After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.
The DC Cinematic Universe continues ahead in its haphazard fashion with Birds of Prey, a semi follow-up to Suicide Squad featuring Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and introducing Black Canary, Huntress, Renee Montoya and Black Mask. By semi follow-up of course, this is largely a stand-alone film designed to be able to exist in the DC film setting, while not strongly linking with it, or contradicting it.
Story wise things pick up presumably sometime shortly after Suicide Squad, where we quickly discover Harley Quin has separated from a ‘not appearing in this film’ Joker, and her life is spiraling out of control. The premise of the film rides on the fact that Harley has made so many enemies in Gotham, that without her affiliation with Joker, all the aggrieved have come out looking for their payback.
The plot of the film never threatens to stretch itself far beyond this idea, over time Harley becomes increasingly embroiled with gotham crime lord Black Mask, as do Black Canary, Renee Montoya, and Huntress until eventually their paths cross on their journey towards a common enemy. Quinn is easily the most fleshed out character in the film, but also benefits from having been introduced to audiences previously.
The remaining characters all have very little development on screen, each with their own sub-plot the film is ambitions with its narrative cutting across the four characters resulting in each of them largely being under-serviced by their screen time and the narrative a mess. This problem is exacerbated by film’s non-linear approach to its timeline, with so many threads to begin with the narrative had enough of a challenge without cutting across events occurring at different times.
In this sense Huntress probably suffers the most, with very little going on regarding the character other than some brief flashback moments and a general tone and feel that Winstead is seeking to articulate through her performance. But the true missed opportunity that this approach results in is that these four actresses have few scenes with each other, and even less with all of them. The brief moment where they all occupy the same scene is where the film peaks, and it delivers just a hint of what could have been.
Black Mask here is a pretty typical villain for a comic property, the character’s saving grace is the style with which Ewan McGregor portrays him. McGregor is shamelessly chewing scenery and clearly having a lot of fun in the role, while the character is hopelessly lacking in substance the amusing and entertaining nature which McGregor plays him with is a saving grace.
Similar can be said for all the main characters in fact, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell are all strong casting choices, and bring a strong physicality to their action roles on the film, it just disappointing their was so little opportunity for them to share the screen. Robbie’s Quinn is still engaging and highly entertaining, despite her character seeming to be slightly less crazy and at times even a bit leveled out in this particular outing.
Birds of Prey isn’t able to boast any really memorable set pieces, the action is of a smaller scale to its colleagues in the DC film universe, though there’s rarely a dull moment with an overload of zany character moments, set dressing, and over the top performances from most of the cast.
But ultimately Birds of Prey is of little consequence, as far is any form of extended DC universe this is very much a holding pattern film which doesn’t address or avoid that setting, on its own merits however it’s fun enough, despite some missed opportunities and will likely keep things moving along nicely for the folks at DC.
Overall though I found Birds of Prey comes up short, I’m giving it 6 out 10, you can see it in cinemas now.