Birds of Prey movie review: Margot Robbie's Suicide Squad spin-off makes genuine attempts to push cinematic boundaries
Birds of Prey’s forceful nature doesn’t let the audience simmer in the moods and textures of the characters in it
After watching Suicide Squad no one in their right minds would have thought a standalone film on Harley Quinn would be a good idea. So we must thank the bloke who had the courage to take the criticism of Squad on the chin and roll out Birds of Prey, which is, all said and done, the first surprise of 2020. And by surprise I do not mean the kind of 2020 surprise where you wake up to see the symbiote of the coronavirus standing at the foot of your bed glaring at you while a smarm of locusts swarm your backyard and you can’t travel because airlines have banned you for being critical of the government; but the kind of surprise where a superhero movie makes a genuine attempt to push some cinematic boundaries and is aware of its own limitations.
As usual, the less you know about the story details the better, particularly given the number of superhero (and now super villain) movies that come out each week and your brain’s ability to map out every single plot point of this genre five minutes into the movie. What Birds of Prey does, is that it dances hard, and effectively, working its way to those cockles of your heart pumping with popcorn and cola instead of blood. In the hands of director Cathy Yan, the film becomes an extended music video of sorts, filled with a plethora of colours, a healthy dose of entertaining violence and crowd-pleasing dollops of girl power that is hard to ignore even if the script never reaches the heights of the film’s other cinematic tools.
Make no mistake, there is no nuance found in Birds of Prey, much like the other movies in the DCU. The approach that the film takes is akin to bursting into the room and shooting as much as it can to wow the audience into submission, and ultimately throwing the empty gun at a glass wall, followed by trampling on the fallen glass shards while singing loudly. It is not impossible to expect some audience members to check out mentally at the utter gratuitousness on display in the film, but one has to admire the filmmaker’s fascination with how to fuse comic book frivolousness with real-world psychological beats. If last year’s (and future Oscar-winning) Joker bludgeoned us over the heads with themes of mental disorder in a crumbling society, Birds of Prey plunges an emotional Katana into us with a message about how it feels like to be dumped by the Joker.
The film has a difficult time overcoming its limitations – which are sort of superimposed onto all the good moments. It is miles ahead of the lack of character focus found in its predecessor, but the film’s forceful nature doesn’t let the audience simmer in the moods and textures of the characters in it. Every time there is an uplifting emotional moment between Quinn and her equally insane supporting characters we’re furnished with an unrestrained moment of either crassness or vehemence, or both together. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress is predictably the most interesting of the supporting cast, and while Ewan McGregor seems to have had a blast in the film as the baddie, his output isn’t nearly as enchanting as he wants it to be. This may be because his character is surrounded by many other violent crazies at all times so his narcissism may not come across as truly menacing, but that’s what you get when you flip the genre switch and try to make the bad guys into heroes. Don’t let that bother you though, narrative wrinkles like these are hardly a deterrent when the rest of the film is so damn entertaining.
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