Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) is a comic book film by DC inspired by the Birds of Prey comic series and is an indirect sequel of 2016’s Suicide Squad. Directed by Cathy Yan, this film stars Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ewan McGregor. When citizens of Gotham City learn that Harley Quinn (Robbie) is no longer with the Joker, she becomes an easy target for everyone to try and kill for her previous actions, including Roman Sionis, a.k.a. Black Mask (McGregor).
What I have recently appreciated about DC and Warner Bros. is that they are willing to take bolder risks in terms of their potential box office reach to be able to tell their stories in the best way possible. This was apparent in Joker last year, which was R-rated but was rewarded with a billion dollars in the box office. Whilst Birds of Prey doesn’t seem to be having the same impact, it was still smart narratively to make the film R-rated and draw it as far away from Suicide Squad as possible. The R-rating allows the action to be bloody and brutal something that helps the fighting choreography come to life thanks to Chad Stahelski of John Wick fame bringing the action sequences to life.
These sequences, however, are completely different to the action in John Wick and all of that is due to the use of tone and style that Cathy Yan injects into Birds of Prey. From the gorgeous costumes designs to the weapons of choice, including a fun-gun filled with confetti and Harley’s blue-and-pink colour bombs, this film is a joy to watch visually and aesthetically. Whilst having a lot of dark themes and storylines, Cathy keeps the tone from being too dramatic and makes it clear that this is a fun comic book movie to enjoy, being completely different stylistically to any other film in the DCEU.
It could have been easy to create stereotypical roles for the new women that were introduced, but they all seem well-rounded and have some great storylines behind them. They show flaws, for sure, but you end up cheering them on due to their situations and where they end up. All of the performances are strong, but particularly Mary Elizabeth Winstead who is incredibly bad-ass as Huntress. Her storyline reminds me a lot of O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill Volume I, but they steer it away enough that it does not feel repetitive or like a copy-paste job. I would have liked to have seen more of Huntress though, as she is given the least screentime of any of the Birds of Prey team.
After Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie personally took on the role of producer for the Birds of Prey film. I was concerned that there would be a clashing conflict of interests as to where to take her character after the breakup of Harley and Joker. However, I found that the decisions that they took felt fitting to her character and the actions that Harley would take. She still had mayhem and madness within her, whilst also feeling somewhat dependent on the partner she doesn’t have anymore. It was not an immediate cut-off, in fact it is a part of the film’s conflict and journey for her to go through. It made complete sense and the unity of the Birds of Prey came about naturally, which I quite enjoyed seeing.
What stops this film from being one of the top films in the DCEU, such as Wonder Woman, is the script. This film has so many ideas for stories and messages and instead of selecting one or two to focus on, it decides to cram it all into a 110-minute runtime. Whilst I appreciate the shorter runtime for a blockbuster, I wish the script was more selective and focused. There were clear themes of break-ups, revenge, friendship, living in bad conditions, looking after others and trust within the several storylines that this film tries to balance between. However, there were hints of a potential gay relationship developing between several characters and they never expand on that. I wish that they had stuck to a few simple ideas and fully explored those, making for a tighter story and more cohesive flow.
Whilst Ewan McGregor does a great job personifying Roman Sionis, I never felt truly threatened or scared by his character. It felt like the only reason he was strong was because of connections, and that hinders the final battle when his strengths are never shown. The women may have been written to be well-rounded and realised, but Roman felt like a caricature of an old-fashioned comic book villain that Marvel would have, not fully realised and only there to stop the hero on their track for a short amount of time. I would have liked to have seen more done with the villain here, to create more stakes for Harley and the Birds of Prey.
Considering how much I disliked the marketing of the film, it was actually refreshing to see the film itself have so much fun with its source material and the precursor of Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie vanishes completely into the role of Harley Quinn and injects so much passion into the film, which is great to see. Whilst I could have done with a tighter script and a more fleshed out villain, this is a fun comic book film that deserves to do well. Check it out if you haven’t already, you may come out as surprised as I was.
Have you had a chance to check out Birds of Prey yet? How would this film rank for you in the DCEU? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.