“Birds of Prey” launches off of the critical disappointment and commercial success of 2016’s “Suicide Squad” by giving the phenomenally popular Harley Quinn, portrayed by Margot Robbie, her own film. The film picks up with Harley after her split with Joker in “Suicide Squad” and explores her identity after leaving the toxic relationship. Unfortunately, the result is a film that oozes potential and falls short, leaving behind what made Robbie’s performance iconic in the first place.
The film follows Harley as she tries to track down a diamond for club-owner-criminal-kingpin Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor, after her break from Joker paints a target on her back. The titular “Birds of Prey” come in the form of Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez), as they team up over the course of the movie with Harley to protect Cassandra Cain, a young pickpocket played by Ella Jay Basco, who stole the diamond. Despite the title, the focus is on Harley, leaving the others little room to be in the film as they only team up in the final scenes.
Similar to “Suicide Squad,” the over-indulgent pop soundtrack that blasts during fight scenes is mainly utilized to show off the contributing artists, rather than elevate the film. A lot of the humor feels overacted; the film is supposed to be over the top and campy, but more often than not it doesn't land and tries too hard to be quirky. The action isn’t particularly strong; the best sequence takes place in evidence lock-up where, while hiding from gunfire, a large palette of coke is shot-up and fills the air and intoxicates Harley after a deep breath in. The fight choreography in this scene is the highlight, as she takes down the goons with a bat found in evidence, a nod to her weapon from “Suicide Squad,” in a coke-fueled frenzy. Harley shows off her technical prowess with the weapon as she effortlessly fights with a believable instinct and skill.
Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn here isn’t as strong as it was in the previous film, with jokes that don’t land and wackiness that comes off as ingenuine. Early on, she has a bit where she stares longingly at her favorite breakfast sandwich with her hair blown back, and she subsequently loses it to a mishap and has a slow motion soap-operatic look of despair. It is played for laughs but feels cliche; the drawn-out dramatic loss of a favorite food has been done exhaustively in film and television and muddles this great character with subpar writing. This is unfortunate because Robbie is perfectly cast, and occasionally her capabilities in this role peak through in some dramatic scenes. Some bits are hilarious, particularly when she repeatedly stabs a man while she’s temporarily paralyzed.
Smollett-Bell as Black Canary was the strongest part of the film, as she delivers a really great performance and makes it her own. She struggles with her responsibility to do good with her abilities, like her mother before her, and works for Black Mask as a signer in his club, despite knowing how awful he really is. Sadly her power, a sonic scream, is only used once as a moment of her coming into her identity as the Black canary, and was in the trailer. Having utilized the moment in marketing, the effect wasn’t strong. Winstead was humorous as Huntress, poking fun at the brutal revenge driven character trope, a scene depicting her practicing her revenge monologue was particularly fantastic. McGregor did a solid job, being able to flip from funny and charming to menacing on the spot. Although not explicitly stated in the film, his character appears to be gay. Unlike Montoya, who is openly queer, Black Mask’s sexual identity is coded in his interaction and demeanor. It feels like a missed opportunity to have a great explicitly gay villain.
“Birds of Prey” has a couple standout performances and some solid moments, but overall was just an okay film. The result is a film that feels like it tried to combine the bright colors and loud music of “Suicide Squad”, with the wacky comedy and R-rating of “Deadpool” but the ideas don’t form completely leaving much to be desired as it plays like a longer version of the trailer.