Okay, now that I have that ridiculously long official title out of the way, Birds of Prey will be how I refer to this film in this review. Why they would ever think of a long title like that, is beyond me, but whatever. Birds of Prey was supposed to be some kind of “apology” or “restitution” for the dismal reception of Suicide Squad. David Ayer’s version with Will Smith as Deadshot and Jared Leto as Joker was soundly slammed upon its initial release. Not by me, mind you. I actually had a blast with it. Was it perfect? No, but the characters were interesting enough and the action was well staged that I enjoyed it, overall. Now, comes Birds of Prey, written, directed and starring all women with the exception of Ewan McGregor as the villain, Roman Sionis or Black Mask.
Birds of Prey picks up after Suicide Squad left off with Harley Quinn and The Joker breaking up. Harley (Margot Robbie reprising her role) has not taken the breakup well, at all. However, when Roman finds out about the breakup, calls on Harley to pay up on a debt she owes. When she can’t pay and no longer has the protection of The Joker, Roman plans to kill her. Harley manages to make a deal where she finds a little girl, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) being held by police in exchange for her own life.
Birds of Prey is a fun film. It is a joyful little mix of comedy, action and even a musical number. It all seems to flow fairly well, for the most part. The action is very well staged and convincing and the comedy, for the most part works, as well. I didn’t even mind the musical number added in. What bothered me about Birds of Prey was the flashbacks which are far too many in this film. It took me out of the film and indeed, flashbacks have become another gimmick filmmakers use far too much in lieu of actual story telling. Yes, I get it. They are needed sometimes to give context and depth to the story. But it is one too many for Birds of Prey.
Having said that, director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson have immersed themselves into the world of Harley Quinn and her band of heroines with a lot of energy, style and finesse. It was also great to see Rosie Perez get back in front of the camera as Renee Montoya, a police officer who helps Harley and the Birds of Prey. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a bit of a smaller, disappointing role as Helena Bertinelli (The Huntress). She is a fine actress and hopefully, her role will get a bit more screentime for the next film. Jurnee Smollet-Bell (she is the real life sister of that “French actor” Jussie Smollet. Thank you, Dave Chappelle) shines as Diane Lance (Black Canary), a singer in Roman’s club who turns against Roman as the film progresses and his true intentions are revealed.
Which brings me to Ewan McGregor as Roman. Since most films are only as good as their villain, Ewan McGregor’s Roman is one of the truly most detestable villains in the DC Universe. He pumps a lot of blood into this film and his villainy propels it forward. The heroines are fun to watch but McGregor taps into some real vile darkness and delivers a scene-after-scene shredding performance. He gives the Birds of Prey all of the violence they can handle. McGregor’s performance is tremendously entertaining and makes up what the film does lack with the constant flashbacks.
Birds of Prey has some impressive songs to please the soundtrack fans out there but I also appreciated the inventiveness of the film score by composer, Daniel Pemberton. His combination of orchestral, electronic and pop elements work very well together and give the film some added heft. The cinematography of Matthew Libatique in conjunction with the editing of Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff gives Birds of Prey a rather striking visual palette.
Overall, I enjoyed most of Birds of Prey. I don’t think Suicide Squad deserved the beating it received and I don’t think Birds of Prey needed to apologize for that film, either. Birds of Prey is, overall, successful for me because it has enough elements working for it that kept my interest. I will also add, that the films coming from the DC Universe are getting better and better. Hopefully, we can agree on that, at least.
Birds of Prey – *** 3/4 out of five
Birds of Prey – Rated R for some graphic language and graphic violence throughout
Birds of Prey – Run time is 109 minutes
Birds of Prey is now available on DVD, On Demand and subscription services