Sunday, 23 February 2020

Review: Birds Of Prey

Birds Of Prey
And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn

Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. Cathy Yan / Trailer

I'm not going to lie, the latest DC movie was on a sticky-wicket before I even sat down in Screen 5. Anything with "fantabulous" in the title is going to have to work pretty hard to win back the goodwill it's already started to fritter away at the marketing-stage, and Birds of Prey is not a film that's trying to win people over.

A loose follow-up to David Ayer's Suicide Squad, we follow Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) after an acrimonious split with The Joker, as the inadvertently puts together a kickass team with The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), to bring down criminal kingpin Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and secure a stolen diamond (and not just to return the stone to its original owner). And on the mean streets of Gotham, this can only end one way: with maximum carnage.


The movie is bright, violent, sassy and moves like shit off a shovel, so what's not to like, right? Well, Birds Of Prey is what happens when a strong cast are absolutely fantastic at portraying an array of anti-heroes so irritating that all jeopardy is removed from the storyline. Because the audience isn't supposed to care about the diamond, and the prospect of these characters dying before achieving their goal becomes a growingly acceptable payoff, not least since we'd then get to spend less time with them. Birds Of Prey feels like a lock-in at Wetherspoons with a cosplaying hen party. Fine if that's your thing.

Admittedly, a large part of the problem is that while I love Robbie as a performer, I don't like the character of Harley Quinn, and that's certainly not the fault of anyone involved in the project. But as noted, this film will do little to change an audience's mind.


Quinn voiceovers her way through the carnage like an Accessorize Deadpool, the script around her veering wildly between banal chitchat, hoping-to-be-memorable pullquotes and grinding exposition. All backed with a ferocious needle-drop backing so eager to shift soundtrack albums that it's apparently happy to switch tunes mid-scene.

The film is enthusiastically acted, over-produced, over-directed but crucially under-written, DC hoping that an ADHD-approach to narrative will paper over the cracks in a team who aren't particularly interesting on an individual or group-level. Then again, it's hard to fully paint a character when you're introducing six of them in fifteen minutes...


By the end of the second act, Birds Of Prey has become so haphazard that it's actually boring, the cinematic equivalent of white noise. It's well shot and choreographed with visual effects and wardrobe meeting the bar, but the editing is slave to the erratic nature of the story and its narrator. The audience knows where all the main players are at any given moment, but it's less clear why.

There are some great technical aspects to the film, but it's let down by a screenplay which feels a bit first-draft or worse still, first-screenplay*1.

But I get the impression at least that Birds Of Prey is exactly the movie it's supposed to be.That's just not something made with me in mind.

Which is fine.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
This is the New Look to Suicide Squad's Hot Topic.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're going to, you likely will regardless of what I say.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's likely.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Obi-Wan Kenobi is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 It's not, of course. Birds Of Prey is written by Christina Hodson, who penned the hugely enjoyable Bumblebee. Then again, she also wrote 2017's Unforgettable; a movie which I only remember seeing by virtue of having written a review of it afterward... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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