Birds of Prey manages to keep a terrific number of plates spinning at once. It is first and foremost a rollicking stand-alone adventure for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn (newly single), as she finds her own identity in the crazy carnival that is
The cast is pitch-perfect, with a cavalcade of fascinating figures around the film’s lead. Rosie Perez is a delightfully self-aware walking cliché, sprouting out one-liners ripped from 80s cop shows. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is good fun as a socially awkward assassin, whilst Jurnee Smollett-Bell asserts herself as the more super-powered of the leads. There is perhaps less for this trio to do then you might hope for, but they all get moments to shine. Everyone is jostling for space in Birds of Prey, which gives the film a messy quality and a sense that it all might collapse at any second. Ella Jay Basco is in the mix and makes a big impression as a streetwise pickpocket who becomes increasingly integral to the plot. As for the villains, Ewan McGregor drips with a misogynistic rage that plays perfectly into the actor’s natural charisma, whilst Chris Messina makes a surprisingly effective attack dog. There are too many competing components here and at times you wish the film had been a little longer, had a little bit more room to breathe. But maybe this all fits the story our protagonist wants to tell. And in that role Margot Robbie is fantastic, seemingly encapsulating all of her very best roles to date and pitching herself hard as the very best embodiment of the beloved comic book character she is playing. She keeps the show on the road and dominates nearly every moment she’s on screen.
Behind the camera director Cathy Yan lives up to the promise she exhibited with Dead Pigs, whilst writer Christina Hodson continues to be one of the most interesting voices in modern blockbusters. Together they create a wonderfully lived-in
There’s so much to admire in Birds of Prey. Erin Benach’s costume design enhances the characters here, making audiences jealous of the resplendent attire they get to wear. Matthew Libatique gives the film a gorgeous sheen, visually capturing our unreliable narrator’s worldview. Everything clicks from the song choices to the fight choreography to the set dressing (Easter eggs abound). It’s such a step-up from so much of what DC films have previously produced.
And yet the film is a narrative mess: a confident first act gives way to a muddled second and a hurried third. There are too many ingredients here, as the film gives viewers both a sugar rush and toothache. You can’t really blame Birds of Prey for wanting to do EVERYTHING it has set out to do, and the fact it is a coherent blockbuster is a testament to the skills of the people involved. Cathy Yan has arrived as a directorial talent, comfortably handling a sprawling palette. So much works here that the fact there is too much is perhaps a mild criticism, as Birds of Prey leaves you eager for another visit to the carnival. Once you’ve caught your breath of course.