Despite having one of the most horrendous starts that a movie franchise could ever have, it appears things are finally looking up for Warner Bros’ DC Universe. After their big superhero mash-ups Batman v Superman, The Justice League and Suicide Squad were all disappointing messes, it seemed like that DC Universe would be destined for failure. And when it looked like Warner Bros would change their strategy to just focus on standalone movies, like The Joker, it felt like they were simply going to make the rest of the movies out of duty.
With Aquaman making over a billion at the box office and Shazam! proving to be a success things were looking brighter. With Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) opening this weekend, it appears things are on the up as the movie has seen reviews comes out all praising the film for its great action, an excellent sense of fun and an incredible lead performance from Margot Robbie. From not being able to get anything right, it seems DC is not able to do anything wrong at the moment:
Birds of Prey is a true ensemble in the sense that it doesn’t work because one person or one part is excellent, but because they all are. In addition to Hodson’s script, what truly elevates Birds of Prey is Cathy Yan’s directing and vision for the film, which is realized in the action, costumes and music. The fighting sequences are absolutely brutal and choreographed in a way to showcase the characters’ respective abilities. Harley’s gymnast moves make a return, and when she gets her hands on a bat, the Cupid of Crime really lets loose – and it’ll leave audiences breathless with exhilaration.
Each piece of the filmmaking process comes together and gels incredibly well in this movie, leading to an effective and effortlessly enjoyable film. Each member of the titular Birds of Prey is looking for something they need, and each of them finds surprising but believable depths in themselves during their missions. None of this feels forced or artificial, either. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a shot of adrenaline right into the heart of the DCEU, giving it a sense of style, emotion and colour that feels wholly unique, but still fits within this version of the DC Universe.
Birds of Prey certainly errs on the side of style over substance – if you dig too far into its flashy surface, you may not find much underneath. It’s not saying anything deep or ground-breaking about the female experience or the nature of revenge. Birds of Prey is revelling in being as gonzo and stylish as it can be. But when the fights are this thrilling and the humour this absurd, whatever’s underneath the surface doesn’t matter all that much.
In terms of sheer fun, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) delivers in spades. Its zany energy, visceral fight sequences, and focus on one of DC’s most fascinating characters ensure that it continues Warner Bros.’ winning streak of big, bombastic comic book adaptations that are unafraid to embrace their inherent ridiculousness. While its emphasis on Harley Quinn doesn’t leave much room for the Birds of Prey (though each scores a standout moment), the movie is a stunning showcase for Margot Robbie, who commands the screen and gives her damaged protagonist all the dimension she deserves.
Yan keeps some tricky plates spinning: With the anarchic Quinn on the loose in a somewhat straightforward crime piece, “Birds of Prey” is required to jump from serious to silly and back again at a moment’s notice, and the director always has a firm grasp on the material. As for her female gaze, it’s most apparent when Roman humiliates a female guest at his nightclub; the camera pulls back discreetly, refusing to be his accomplice. (Here, the drooling close-ups are reserved for breakfast treats.) When it comes to the film’s titular wonder women, however, we are firmly drawn in as they fight for their lives and for their own agency. And if we don’t get quite enough insight into Renee or Dinah or Cassandra, hey, that’s what sequels are for, and “Birds of Prey” left me wanting one, which is about the most anyone can hope for in a big-screen comics adaptation.
It’s still mostly up to Robbie, though, to carry the story, and she does it with a giddy mix of mad-dog ruthlessness and girlish glee; a kiss blown with a brass-knuckled fist. Her Harley isn’t looking to be redeemed, but beneath all the red-lipped nihilism, she doesn’t want to be alone, either – even if her closest companions are the Taiwanese takeout guy down the street and a pet hyena named Bruce. Does the movie’s pop-feminist message need to be as consistently, cartoonishly violent as it is? Almost definitely not. But in a world gone mad, the catharsis of Prey’s twisted sisterhood doesn’t just read as pandemonium for its own sake; it’s actually pretty damn sweet.
Though the title nods to Harley’s reluctant companions, Birds of Prey is really the Harley Quinn show, down to its structure. The story zips back and forth in time, embracing animation, on-screen captions, dream sequences, and intermittent voiceover to capture Harley’s hyperactive state of mind, and it goes heavy on both bone-crunching violence and tongue-in-cheek jokes. These efforts aren’t always to the movie’s benefit. The time-jumping is oddly paced, making the narrative unnecessarily confusing in the early going, and the brutality and humour don’t always sit well together… Thankfully, Robbie’s shining performance cuts through the murk like a neon sign in a dark alleyway. Suicide Squad showed Robbie’s Harley as a force to be reckoned with, and Birds of Prey allows her to add more depth and shading. She’s still equal parts obnoxious, lovable, and terrifying, but she also lets slip hints of uncertainty, vulnerability, and even tenderness.
At the behest of star and producer Margot Robbie, the working title for (deep breath) Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) was ‘Fox Force Five’. For the uninitiated, ‘Fox Force Five’ is Mia Wallace’s (Uma Thurman) never-aired TV pilot in Pulp Fiction concerning five female secret agents each with a distinct identity and skill – a knife thrower, a kung fu master, a demolition expert and a French girl whose “speciality was sex”. It’s a particularly apt part-time alias for Robbie’s passion project, the first big-screen outing for DC’s all-women superhero squad. Because Birds Of Prey not only shares the DNA of a girl gang who can kick your sorry ass – Cathy Yan’s film also boasts some of the subversive and rockabilly spirit of QT’s ’94 classic. It doesn’t all work, but it’s a gaudy, muddled, mostly entertaining glitter-grenade celebration of just how women can f*ck sh*t up.
Well, that sounds like an incredible movie to me. It might not be perfect and the movie is probably more Harley Quinn than Birds of Prey, but the film sounds like it oozes loads of character and great fun, which is exactly what you would want in a film like this (and what was missing in earlier DC films). We’re hosting a screening of the movie tonight with our lucky competition winners where we will finally be able to get to see all this fun for ourselves.
Last Updated: February 6, 2020
Llama In The Rift
February 6, 2020 at 10:31
Have strange feeling it’s gonna be a split between the critics and the public,
Will wait and see what happens on Rotten Tamatoes and Metacritic, quite fun watching everybody freak out.
February 6, 2020 at 10:18
Hope these positive reviews translate into a billion dollars.
February 6, 2020 at 17:03
Being a fan of the source material I can tell that I’m clearly not the target demographic here so I’ll give it a miss…