No more Mista J for Harley.
Coming off the unmitigated success of Joker, Warner Bros. elected to jump right back into the R-rated superhero genre with Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, which serves as a follow up to 2016’s Suicide Squad. Outside of the rating, the two films couldn’t be much more different, which proves to be both a blessing and a curse.
Following the events of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) breaks up with Joker in a very public manner, blowing up Ace Chemicals to announce her liberation. Unfortunately, Quinn had amassed a long list of enemies that were held at bay by her association with Joker. Now that she’s no longer under his protection it’s open season on Quinn from all manner of lesser crooks that were wronged by her.
At the top of the list is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who runs a club that Harley frequents and also doubles as a crime lord under the name Black Mask. He captures Quinn and is ready to kill her, but she convinces him that she can recover a precious diamond, which had been swiped by Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a teenage pickpocket currently in police custody. Quinn succeeds in breaking her out only to discover Cain has swallowed the diamond.
As Quinn waits for Cain to pass the diamond, the pair are a target for both criminals and cops alike as Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez) searches for them. The former finds them first, though, and Quinn’s apartment is destroyed, leading her to reach out to Sionis to cut a deal for protection in exchange for Cassandra. The situation is further complicated by the presence of Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who works for Sionis but lives in the same building as Cain, and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is taking out Gotham scum on a revenge mission of her own.
Robbie once again leans into the role of Quinn, and free of Jared Leto‘s work as Joker it’s easier to appreciate and enjoy her manic performance. She gets a few more layers this time around as well, which helped give a bit more depth to the character. The other “Birds of Prey” are each given limited time to shine, too, particularly Smollett-Bell. Winstead is fun in a fairly small role while Perez gets a more serious role.
That being said, McGregor is the most memorable part of the film. His antics are no less over-the-top than some of the Joker stuff, but the delivery is completely different, and it’s tinged with a unique humour. Chris Messina is menacing as his right-hand man Zsasz, always looking to feed into Sionis’ psychotic side. They make a good on-screen pairing and once again prove that DC’s biggest advantage over Marvel is its villains.
Birds of Prey doesn’t have a great plot, but it’s enough to serve as a backdrop for lots of crazy battles, off-colour jokes and interesting visuals. The interplay between the characters is consistently snarky, and it feels like everyone gets their chance in the spotlight. It’s a fun movie.
One of the things that Marvel has done so well is intertwining stories and characters while giving each of them story arcs and making even secondary heroes seem important. It also makes everything feel connected. DC, meanwhile, seems to be doing the opposite. Joker and Birds of Prey both take place in Gotham, but they have nothing in common. It’s the centre of the DC universe, and yet nobody else appears: no Batman, none of Harley’s Suicide Squad teammates, nothing.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Nearly an hour of extras is included, though there are no deleted or alternate scenes. It’s a pretty standard assortment as there’s one for costume design, creating the look of the film and general “making of” stuff. It’s fine as supplemental material, but there’s nothing vital.
As a standalone, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is an action-packed, enjoyable romp and one of the better DC Universe films to date. We just wish there was a stronger story and more overlap with the other movies.