Told in flashback, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) starts ‘Birds of Prey’ by recounting the break-up of her relationship with the Joker after ‘Suicide Squad‘. This entails, buying a Hyena called Bruce, destroying the scene of their love (the local Ace chemical plant) and crippling the driver of sadistic nightclub owner Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). With Sionis’s plans to steal a huge diamond having gone awry, he then forces Harley Quinn to recover the gem – or face some very deadly consequences…
As the stand-out character in director David Ayer’s lacklustre ‘Suicide Squad‘, it was unsurprising that Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn would get her own movie. Smart, sassy and whimsically psychotic, Robbie previously had a ball puncturing the patriarchy, one deadpan remark at a time. However, now that the moment has arrived for her own psychedelically-coloured movie to pull out of the parking lot, a genuine chance has unfortunately gone begging.
Surrounded by a menagerie of badass characters, all of whom have a score to settle with Harley Quinn, the main plot takes quite a while to get going, drowned out instead by a multitude of violently choreographed set pieces. During this opening intermission, several troubling traits immediately present themselves: Harley Quinn repeatedly breaks the fourth wall by addressing the audience directly; is near-permanently sarcastic in her comments and ends every point with a flourish of violence. -Does this sound like another potty-mouthed comic-book assassin to you?
Parking the clear ‘Deadpool‘ similarities for a while, director Cathy Yan is clearly keen to pitch her ‘Birds of Prey’ far from Ryan Reynold’s reliance on ‘R’ rated violence – save for the introduction of Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis. And yet, whilst he is allowed to lean heavily on the sadism and body mutilation, nothing can really distract you from the following facts. Everything always serendipitously falls into place for Harley Quinn, she never has to make any compelling choices and Ewan McGregor just… isn’t… scary.
Papering-over these critically self-inflicted wounds, ‘Birds of Prey’ lurches from being a solo venture to an ensemble piece in its final half. Rosie Perez is a doggedly-determined police detective, Jurnee Smollett-Bell is a nightclub singer with a killer voice and Ella Jay Basco is a whip-smart pickpocket. However, commendably cutting herself out of ‘Bird of Prey’s’ comic-book frames is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s vengeful assassin with an identity crisis. Stealing every scene she contributes to, the final act belongs to her by sheer dint of her restraint and comedic timing.
Yet, at the end of the day, ‘Birds of Prey’ is first and foremost “A Harley Quinn Movie” and in the title role, Margot Robbie stretches her character’s smile as far as it will go. With everything dialled-up to eleven in its dense martial art sequences, playlist song choices and over-reliance upon absolutely anything breaking in the background, Robbie’s best intentions get swamped thanks to the circus of noise around her.
In the end, sadly squandering any true feminist potential by repeatedly equating violence with dominance, ‘Birds of Prey’ succeeds in flying away from the memory of ‘Suicide Squad‘ but only straight into the arms of ‘Deadpool 2‘.
So, whilst the early reviews may guzzle and gurgle with platitudes, please beware of the following. If you’ve never seen ‘Suicide Squad” or read the comics, there probably won’t be much for here for you when the eagle finally does land.
Served either hot or cold, this is one bacon butty of a movie that will probably taste the same whenever you get round to sampling it…