Blog: Birds of Prey

The plot of Birds of Prey is pretty simple: a mob boss needs a diamond with the keycode of a bank account inscribed on it. A pickpocket, by chance, gets the diamond and swallows it when she’s arrested. Harley Quinn needs to protect the pickpocket from the mob boss. The movie is made complex by two things. One, the overlapping stories of Harley Quinn, the pickpocket, a detective hunting the mob boss, a singer of the mob boss, and a mysterious assassin. Two, the multiple layers of flashbacks, backtracks, retreads, and setups.

Because of that second thing, Birds of Prey felt like it was trying way too hard to imitate the success of Deadpool (and its sequel), just as its predecessor Suicide Squad was too much a copycat of Guardians of the Galaxy. Like Deadpool, our protagonist narrates events to the audience, irreverently breaks the fourth wall on-screen, lives in a dumpy apartment filled with ironic kitsch, meets and builds her team of misfit champions over the story, and faces off against a sadistic psychopath. And somewhat similar to Deadpool, the villain is eliminated abruptly and unceremoniously. (Think Bad Boys II.)

Also like Deadpool, we’re treated to quirky animated segments, extreme violence, and brief daydreams. Remember how Deadpool hallucinated a little bit when a knife was lodged in his brain? Harley Quinn upstages him, literally, when a slap to the face rattles her so badly the entire movie becomes a musical for thirty seconds. Remember how Deadpool broke the fourth wall inside of a flashback within a flashback? Harley Quinn does it too, except in this case it was handled so sloppily I genuinely lost track of where we were in the main narrative.

In addition to the flashbacks needing better editing to help the audience follow them more clearly, some other scenes contributed nothing altogether. One example is when the mob boss becomes so paranoid that he imagines a woman in his nightclub is laughing at him so he retaliates by ordering her to dance and strip on her table. The point is to show he’s a total scumbag and misogynist, but by this point this part of his character was well-established. We’re also treated to an early scene of Harley Quinn at a roller derby, setting up her use of rollerskates during the big showdown at the end. Would audiences really not believe she could use rollerskates unless it was explicitly established on-screen?

These redundant scenes should have been cut at least to give more room to the mystery assassin. In the front seventy-five percent of the movie, she is on-screen for maybe five minutes. The revelation of her identity — and hence her direct impact on the plot — comes so late into the story that we barely get to know her as a character, resulting in little chemistry with the other heroes.

Aside from the assassin’s poor integration into the main story, I thought pretty much all of the characters were well-written and well-acted… except for Harley Quinn, our main character. I’d be inclined to be generous to Margot Robbie and attribute that to poor writing. I didn’t like any of the characters in Suicide Squad either, including Harley Quinn, so it’s probably just the character herself that doesn’t work.

Despite having mostly negative things to say, I actually didn’t hate this movie as much as I expected to. There were parts that made me sharply exhale in amusement, though nothing that made me actually laugh. It’s good that the DCEU has stopped trying to play catch-up with the runaway success of the MCU’s runway success, but I can’t get over the lingering copycat syndrome DC’s films have. Much like Harley Quinn is accused in-story, Birds of Prey doesn’t have enough individuality to stand on its own. The quirkiness depends too much on emulating Deadpool, and the story is told too sloppily.