Sunday, 9 February 2020

Film Review: Birds of Prey

Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn unites an ensemble of kickass women in Cathy Yan's Birds of Prey

With her character the fan favourite from David Ayer's Suicide Squad, and Robbie operating as a key creative force behind the scenes, it should come as no surprise that Harley Quinn is the central character in Birds of Prey, a pseudo-sequel that sees the DC starlet venture out on her own.

Harley serves as the film's fairly unreliable narrator, starting with the tale of how her and the Joker ended things and continuing with an introduction into her new life as a single lady, living in a crummy apartment above a Chinese restaurant with her pet hyena and stuffed beaver for company.

The thing that Harley didn't anticipate, however, is that without the Joker's reputation to protect her, every mob boss and gangster – including the stylish and psychotic Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) in Gotham wants to see her dead in a ditch. Once word gets out, she's on the run, and along the way she crosses paths with a series of colourful characters, including Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).

The Birds of Prey comics – specifically those from the New 52 run – are some of the only comics I've stuck with for a little while, so when this film was announced, I was curious to see what kind of roster the filmmakers would put together. However, key characters from this and other Birds of Prey comics – such as Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Starling, Katana and Strix – don't feature in this film, and the spotlight is firmly on Robbie.

Which is fair, because she's the character audiences are most familiar with, and by far the film's MVP. Robbie is just giving it her all in every moment, and perfectly embodies Harley's hyperactive energy and mannerisms – she just 'gets' the character, from pigtail to toenail.

McGregor's flamboyant mobster – decked out in impeccable suits and surrounded by some outrageous art pieces – is another great addition. Elizabeth Winstead's oozes attitude as Huntress, even though she's underused and fairly incidental to the overarching plot.

Speaking of which, Birds of Prey is fairly light on plot. After starting with Harley's ugly break-up, the film bounces around from past to present, with Harley interjecting during key scenes to rewind to something that happened earlier.

It's all a bit scatterbrained to be honest; the non-linear storyline and fourth wall breaks are remiscent of Deadpool, but sometimes the back and forth detracts from the film's forward momentum.

The frequent F-bombs and copious amounts of blood further deepen the film's distinct Deadpool vibe. And while that works for that specific character, I don't think it was warranted here.

Don't get me wrong, I have no issue with swearing or violence – but I don't think it meshed with this film's colourful characters. A more wholesome, girl power vibe – that was a little lighter on the depictions of sexual violence – would have more palatable, in my opinion.

The Verdict: 5.5/10

Although Robbie's madcap performance continues to impress, I can't help but feel this is yet another swing and a miss for her bat-wielding antihero. Overall, I'm just not a fan of the weird 'neon punk' aesthetic or some of the general storytelling choices. I don't think the film being titled towards adults is a net positive, and if anything the violence and language detracts from the fun.

Birds of Prey is in cinemas across Australia now.

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