“Birds of Prey” is everything fans wanted from a “Suicide Squad” movie — great action, lots of laughs and plenty of Harley Quinn.
David Ayer’s befouled flick gave audiences one of those. Thankfully, newcomer director Cathy Yen stepped forward to right the wrongs of that previous flick — including ditching the worst on-screen Joker to date. In fact, the fully-titled “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is all about kicking Jared Leto’s Joker to the curb — at least somewhat.
Narrated in the intentionally annoying voice of Margot Robbie’s Cupid of Crime, this heroine-led flick brings together some of the best anti-heroes in Batman’s corner of the DC Universe. Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya all cross paths, along with a very young Cassandra Cain and Quinn herself in a madcap crime flick that combines excellent action with a decent enough story. The character arcs of all five women are tied together by Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis, better known to comic book fans as Black Mask.
On its surface, “Birds of Prey” almost feels like DC’s attempt at capturing the popularity of Marvel’s “Deadpool.” Both feature “crazy” comic book antiheroes that break the fourth wall and are paired with more straight-laced characters in a barebones story buoyed by over-the-top action and the charisma of its leading actors. But “Birds of Prey” separates itself by elevating Quinn’s character from a love-stricken sidekick to a fully realized individual.
Introduced in 1992 in “Batman the Animated Series,” Quinn was originally a sidekick for the Joker. Later introduced in the comics, writers have slowly fleshed her out as more of an anti-heroine with a literal love-hate relationship with the crown prince of crime. Their relationship has led to many conversations about its more problematic elements — some of which were seen on-screen in “Suicide Squad.”
Instead of traveling down that well-worn road, “Birds of Prey” ditches the Joker — centering the majority of the movie on Quinn’s ultimate decision to break up with him for good, and the consequences that result from such an explosive — literally — action. Along the way, Quinn is paired up with Cain, who would later become Batgirl in the comics, who helps her discover her humanity and instill some knowledge on the young girl at the same time.
Despite the movie’s name, “Birds of Prey” doesn’t give too much of a focus on its titular heroes. The film is all about Quinn and her emancipation from the Joker. “Black Canary” Dinah Lance and Huntress aren’t given a whole lot to do throughout the film. Even Montoya, the grizzled detective trying to bring Sionis down, is fairly undeveloped.
Robbie is the obvious star of the show and one can tell she has a blast playing Quinn. She embodies the role in a way no one else can, nailing the physical comedy elements, as well as the more emotional and downtrodden moments where Quinn is at her most vulnerable. Her energy is on display at every scene as she throws herself into the character with plenty of excitement along the way.
“Birds of Prey” feels different from previous comic book films — from either DC or Marvel. Instead of focusing on CG-infused battles with dozens of characters on screen, fighting in a mass of digital mess, everything is focused and grounded with real-world stunts. Quinn’s combat — a combination of acrobatics, martial arts and straight-up brutality — is a beauty to watch — especially when combined with the over-the-top colors of this Gotham City’s underground.
It’s that combination of grounded and spectacular action and a meaningful story that elevates “Birds of Prey” above more recent comic book movies. It doesn’t hate itself, like last year’s “Joker,” but it still separates itself from the crowd to create an entertaining experience that opens the doors a whole new set of stories in the DC universe.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a weekly movie review column for The Lawton Constitution.