Harley Quinn image
Image: © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC and Ratpac Entertainment, LLC. Sky Editorial Asset Centre.

‘Birds of Prey’ succeeds by refusing to take itself too seriously

Rating:

The quality of DC films in recent years has been quite hit and miss in comparison to Marvel’s efforts. Birds of Prey, like many of the preceding films of the same universe, falls into the same trap of poor structure. Yet, despite its faults, Birds of Prey ultimately exists as a fun two hours filled with colourful violence and infectious recklessness.

Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the ever-psychotically fun Harley Quinn is infallible as she embodies the Joker’s sometimes-girlfriend to perfection. Harley is, to no one’s surprise, the movie’s lead and its driving force. Despite the film being promoted with the full title of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Harley is far from a mere tag at the end of the film title; she is the film, and this very much is her film. For the character, the film truly does feel like an emancipation and transformation from villainous sidekick into independent leading lady.

Despite its faults, Birds of Prey ultimately exists as a fun two hours filled with colourful violence and infectious recklessness

As for the other Birds of Prey, their characterisations are a mixed bag. Through their interactions with other supporting characters throughout the film, viewers get an adequate idea of Black Canary and Renee Montoya’s motivations and traits. Huntress, however, who only meets the other Birds of Prey in the middle of the film’s third act, suffers from a lack of character development as, despite a thorough explanation of her tragic backstory, viewers leave the cinema without any solid idea of the heroine’s personality.

In the role of antagonist, Black Mask, Ewan McGregor gives a wonderfully camp and psychotic portrayal that may bring to mind Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Captain Hook in Hook. McGregor’s Black Mask, in some ways, was reminiscent of classic portrayals of the Joker through his charisma and violent mood swings. Through both the characterisation of Black Mask and Harley’s incessant name dropping of her ex-lover, the Joker’s shadow looms over this film but not distractingly so.

A standout element of the composition of the film is the explosion of colour in each scene. This makes the film feel like more of a joy ride as opposed to earlier dark DC entries like Batman vs. Superman and Man of Steel. Combined with not taking itself too seriously and the solid jokes, Birds of Prey doesn’t weigh the viewer down with morality and dire stakes like these darker films.

A standout element of the composition of the film is the explosion of colour in each scene

What ultimately holds the film back from being the best entry in the DC Extended Universe is the film’s structure. As the narrator of the story, Harley constantly gives expositional flashbacks which, after a while, start to become irritating. Around the beginning of the second act of the film, Harley storms a Gotham City Police Department precinct in a beautifully choreographed sequence that is cut short as she must explain how she came to be doing this. The viewer’s captivation is shattered as the film opts to concentrate on less interesting events.

Perhaps the film wasn’t released with high hopes of breaking records and wowing critics because the writers are thinking about the bigger picture – world building. It’s impossible not to compare DC films to Marvel films and the big difference between the competing universes is that the latter has already produced and enthralled cinemagoers with a rich universe. The DC Extended Universe still has some way to go before it reaches the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s level of depth and lore, but Birds of Prey helps the franchise get closer to that goal.

What ultimately holds the film back from being the best entry in the DC Extended Universe is the film’s structure

In no way as unbearable as previous DC entries like Suicide Squad and Justice League, Birds of Prey flies above the competition because of its refusal to take itself too seriously. The only real issues are that it struggles to tell a coherent story and dedicate enough time to each of the individual birds.

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