The last time Harley Quinn was on the big screen was in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” It was a film that lacked any conviction to storytelling. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, there were multiple editors working on different cuts at the same time. The movie was not received well — receiving a 27% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is already being rebooted by James Gunn.
“Birds of Prey ‘’ picks up the anti-hero, played by Margot Robbie, as she breaks up with her long time boyfriend, the Joker. The former psychotherapist, current criminal, does not handle the breakup well and falls into business with Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis.
The difficult journey to find a rare diamond sends Sionis after Harley Quinn as she teams up with other female superheroes — Black Canary, The Huntress and Renee Montoya — to take him on.
Needless to say, they have fixed the old storytelling problems.
“Birds of Prey” feels like a movie made by a filmmaker rather than a committee. The film is rated R for “strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material,” and it definitely sets itself apart from most superhero movies.
There are some similarities that can be drawn to “Deadpool;” the fourth wall breaking narration from the main character, bloody violence and expletive-filled dialogues. However, it would be too reductive to label this as a female Deadpool.
While the former felt adolescent, in the way it would revel in the swearing and shootouts, “Birds of Prey” feels more matter of fact. The movie is not about those elements — the characters are the real heart of the story.
Quinn’s central arc shows her maturing after this breakup, finding a new beginning in a protégé. Ella Jay Basco plays a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain, who comes out of her shell under Quinn’s direction. It is refreshing for the big climax of the film to revolve around Quinn and Cain’s relationship, as they figure out their problems rather than punching the bad guy really hard to save the town.
All of the other characters in this titular team are given equal depth as well.
Rosie Perez plays a cop, with the same tough exterior that recalls her debut role in “Do the Right Thing.” Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s assassin, the Huntress, has a couple of backstory revelations that are not mind blowing but still engaging.
Now, that isn’t to say that this isn’t a pure character drama — those elements are at the core and keep the action grounded. When the punches start flying, they hit really well. The R rating allows for some pretty crunchy bones to be broken and there are many gory moments from Sionis.
Chad Stahelski, who is mostly known for directing “John Wick,” served as a consultant to the stunts and his involvement shows. The camera stays back and allows the stunt team to coordinate some great fights. These feel more physical than if they were to be shot handheld, up close.
“Birds of Prey” does not reinvent the wheel, but it sure drives smoothly. This is the kind of movie DC should be focusing on — good characters and risking much less than the fate of the world.