Birds of Prey Review: When It Works, It Really Works

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Beloved villain Harley Quinn gets her own spin-off, proving there’s still fun in superhero flicks.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Words by Eliza Lourenço | Minor spoilers

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) takes place after she and the Joker break up. The film catapults the audience into classic post-split antics with trademark Harley Quinn style: cutting her hair, getting a new pet (a hyena called Bruce) and burning down the factory where she pledged herself to the joker. As you do. 

Birds of Prey stands out from other DC films with an 81% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from over 250 reviews. In comparison, Suicide Squad holds a 27% approval rating and Justice League comes in at 40%. The film falls closer to Wonder Woman’s 93%, one of the few DC cinematic universe films to match and best Birds of Prey.

Margot Robbie brings dramatic flair to Harley Quinn in a way that makes it hard to imagine any other actor in the role.

Robbie treads a fine line between caricature and believable anti-hero for most of the film. However, the writing sometimes pushes her off balance into jarring self-awareness. When she regains footing, the pure enjoyability of watching her play with the character makes up for the faltered moments. 

The editing leans into Harley Quinn’s short attention span and jumps around to her non-linear voiceover. Glitter- and colour-infused art direction compliments the narration but also works on its own merits. 

Birds of Prey wants to say a lot about female dependency on men in relationships and careers. The film provides some nuance on the topic but also dilutes the themes in favour of storytelling based on Quinn’s light and bubbly personality. 

Both ideas are embodied in the workplace relationship (if you can call it that) between Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary and Ewan McGregor’s unsettling, childish and unpredictable villain, Roman Sionis, A.K.A Black Mask. 

Smollett-Bell plays Black Canary, a disillusioned singer in Sionis’ nightclub. She’s the result of Gotham’s failed welfare system and this backstory adds a nice touch of realism to the world of Gotham. 

McGregor plays Roman Sionis well at first, but after a while  the performance becomes overwhelming to watch. He swings from charming to downright cruel and psychotic, causing whiplash. Much like Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad, the character strays too far into absurdity. 

The relationship between Black Canary and Roman Sionis provides a parallel to Harley Quinn’s dependency on the Joker. Which in turn creates a familiar character arc and bond between the two female leads. Harley Quinn draws a lot of attention in the DC fandom so it’s nice to see another female character share the spotlight with her own story of dependency. 

Birds of Prey finds its feet when the story forces Quinn to take responsibility for the young pickpocket, Cassandra Cain, and collaborate with the Black Canary, Huntress and detective Renee Montoya. Instead of the characters resisting collaboration in favour of the “I work alone” trope, Cathy Yan’s direction creates positive group chemistry between five charismatic female characters. 

These moments in the film make for refreshing cinema. You don’t realise how rare it is for female characters to have dialogue positively directed at other female characters until it’s up there on the big screen. 

The film is definitely not for children and might trouble more squeamish movie-goers. For everyone else, it’s a great time, especially for a girl’s night out. Male fans will also get a lot out of it, provided they go in with an open mind.

Share your thoughts about DC’s newest addition in the comments below.

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