The DC Extended Universe is still a bit of an uneven mess compared to the more consistent, albeit safer films of Marvel Studios. That’s not to say DC doesn’t have a few runs on the board. Hell, with the spectacular successes of Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018), Shazam! (2019) and the non-canon-but-insanely-lucrative Joker (2019), DC has made a serious impact and cemented their position as a comic book flick contender. Still, the memory of stinkers like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016) linger, despite the latter featuring a standout performance by Margot Robbie as one Harley Quinn. So, what’s a studio to do when you’ve got a fabulous star in an otherwise dodgy property? It’s soft reboot time, baby!
Birds of Prey basically chucks away (almost) everything from Suicide Squad (including, thankfully, Jared Leto’s execrable turn as Joker) and gives Harleen Quinzeel a mostly clean slate. She’s finally ditched the clown prince of crime and finds herself embroiled in a convoluted caper that swiftly becomes a fight for her life. Complicating matters is camp-as-several-rows-of-tents crime boss, Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and the timely introductions of several arse-kicking ladies like Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and alcoholic cop, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
The first thing you need to know about Birds of Prey is that it’s very silly. The second item is: it’s also a lot of fun. Margot Robbie continues to embody the role in an iconic fashion, as at-home in Harley’s skin as Ryan Reynolds is in Deadpool’s scarlet strides. Further to that, you’ve got a supporting cast that includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead not being wasted for once and a welcome return to the screen for Rosie Perez in a decent-sized role (and playing underrated GCPD character Montoya to boot). Ewan McGregor’s also having a lot of fun, although his role feels like it has been altered in the third act, perhaps due to studio tampering or just plain old wonky writing.
Cathy’s Yan’s direction is crisp and propulsive, with some excellent action scenes. And perhaps most gratifyingly, the third act doesn’t involve our unlikely heroes battling a bunch of CGI blobs descending from a portal in the sky. That’s not to say this is a perfect film. The fact that it’s even called Birds of Prey is borderline baffling, because the ultimate story it tells is only tangentially related to that property. This is basically Harley Quinn’s adventure with some entertaining guest stars, and a bunch of colourful, affable nitwittery designed to appeal to an audience in the mood for a good time or just lightly drunk. If you find yourself in such a state, and you’ve got 109 minutes spare, then Birds of Prey offers a slight but enjoyable flight of fancy.