film & game reviews, the retro way.
BIRDS OF PREY
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Ella Jay Basco
DC's latest sees Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) spin off into her own adventure post-Suicide Squad as she deals with the fallout of her break-up with The Joker and faces a new enemy she might just have to take down by joining forces with an unlikely team.
Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) puts Harley Quinn front and centre right off the bat, no pun intended, as she narrates us through her long and bumpy journey from heartbroken mess to fearless anti-hero. The tone is appropriately cartoonish and violent here, one scene showing Harley break into a police station with a shotgun-style weapon, shooting police officers with non-fatal bean bags that explode into either confetti or colorful gas. She is every bit as talky, creative, impulsive and mad as you'd expect, Margot Robbie once again having tons of fun in a role she's taken onboard with gusto.
The big bad she faces is Ewan McGregor's Black Mask (aka Roman Sionis), a night club owner and crime lord who is just as entertaining as he is monstrous: one second showing off his collection of masks with glee, the next second ordering fellow criminal Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) to slice people's faces off. When Harley destroys a chemicals factory with a bang, the GCPD and everyone she ever wronged under the Joker's protection is on alert, ready to track her down and either bring her to justice or kill her straight-up. Rosie Perez plays Renee Montoya, a detective working the Black Mask case who tries to convince singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who works at Roman Sionis' club, to become an informant. She also investigates a series of mob killings by a mysterious "crossbow killer".
A diamond with a secret code embedded in it that would lead whoever has it to a massive fortune is acquired by Victor Zsasz and then promptly lost to Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young pick-pocket, much to Sionis' disappointment. The rest of the film sees Cain befriend Harley Quinn as they meet Dinah (aka Black Canary), Montoya and the crossbow killer Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) before they team up and fight it out with Black Mask and his army of mobsters at an abandoned amusement park. The main characters are a very likeable bunch, I should point out, even if Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Huntress is played for laughs when a more genuinely serious and deadpan approach would have actually contrasted well with Harley's over-excited nature and been, ultimately, a lot funnier.
What begins as a fun-packed Harley Quinn-centric solo adventure devolves, then, into a protect-the-macguffin type of plot and, even though a lot of that works and there's never a dull moment in Birds Of Prey, one can't help but feel that a more original story could have been told using all these promising elements. When it's just being silly and having a good time, this is a sharply written film, but when it comes to the storytelling, it's a bit of a mess. Harley Quinn's character arc is very well done as she doubts her ability to be a better person but goes on to grow out of Joker's, and her own, shadow. The diamond plot, as well as Huntress' backstory and Harley's relationship with Cain all feel too familiar, however. It's nothing we haven't seen before and, considering how confidently anarchic and fresh the first half of the film was, seeing it settle into something cozy and predictable is a tad disappointing.
Still, Birds Of Prey is overall a fun ride: Robbie's Harley Quinn is handled much better than she was in the inferior Suicide Squad, the fights and other action sequences are a treat, the villains are excellent and the humour is hard to resist. It may run out of steam a little in its second half but it remains one of the DCEU's best films so far and it's just a very entertaining popcorn movie.
Give it a go, puddin'.