Birds of Prey (2020) Review

Excluding the standalone Joker last October, it has been a little over 10 months since we last saw a DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movie and that happened to be Shazam! back in April 2019.

Fast forward to early 2020, the latest DCEU movie sees Warner Bros. and DC Films released their first all-female vigilante team-up in Birds of Prey — or fully titled as Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) — which takes place after the events of Suicide Squad (2016). Here, we learn that poor Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is heartbroken following her breakup with the Joker (Jared Leto, previously in the 2016 supervillain team-up movie but did not appear in this movie). With no one by her side, she spends most of her time either drinking at the club or trying to survive from a group of angry peoples who have personal grudges against her.

But she eventually finds a new purpose again when Harley offers to help Gotham’s new crime lord, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) to retrieve the once Mafia-owned Bertinelli diamond in exchange for her life. As it turns out, the diamond is stolen by a street pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

However, Harley finds herself either dealing or crosses paths with others including relentless police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), the nightclub singer-turned-courier Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the vengeful Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Roman’s sadistic henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina).

Birds of Prey got off to a promising start, complete with Harley’s quirky voiceover narration detailing from her brief origin story presented on Saturday morning-type animated show to her post-breakup identity crisis during the elaborate prologue.

For a while there, it looks as if relative Chinese-American newcomer Cathy Yan (2018’s Dead Pigs) seems to be on the right track. Her decision to structure the movie in a non-linear fashion, particularly during the first hour offers a few entertaining moments along the way. Yan also made good use of the 18-rating that allows the characters to spew colourful profanities (except for the fact, we have to live with the blurred middle-finger gestures, thanks to our local censorship board).

The movie even made the right choice of hiring the uncredited Chad Stahelski of John Wick franchise fame to help beef up the action sequences. As a result, we got ourselves some of the most well-staged and visceral action set-pieces ever seen in a comic book movie, namely the police-station raid and the climactic funhouse fight scenes.

The cast is mostly spot-on, with Margot Robbie steals most of the show with her gleefully unhinged performance as Harley Quinn. The rest of the all-girl vigilante group — Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Dinah Lance/Black Canary, Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain, Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya and especially the hilariously deadpan Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Helena Bertinelli/Huntress — are sufficient enough for their respective roles.

Unfortunately, Ewan McGregor’s rare antagonist turn as Roman Sionis didn’t turn out as good as I initially expected in the first place. His over-the-top campy performance feels like as if he’s trying too hard to impress the audiences and other times, he doesn’t look intimidating enough for someone who supposed to be a ruthless crime lord. Although Chris Messina looks the part as the psychotic serial killer and Sionis’ main henchman Victor Zsasz, it was a missed opportunity to see his role largely underutilised.

Whereas Cathy Yan’s direction looks confident enough throughout the colourful prologue and its subsequent non-linear narrative structure during the first hour, Birds of Prey wobbles pretty much in its remaining running time. Beyond Christina Hodson’s (2018’s Bumblebee) feminism themes of independence and empowerment, her whole main storyline surrounding the stolen diamond isn’t as engaging as it aimed to be. This is particularly evident once the movie’s non-linear structure starts to pave way for a straightforward narration approach. From there, the story gets unnecessarily padded with several scenes involving Harley and Cassandra’s unlikely friendship. While I understand Hodson’s script trying to inject some humanity and compassion to showcase the good side of Harley Quinn, the result feels more forceful than rightfully earned.

Finally, for a movie with a title called Birds of Prey, I find it rather misguided since it focuses more on Harley Quinn than the all-girl team-up itself. Remember to stick around until the very end for a cheeky post-credits scene.

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