of Prey” that the writers saw this film as an opportunity to reset this part of the DC universe, and with Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) split from the Joker, she, too, is able to start anew.
As the full title (“Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn”) suggests, this film introduces a new team of heroes, but is largely a Harley Quinn-focused movie. Harley executes a Deadpool-like control of the narrative and her unpredictability brings about a certain quality of zaniness that is a pure joy to watch.
The movie starts off with an animated sequence that spells out more of Harleen Quinzel’s background, but the animation is only the first sign of the madness to come. Live-action Harley begins in a drunken state of depression that catapults her into the middle of the film’s central conflict with Roman Sionis aka Black Mask. Roman is an entitled and narcissistic mobster capable of extreme acts of violence and cruelty (this film earns every bit of its R-rating). Ewan McGregor plays the role with a contagious sense of glee and is so fantastic that Star Wars fans still screaming about the Obi-Wan Kenobi series may find themselves torn between wanting more of McGregor as the famous Jedi or more of McGregor as Black Mask.
Not to be outdone by her more famous ex, Harley Quinn is an infinitely more interesting character than the Joker. Whereas the Joker is simply running towards chaos at every available opportunity, Harley is more of a mix of worlds, loving the excitement of being a criminal, but also deep down wanting more in her life. Harley manages to accomplish both as she develops a mentor-like relationship with Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young thief who finds herself deeper in the criminal underworld of Gotham City than she could ever have dreamed. While nearly every second of screen time is filled with action and humor that will excite fans of the comic book film genre, this pair’s relationship is truly the best part of the movie. Even the most comic book-skeptical of movie fans (yes, I mean, Martin Scorsese) should enjoy their dynamic.
With very few mentions of Batman (stick around for the humorous after-credits “sequence”), “Birds of Prey” also feels noticeably smaller in scale than previous entries in the DCEU and that is the film’s biggest strength. No gods of war (“Wonder Woman”), advanced aliens (“Man of Steel”) or fish-talking kings (“Aquaman”) are to be found here. The “Birds of Prey” at the center of the movie are really just a group of women who work together in order to live to see the next day.
There really isn’t a weak member of this team. Next to Harley Quinn, my favorite part of this team is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s version of Huntress. Those familiar with Arrow’s interpretation of Huntress should be prepared for something entirely different as Winstead is allowed to flex her comedy skills in a role that is simultaneously incredibly serious and extremely funny. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is also fantastic in her role as Dinah Laurel Lance AKA the Black Canary, who is forced to choose between a cozy spot on the payroll of Roman Sionis and the decidedly uncomfortable life of a superhero. On the other side of the law is Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), whose mostly formulaic story is saved by the eccentric quality of the narrative as told by Harley Quinn.
Brandon’s Verdict: I think DC has finally found the sweet spot they have been searching for since the launch of their franchise. DC films don’t need to be happy-go-lucky silly like Marvel, but they also don’t need to be as somber as a funeral. “Birds of Prey” is a film that perfectly encapsulates its main character and reaps the rewards for doing so with unique style.
We’re not very far into the year yet, but so far, “Birds of Prey” is my favorite film of 2020!
DCEU Films Ranked:
1. “Birds of Prey”
4. “Wonder Woman” (would be ranked higher if not for its boring villain)
5. “Man of Steel”
6. “Suicide Squad”
7. “Batman v Superman” (could have been the most depressing film of 2016 if not for “Manchester by the Sea”)
8. “Justice League”