Review | ‘Birds of Prey’ is a morally confused, explosive time at the movies 

Illustration by Ky Williams

Josh Clinton, Contributing Writer

The greatest accomplishment of Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey” is that the whole movie feels like the central character, Harley Quinn. It’s energetic, cute and colorful with a dark, violent edge, and it introduces an all-female superhero team, The Birds of Prey.

Following a recent breakup with The Joker, Quinn goes on a bender that involves trashing the nightclub of local crime boss Black Mask and blowing up the nearby Ace Chemicals plant in a colorful firework extravaganza. 

It’s a pretty great tone-setter for the movie accompanied by an energetic soundtrack and narration from Quinn herself.

“Birds of Prey” draws heavy inspiration from “Deadpool” in its over-the-top violence, irreverent humor and omnipotent narration that leads the audience through a story told out of order.

Margot Robbie captures the psychotic emotional range of the character beautifully, similar to Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. If she doesn’t win an Oscar for how she plays up the tragic loss of her breakfast sandwich, then there is no justice on this Earth.

Her charisma is only matched by that of Ewan McGregor as the film’s villain, Black Mask, who is easily the pettiest villain put to film. His relentless, self-absorbed nature makes it all the more satisfying when everything blows up in his face — figuratively and literally.

The fallout of Quinn’s bender ends up roping in other heroines from the DC Universe in a loosely connected plot to rescue orphaned child Cassandra Cain, played by Ella Jay Basco, from Black Mask. This forms the backdoor for the origin of the superteam Birds of Prey.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell presents a fresh, sassy take on the classic, butt-kicking, supersonic-screeching Black Canary that plays off Quinn’s insanity quite well. 

The Huntress, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is the most underutilized character in the movie. Her assassination of mafia enforcers helps to push officer Renee Montoya, played by Rosie Perez, into the plot. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get to interact with much of the central cast until the extremely energetic finale where the heroines unite and form the titular Birds of Prey team.

Overall, the cast has great chemistry when the film allows them to share screen time. Everyone’s banter during the finale and following burrito run makes me wish the film had more of the same energy throughout its two-hour runtime.

“‘Birds of Prey’ draws heavy inspiration from “Deadpool’ in its over-the-top violence, irreverent humor and omnipotent narration that leads the audience through a story told out of order.” — Josh Clinton

Even if the movie doesn’t deliver on its premise until the finale, it delights throughout with vibrant cinematography, charismatic performances and a surprisingly high number of visceral action scenes.

This brings me to one final issue with the film as a whole — the violence.

This movie is relentlessly violent, and it unquestionably earned its R rating because of that. Although I’m not sure it should have. Harley has a broad appeal, from adults to preteen girls, and the character has gone through many adaptations. There’s still a likelihood that parents will take their children to this movie because Harley’s in it, but this version isn’t a suitable role model for kids.

There isn’t much of an arc for our central character other than realizing that being free of an abusive relationship is a good thing. In itself, that’s a good message, but not good enough to justify empathizing with a murderer.

This leaves the film with a confused sense of morality. However, that might have been the point, given the nature of the main character.

Overall, “Birds of Prey” largely fails to earn its title because it doesn’t really focus on the team as a whole. Still, it presents an extremely energetic and colorful start to 2020’s cavalcade of female-led comic book films like “Wonder Woman 1984” and Marvel’s “Black Widow.”

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