Acting as a spin-off to 2016’s ‘Suicide Squad’ and as such, a continuation of the ‘Man of Steel’ film-universe, ‘Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)’, is a ‘DC’ superhero/villain movie directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson.
As its unique title suggests, Birds of Prey depicts the life of ‘Batman’ villain Harley Quinn, after she separates herself from the most notorious crime-lord in ‘Gotham City’, ‘Joker’. Being both the lead actor and producer, the ever-talented Margot Robbie delivers yet another knock-out performance of Harley, again carrying the film on her shoulders with an arguably perfect interpretation of the chaotic harlequin (first established as a cartoon character in the ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ TV show).
Alongside Robbie, stars her counterpart birds, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as ‘Black Canary’ and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as ‘Huntress’. These actresses, although deliver solid portrayals of their comic book characters, pale in their arc development when compared to Harley Quinn. While this isn’t a major issue in the overall narrative, given the audience are told the story through Harley’s point-of-view and ‘lunatic-like’ internal voice, there is much left to be desired given the casted talent and the potential of these characters. On the other hand, Ewan McGregor’s performance as the movie’s main antagonist ‘Roman Sionis’/‘Black Mask’ is an example of the filmmakers and actor’s ability to brilliantly translate a character from comic page to screen, whilst also using the opportunity to build upon new layers for the supervillain. Coupled with a complimenting portrayal of the deranged serial killer ‘Victor Zsasz’ by Chris Messina, Black Mask and his organisation are quickly asserted as one of the most dangerous powers in Gotham, making for a believable threat for a lead character that acts like a psychotic child.
Dominated by a bright and silly style much like Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey fits well within its established zone of the ‘DC Extended Universe (DCEU)’. Presented more-so as a self-contained story, the movie thrives in the opportunity to explore the personal and even business lives of those on screen. As such the narrative appeals to smaller/downtime moments, while also delivering large set pieces come to expect with a superhero film, especially with scenes involving Harley Quinn. Much of the first act of the film establishes how Quinn is coping without the Joker in her life, which creates many great moments, especially with the inclusion of Black Mask who wants her off the map. It is when the story in the second act tries to almost forcibly include characters such as Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a thief on the run on the run from Black Mask and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a detective trying to take down the crime-lord’s organisation, that the film suffers with its pacing however. Time is taken away from building the threat of Black Mask and the challenge he poses for Harley Quinn, Black Canary and Huntress, instead with the story opting to repeat the antagonist’s motive through flashbacks and Quinn’s retellings. Thankfully, the film turns this poor momentum with a great third act, set with large spectacles and filled with an abundance of fan-service.
Margot Robbie in addition to her own wonderful performance, creates a platform for others excel in this fun and entertaining big-screen adaption of the Birds of Prey stories. Supervillain Black Mask, played phenomenally by Ewan McGregor, is well utilised and assisted by the Victor Zsasz character to create a grounded threat for the team of heroines and creates an engaging narrative. Regardless of its lacklustre midpoint, Birds of Prey follows the example of films such as Shazam! and Aquaman in creating an enjoyable self-contained story that steers away from the failures of earlier DCEU movies, as well as the disappointing Suicide Squad.
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