Birds of Prey, or to give it its full title: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) which you’ll understand if I don’t use again, is the latest instalment of the once-ridiculed DCEU (DC Cinematic Extended Universe. I say ‘once-ridiculed’ as for my money the franchise has been on a bit of a hot streak as of late; with the one-two punch of Aquaman and then Shazam! it’s slowly finding its feet as its own entity.
You, like me, may recall the days when the DCEU was the butt of many a joke following a string of let’s charitably call them ‘missteps’. things started going downhill with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which several correspondents still call an underrated masterpiece, and what I still call a bloated mess, it then went onto further embarress itself with the release of Justice League, a film in such a state that fans have been clamouring for years for the release of the ‘real’ version (still a long-shot in my eyes, movies executives aren’t exactly renowned for their self-awareness).
But the film that most relates to this one is 2016’s Suicide Squad, a film which, to me, is the worst of the entire franchise. If BvS and JossTice League were missteps, then this was a misstep of the end of a pier. Bless their little hearts though, you could tell some people involved were still trying, particularly Margot Robbie, whose portrayal of Harley Quinn was like a diamond in a septic tank, which brings us to this.
An undetermined amount of time after Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn and The Joker have broken up, causing Harley to go on the search for purpose, along the way unwittingly stumbling into events much bigger than herself as crime lord Black Mask tries to establish a firmer grip on Gotham.
That, as written above is the bare bones of what is actually going on in BoP, in truth, the whole thing is a lot more involved than that short paragraph would give away, flitting wildly between characters and plot-points in a manner resembling Harley’s personality.
That was my nicest way of saying that the plot is a little all over the place; but in a fun, self-aware way that’s more cute than annoying. You see, the film is all established with Harley’s narration, so it makes sense that the story would be all over the place, since the person telling it is – to put it mildly – a few cards short of a full-deck.
Harley doesn’t necessarily have a personality as several thousand ones, all poured into one person. She goes from grief-stricken, to vengeful, to clownish all within the space of one scene, and she is, without exaggeration, an absolute blast to watch.
Whereas Squad didn’t really know what it wanted to be, just take a look at the how much the trailers change pre-release, BoP knows exactly what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is fun. Unadulterated, charmingly, stupidly fun.
The whole film is underlined by this feeling of knowing campness, that just about resists the urge to literally wink-and-nod to the camera. It’s a film that’s daft, but it knows it is, but doesn’t care; and that’s what makes it so much fun to watch.
It addresses the several cliches it uses (the grizzled veteran police officer who talks like an 80s cop, the murdered parents backstory) and it presents this with an airy freshness that could have been insufferable if not executed correctly, but it infuses it with enough action and interesting characters that you don’t really give a hoot.
Think of Deadpool and how annoying that film would have been if not for the likeable characters and fun plot, that’s what BoP is like, except dialled down slightly on the fourth-wall breaking and dialling up the initiative action scenes.
For a series whose action scenes used to make my eyes glaze over, the DCEU really is hitting its stride with its choreographed action now, this film contains some of the most satisfying hand-to-hand combat choreography and cinematography I’ve seen in a long time; making use of Harley as an actual danger in combat, as well as a colourful ditz who is filling the films ‘crazy’ quota with childlike glee.
There’s a few scenes in particular that I would hold up as some of the best in this whole series; it even manages to make its climactic final fight feel like the biggest in the film, with the highest stakes and most imagination, using its unique atmosphere to further the action, it’s a wonderful final section that really brings the film together as a final product.
What of performances then? Well, with the emphasis on fun characters, I’d say the actors involved pretty much nail it. Margot Robbie is great as Harley Quinn, you can really tell that she enjoyed making this, and that she’s passionate about it; and Ewan McGregor alternates between scenery-chewing pantomime villain, to chilling, manipulative crime-boss with unnerving ease, he’s used as comic relief in parts, but made to look dangerous with it at the same time, so you absolutely buy him as a threat to our heroes.
So, for a series that many, myself included, have enjoyed railing against in the past, it seems that DC is finally finding its feet in the cinematic sphere. It stopped playing catch-up with its biggest rival and started making films that were unique to its characters, really doesn’t sound like that revolutionary an idea does it? Yet it’s such a relief that someone finally had it.
For being a film that is not only fun to watch, but made with skill and compassion, I’m willing to debase myself in gratitude for BoP because it really is one of those films you didn’t know you wanted until you had it, and now I just want more.
Yes, it has flaws, it’s plot is a messed-up web at times, and the relationship between our team of anti-hero’s is never really given time to gel, but you won’t really care about that, because you’ll be too busy having fun, and thank whatever Lord you prefer that someone remembered that once in a while films are allowed to be fun and entertaining, that they don’t have to be as broody as a teenager listening to Robert Smith all the time. We know that now, and it only took us half a decade to reach this conclusion.
I’m probably being harsh by comparing this entry of the franchise to the earlier ones, because in truth, I don’t think they resemble one another at all, the first half of the DCEU is so far removed from its second (and far superior) half that I suggest we forget the first half existed and pretend the series started with Wonder Woman, skipped JossTice League and is now just a series of films about DC’s unique characters; a guy can dream, right?