Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment have been on a bit of a hot streak lately. After “Wonder Woman” became a big hit and “Justice League” bombed hard, the studio appears to have gone in a more character-focused direction when it comes to the films they’re producing. In 2018, “Aquaman” surpassed “The Dark Knight” as the highest grossing film in DC’s history, and last year “Shazam!” and “Joker” were both massive critical successes, the latter of which received a whopping 11 Oscar nominations.
Despite all that continued success, I was not looking forward to the latest DC film, “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).”
Directed by Cathy Yan, the film is focused on Margot Robbie’s version of Harley Quinn that audiences were introduced to in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” Considering that film is arguably one of DC’s worst, I was a bit nervous that “Birds of Prey” would fall victim to the same cliches and editing flaws that doomed “Suicide Squad.”
To my genuine surprise, “Birds of Prey” ended up being a legitimately hilarious, gruesomely violent and fabulously campy film that is basically DC’s version of “Deadpool” in all the best ways.
Part of what puts “Birds of Prey” in the same conversation as “Deadpool” is the film’s R-rating. The rating allowed Yan to have complete freedom with the film’s plot. The result is a film that features plenty of f-bombs, vulgar humor and over-the-top violence to both thrill and horrify audiences. The rating also tonally separates the film from the lackluster “Suicide Squad,” which was rated PG-13, while also maintaining the fun that comes with Harley Quinn — one of the few good characters to come from that movie.
“Birds of Prey” opens with Harley Quinn breaking the fourth wall to explain to the audience how her and the Joker broke up — meaning she’s no longer under his protection. As a result, multitudes of criminals in Gotham City are now on a vengeful hunt for Quinn. One such villain is Roman Sionis, brilliantly portrayed by Ewan McGregor and better known to Batman fans as the gangster Black Mask. Over the course of the film, Quinn crosses paths with several other women who are at odds with Black Mask, and together they become the titular birds who aim to bring his criminal reign to an end.
Although the film is titled “Birds of Prey,” it’s basically a Harley Quinn-and-company film. Quinn is undoubtedly the main character, as most of the film’s events are narrated by her and told from her perspective. Thankfully, this depiction of Quinn is one of the most entertaining and comic-accurate iterations yet, complete with roller skates, giant mallets and a pet hyena named Bruce. Capping this off well is the stellar performance from Robbie. She really embraced Quinn’s zaniness and delivered a performance that is worthy of one of DC’s most iconic characters.
As far as the other “birds” are concerned, the team consists of Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Each of these characters brought their own flavor and personality to the film, and they played off each other very well.
The biggest standout was The Huntress, a dynamic character armed with a crossbow who just so happened to be intensely awkward in social situations. She often tried following her exciting action moments with a solid one-liner, but most fall flat and make for some of the film’s funniest moments. My one complaint about the character is that she wasn’t in the film much, but I’m hopeful that DC will delve into her character more in a sequel or spin-off — though neither is very likely as “Birds of Prey” is bombing at the box office.
There’s a lot more to say about “Birds of Prey,” but that risks going into spoiler territory, so I’ll just encourage everyone to see this film as soon as they can. It isn’t the best film that DC has made, but it is a delightfully entertaining one that might leave you pleasantly surprised. After another big win for DC, I might finally, thankfully be comfortable saying DC is back on track as a genuine competitor to Marvel.