Despite an unwieldy title, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn could easily be the most overlooked entry in the current DC Cinematic Universe. It doesn’t have the scope of Aquaman or the sheer charm of ShazamI, but the film does have some excellent action sequences without having to resort to overblown special effects.
Birds of Prey is a marked improvement over the dour Suicide Squad, which introduced us to Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. The psychiatrist turned madwoman first debuted on Batman: The Animated Series before transitioning to the world of comics. She quickly became a fan favorite and Robbie has embodied the character’s bubbly and scattershot personality.
Harley has enjoyed a certain level of freedom in Gotham City due to everyone’s fears of her boyfriend, the Joker. However, when she’s kicked to the curb by the Clown Prince of Crime, it becomes open season for Dr. Quinzel. Every lowlife with a grudge wants to get even. At the top of the list is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), the scion of a cosmetics empire. He became a crimelord known as Black Mask after being disowned by his wealthy family. In order to consolidate power, Sionis must obtain bank account numbers laser encoded onto a diamond. Unfortunately for him, the diamond was unknowingly snatched up by a pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).
Through a series of interconnected events Cassandra comes under the protection of Harley; beleaguered police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez); Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a nightclub singer with a sonic scream; and the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a grim vigilante and sole survivor of a mob massacre that wiped out her entire family.
The screenplay was penned by Christina Hodson, who also wrote Bumblebee, which brought some much needed heart to the crass Transformers films of Michael Bay. Hodson injects some surprising warmth into the R-rated comic book flick with an emphasis on the camaraderie of the main characters. It’s just too bad it takes them until the climax to finally get together. Birds of Prey is also light on plot. Much like Deadpool, it takes a non-linear approach to replicate the scatterbrained mindset of the lead and stretch out an otherwise thin premise.
Birds of Prey scores high marks with its action sequences under the direction of Cathy Yan and Chad Stahelski, the man behind the camera for John Wick. Things start off with a bang when Harley invades a police station ala Terminator, armed with candy colored smoke bombs and a glitter gun. Next is a bone breaking battle with a biker gang in the evidence locker. The finale finds our heroes fighting Black Mask’s forces in a creepy funhouse. The camera continuously glides through the melee as the ladies team up against an army of masked henchmen. Yan is smart enough to let the fight scenes breathe rather than a mishmash of rapid fire editing and dizzying camera angles. And what action film would be complete without a car chase? Birds of Prey finds its own unique spin with the bad guys in their classic roadsters and Huntress on a sleek motorcycle while towing a roller skate-clad Harley.
The acting all around is well done with McGregor hamming it up as the flamboyant Sionis. Robbie perfectly encapsulates the bubbly, yet psychotic, personality that was initially established by Harley Quinn’s original voice actor Arleen Sorkin. What the movie really needed was a lot more of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress. She imbues with a dry humor and social awkwardness that makes instant sense given she was raised in isolation by Sicilian assassins.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The picture quality is just about perfect. There’s a lovely sheen to the movie that’s accentuated by the an urban landscape bathed in neon lighting.
The audio is presented in Dolby Atmos/True HD 7.1. The sound is sumptuous as you hear every bone breaking hit and even the whiffing of the Huntress’s arrows. Audio also enhances a rocking soundtrack that includes “I Hate Myself For Loving You” by Joan Jett and Heart’s “Barracuda.”
Birds Eye View Mode is a pop-up video option that takes us behind the scenes and breaks down various aspects of the production.
Birds of Prey: Birds of a Feather (8:26) looks at how the project came together and bringing a female perspective to a comic book film.
Romanesque (4:58) focuses on the main villain and working with Ewan McGregor.
A Love/Skate Relationship (4:29) is a featurette about the stunt team and their use of roller derby.
Grime and Crime (10:38) looks at the production design by K.K. Barrett and how they created their own version of Gotham City.
Sanity is Sooo Last Season (7:39) spotlights costume designer Erin Benach and how they put together the looks of all the central heroes and villains.
Wild Nerds (6:03) is about the visual effects used to enhance the film. One of the funniest things is how a German Shepherd stood in for Harley’s pet hyena.
Film Value: 7
Birds of Prey doesn’t exactly soar, but it’s able to glide along just fine and stick the landing. This is thanks to a cast of colorful characters and stellar fight choreography. This is a fun ride. Let’s hope the Birds get their another chance to stretch their wings.