Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020) Review

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Whether it was an official decision or not, the fact that Warner Bros is moving away from a shared DC Cinematic Universe is a good one. This is because it gives the movies starring the DC characters the room to breathe and offer something new and creative. Birds of Prey certainly does this, although the added title after the colon is necessary because this is very clearly a Harley Quinn movie.

This is where that creativity comes into play. This movie is told from the point of view of Quinn, so we get a twisted version of events, segues into the insane mind of the Joker’s girlfriend and also a fourth wall breaking narration that offers great little side-notes which share more than a little in common with Deadpool. This isn’t a bad thing, without this originality and slightly sideways look at the story, this would become just another generic superhero movie, albeit with plenty of great characters to get behind.

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Harley Quinn makes for an interesting narrator

Margot Robbie has carved herself a great character with Harley Quinn and made it near-impossible for anyone else to fill those sizeable heels. She is clearly having fun with the role and electrifies the screen whenever she is on it, holding the movie on her shoulders ably. She is the anti-hero here and even an anti-hero needs a villain. Ewan McGregor plays Roman Sionis/Black Mask and is clearly having a ball. He over-acts to just the acceptable limit and goes from psycho to comic foil in terrifying instant. He can’t quite match Quinn but he is enough of a bad guy that he is interesting and you want to see Quinn win.

She can’t do this without the titular Birds of Prey and this is where the film begins to hit it’s faults. Harley Quinn is the selling point and it is baffling why this wasn’t just called the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn (or Harley Quinn, which would have worked just as well). This is because the other Birds of Prey don’t get the justified screen-time they deserve. It is a huge shame too because there is some great characters here, from Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya who is a drunk but genius detective or Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress, who is an awkward vengeful vigilante who doesn’t get to do anything of proper note until the final act.

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The other Birds of Prey struggle for development

The other two “Birds” do get some development but not enough. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is Black Canary although the reason for the name is a final act reveal while Cassandra Cain is little more than a comedic crutch around Harley Quinn’s neck. The finale does demonstrate why the movie is called Birds of Prey but until then, Harley Quinn is front and centre and getting all the best lines and coolest moments.

There are plenty of those cool moments though. A raid on a police station using inventive projectiles is fun, a water-logged fight in a holding cell is impressive to watch and the way that Quinn dispatches goons while high on cocaine is a mix of great stunts and funny visuals. Robbie does the heavy-lifting well here and makes Quinn a character you want to come back to (and will in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad).  Add a very cool soundtrack which elevates each action set-piece and you have enough to make this slightly better than any average superhero movie.

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It’s fun but there isn’t enough here to warrant a sequel

Is it the beginning of a grand movie franchise as part of the DCEU? Not really. The final scenes play up the potential but there isn’t enough development of any of the other characters to warrant a sequel or a revisit of these characters, which is a shame considering they are all strong, kick-ass women and we know how rare that is in superhero movies.

Overall, Birds of Prey should have been called Harley Quinn. This isn’t a bad thing if you want a fun movie told from a unique perspective with plenty of cool moments and an entertaining villain. It is bad if you want to put any other heroic character other than the one played by Margot Robbie at the forefront.

Rating – 3.5

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

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A missed opportunity

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