Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey Review – A fun, flashy movie with a fabulous action sequence
I had a high expectation for this movie because my friend told me it was one of the best movies that came out in 2020 so far. Well, that was an opinion I have to respect but I can’t totally agree with.
Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) or now it is officially titled Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is the first solo movie of Harley Quinn. As we know Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn first appearance was in Suicide Squad and from that we could understand a little grasp about the character’s past.
The story follows Harley Quinn as she declares that she and the Clown Prince of Crime are through for good and she’s no longer under Joker’s shadow. They’re breaking up. It’s time for her to be her own person and stand on her own two feet—the thing is, it’s a lot harder than she expected. One of the perks of dating Gotham’s most feared villain is to have immunity, something that Harley has taken advantage of to piss off plenty of people. With no protection, she’s like an open target and chased after by thugs, rogues, and crime lords she has wronged in the past. And among these grudge-bearer is Roman Sionis “Black Mask” (Ewan McGregor), who is a rich, narcissistic, and flamboyant criminal mastermind. To settle old scores, he eventually abducts Harley. And to save herself, she offers to do him a favor, to find him a girl who steals (and swallows) the diamond he’s looking for, a diamond that has the account numbers to a huge fortune. They then streak a deal and Roman Sionis lets her go.
Through this treasure hunt, Birds of Prey introduces and brings the other players together; Dinah Lance or Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Helena Bertinelli or Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and young pick-pocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). They mostly on different sides throughout the movie but ultimately come together in the end for the final conflict to bring down the main antagonist. That’s pretty much Birds of Prey. The plot isn’t hard to follow and no heavy, dark sequences whatsoever. It’s your fun, an archetype of no-brainer movie.
Written, directed, and produced by women, including Margot Robbie herself, Birds of Prey showcases a different charm of Gotham. The movie works because it’s comical and has great characters. With entertaining visuals, it’s indeed a fun movie that we can watch together to unwind with our beloved ones. The animated opening is enticing and gets your attention from the start. I have never seen Gotham being this vivid and full of color. Director Cathy Yen creates a complete burst of vivacious energy and an irresistible girl’s power through its lively and vibrant tone. Even though there are no household names, such as; Batman and, remarkably, Joker for that matter, it has a fresh script and formidable performances. Harley Quinn is a role meant for Robbie, she’s exceptional and shines brightly as the central character. Her quips and witty remarks bring so much to enlighten the atmosphere.
Another thing that Birds of Prey can get it right is how every big action in the movie is choreographed and staged in the most fascinating way possible. The bright and flashy gunfight—more like Harley storming to the police station and shooting everyone—when he goes looking for Cassandra with a customized beanbag shotgun that launches pink and blue colored smoke and glitters bombs. The seemingly violent act looks much more playful than what is supposed to be. The cinematography is pretty, nothing really extraordinary but not so over the top either, it just fits. In addition, the movie’s main squabble takes place on a large merry-go-round, in a colorful and lively background setting, where the squad fight against Black Mask’s lackeys in a big game of keep-away. The brawl not only shows that Robbie has a terrific talent for physical comedy but also exhibits each character’s distinct personality from their fighting style and interaction with one another. Most of the action sequences are shot very wide so you can see clearly everything that’s going on.
The whole movie is taken from Harley’s point of view. She narrates the story, in a kind of weird disjointed way. From the very first animated segment to every character introduction, then throughout the film until the end. However, she’s not good at keeping things in order thus makes the movie bounce back and forth with the timelines. She sometimes has to take us back to give an understanding of the importance of a scene and to fill in some details. It can be tricky and distracting to some, but overall no major confusion on my part. In fact, I think having a lead character narrate every bit of what’s happening is the most simple way of telling a story.
So, it is a fun movie, the action and the humor work. But what does it lack of? Something that bugs me is how this story is totally plot-driven, with barely deep character development. We have at least five women in the gang and one supervillain, yet he movie focuses heavily on Harley Quinn, her psychosis, and what she’s been going through. And since everything is coming from Harley’s perspective, we barely know the other characters except only on the surface. Many will inevitably feel one-dimensional, lack of motivation, and a certain depth. As a result, we barely feel any connection with them.
The thing about Harley Quinn is that she’s a former psychiatrist who’s actually an intellectual before Joker messed up with her head, yet for the most part, Harley gets out of every sticky situation by pure random luck; she hunches down to take a pin when she’s about to shot by an arrow, takes down three people in one go by only throwing a pile of junk, another character shows up just in time to save her when she’s about to be taken by some douchebags. She barely uses her wits to escape a tough position. That’s a little disappointing because we know Harley is more than that.
I have also some questions that plague my mind. I don’t know whether it’s because I don’t get the movie right, I missed something, or it’s really not clearly stated/implied in the movie. After the pick-pocket girl, Cassandra Cain, gets her hands on the diamond, she examines it for approximately 10 seconds—yeah, only for a couple of seconds—before swallowing it. And for what? Why does she do that? What’s the motivation? Is it because she doesn’t want the diamond to be found? It’s extremely vague and even until the end, there’s no indication as to the real reason behind it.
There’s also a part where I think it does not add up. “Parley?” says Harley as he is ambushed by the cops before the next scene jumps to Detective Renee Montoya. Four minutes later, the movie cuts to Harley barges into a police station bringing her customized gunshot smoothly. So, my question is, what happens off-screen? Does she not taken to the police or is she somehow able to flee her way out of the cops? Do they really negotiate and let her go easily? Again, it’s unclear.
All in all, while there is certainly much to enjoy about the movie, I would have desired more substance from it. Especially with respect to the characters, it’s hard to get behind most of them. It’s difficult to emphasize to much development and characterization of the lead roles, given that Birds of Prey is so plot-driven.