Despite the faltering of the DCEU, one thing Warner Bros. and DC got right from the start was the casting of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Maniacal, twisted, hilarious and vulnerable; Harley is back with style with Robbie returning as the titular lead and donning a producer credit to go along with it. It seems that without Robbie, audiences wouldn’t be marching their ways to see the latest incarnation of the DC universe in the form of this raucous, colourful and (sort-of) violent comic-book actioner.
From the opening minutes of Birds of Prey, it is immediately clear that this is not the dull and drab follow-up to Suicide Squad that many thought it might be. This is funny and quick-paced as it jumped around the bundled plot threads through the catalyst of unreliable narrator Harley Quinn. There are obvious influences from Deadpool, however the juggling of the narrative takes it one step further, whilst simultaneously lacking a narrative cohesion. There are animated recaps, flashbacks within flashbacks, fourth wall breaking, and time-skipping galore. Birds of Prey bounces around gleefully without ever giving a true sense of setting, which is a shame considering the DC’s new take on Gotham has yet to be properly explored.
While it may never focus too heavily on one story thread, the basic premise is by far the most interesting – and the one that was surprisingly absent from marketing. With Harley and the Joker split (“for good this time”), Harley is eager to make her mark as her own woman outside the shadow of the Joker. Yet she discovers that there are a lot of people in Gotham that want her head on a pike – and the Clown Prince of Crime was the only thing holding them back. Sadly, the story then only skims the surface of its potential as Harley’s intrinsic connection with the Joker leaves her wondering what’s left of her, when everything she is was due to her devoted idolisation of the Joker. The noticeable absence of the green-haired psycho also leaves the story feeling unfulfilled – although with the casting of Joaquin Phoenix in the standalone film and the supposed sacking of Jared Leto, it is understandable that Birds of Prey wouldn’t be able to include the character just yet. In another world, without the controversy of Leto, Joker would likely have been all over this film.
So, they’ve been mentioned plenty but who are the Birds of Prey? The lesser known group spend a majority of the runtime separated and wholly unaware of each other’s existence, as the narrative pinballs off each of their own stories. Each of the “Birds” bring a level of individuality to their character’s with quips and character traits galore. A rough detective, who lives her life like the clichéd 80s TV detective (because she grew up watching them); a badass hitwoman, who also just happens to be a little awkward; a hilariously unenthused street thief; and the street smart singer, who’s always reluctantly getting involved.
Each of these characters themselves are fun to watch, yet when the group eventually come together, they fling insults and general banter around in a way that is sometimes funny, and more often unremarkable. The film is unmistakably self-aware, yet these quippier moments feel too much like they are trying to be funny and wacky – and ultimately they just take away any element of danger that we were meant to feel for these characters.
Birds of Prey is a cocktail of DC moving in the right direction, whilst simultaneously missing the mark. It is a fun time and is refreshing to see a self-contained story with light story threads connecting to the larger world of the DCEU. Yet it plays things too safe and results in a film that will be forgotten long before Wonder Woman ’84 is released, and likely leave DC fearful to take these kinds of “risks” again.