“Birds of Prey” excels at showing awesome female heroines and anti-heroines dominate in an entertaining comic-book film

A Review Written By Victor DeBonis

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

From a bunch of misfortune, much fuel and understandable fury can come and slowly start a greater independence and attitude that is both fun and interesting to watch. In its own twisted yet highly amusing way, “Birds of Prey” accomplishes at expressing that while also showing some solid talent from the actresses on the forefront and much of what’s on the screen, too. It’s a fun, wild, and oddly lovable movie about some cool women who make their way and kick rear through a society that doesn’t give them much of a break.

Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn to narrate this crazy tale mainly about herself and these other characters that isn’t always tightly written but refuses to waver from firmly charging forward with serious style and performers owning up to their roles with pride and talent. It’s a colorful action flick that made me grin and chuckle through much of its time, and it made me appreciative for the off-beat voice from its own personality, fittingly representing that of the delightful madness of Quinn herself.

This film is a spin-off to “Suicide Squad,” a clumsily executed wreck indicative of the time when DC movies were still trying to find their footing. Robbie as Quinn, however, stood out as one of the few highlights of that film, and her gleefully chaotic presence as the main character of “Birds of Prey” only further exemplifies why I’m so glad that she’s a part of DC’s film universe right now. I struggle to think of another actress who can pull someone who I’ve admired since the first time that I saw her on “Batman: The Animated Series.” Her vocal delivery brims with the rapid energy and pauses of almost child-like obliviousness that we’ve come to expect from her character. She also moves and fights with impressive force and a visible love for embracing her own insanity that flows through her from head to toe. However, when there is a calmer or more subtle moment, Robbie also believably expresses the exact quietness needed to illustrate her hurt while still keeping well in character and maintaining her edge.

Ewan McGregor is a blast as psychotic Roman Sionis, and it appears as though he’s getting a kick out of his role, too. There’s a sense that he absolutely hates when his own power and sense of control is being threatened, and he is not afraid to tear through someone with brutal force or rage to illustrate how he is not someone to dumbly consider trying to cross in the wrong way. Inexplicable, quick bursts of arrogance or macabre joy make their way between moments where he performs a hideous act of cruelty, and McGregor savors each one of these scenes. Between his fantastic performance in last year’s “Doctor Sleep” and his role here, McGregor reminds me more, right now, why I have such great respect for him as an actor.

As for other actresses in the movie, Rosie Perez excels as detective Renee Montoya, a character that numerous Batman fans, such as myself, will recognize from the Dark Knight’s universe. Perez gives life to her in this movie, playing her as hardened, gruff, and intensely passionate about her work to a point that she is willing to step outside of unfair boundaries set around her to provide justice. I’ve admired this actress ever since I saw her in “Do the Right Thing” and the sadly underappreciated 1993 movie, “Fearless,” and I’m so happy to see her in a movie again. Ella Jay Basco plays Cassandra Cain, the young girl who countless thugs are trying to track down for the priceless diamond that she’s stolen and how much incredible power it’s worth. She shows real talent, balancing an identifiable vulnerability with a playful cockiness that made me warm up to her character rather fast.

I also respect how well Cathy Yan directs this movie, too. There’s a vibrant, colorful personality and chaotic yet playful energy to this flick that echoes that from its main character so well. Speaking of the term, “colorful, Yan solidly establishes her voice by having several scenes set up with plenty of bright, radiant colors that contain a fierce, punk aesthetic almost reminiscent of the 90’s and the stylized color palette from that time. In small, street markets and lighting from the background, plenty of bright-pink and bright-yellow colors decorate these scenes and help this movie look great. For someone who grew up in the 90’s and enjoys the stylized, punk vibe that rock bands and music videos carried from some of that time, I got a kick out of the color palette here and what it reminded me of. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique deserves equal credit, too, for the movie’s terrific appearance. Yan also works well with the editing here, making effective use of comedic pauses and longer shots that welcome more character and momentum in action scenes or moments where you’re trying to get a sense of the distinct environments within this movie.

Action scenes are a blast to watch, utilizing wider shots with wide-open or creatively designed environments to make for interesting combat and use of objects surrounding the fighters to play with. It’s great to see these actresses perform their stunts, and it was awesome to get something out of the typical action scene, where a camera simply sits behind a fighter and throw one or two punches before cutting to another shot that’s almost identical. The climactic scene in an amusement park attraction, in particular, is a blast and made me grin throughout its entire time. Also, the soundtrack is neat to listen to, giving a decent blend of funk and 80’s rock and more current tunes that actually blend well with the tone of the movie. You get a sense that this is another comic book film soundtrack having been a bit inspired by the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, and, while the music here is obviously not along that same height, it’s still fun to listen to.

Maybe, the element that I admire the most about this movie is how it’s a film that, in its own absurd yet still effective ways, honors strong women who don’t let the awful events from their past or present situations or society’s bad treatment keep them from asserting themselves and finding ways to get better from their awful scenarios. Harley, for instance, comes off the heels of an awful relationship with the Joker at the very beginning of the movie. In addition to losing someone who she cared for deeply (despite suffering horrid treatment from him), she no longer has the same protection from other wicked people that she used to hold when she was attached to the Clown Prince of Crime. In spite of this, she carries out her own ways of dealing with her pain, such as buying a pet to give her love. Are they absurd? Without question, they are. Yet, again, they match with her character and are humorous and interesting to see. Other female characters hold a firm strength and determination to be better in the face of the unfortunate circumstances set by their situations or society in the movie, such as Montoya, who, despite being a fantastic cop, doesn’t get the opportunity to properly advance, thanks to an unfair work environment that places a biased emphasis on what the male cops do as opposed to the women working there. Yet, she still does everything in her power to pursue what happens in the conflict and reach out to people linked with the main crimes of the movie as the awesome cop that she is, regardless of what the people at the station think or say to her. In both comedic and serious ways, this movie takes time to let the audience knows what tough events help drive each woman and make us care even more when they rebel against their patriarchal society or dark pasts and kick rear as the movie goes on, and I had a special respect and appreciation for that.

Perhaps, the female character in the movie that I cared the most about in this movie was young Cassandra herself. Having grown up from an abusive home life, she is trying to find a path of her own and, perhaps, a strong connection with someone when the people who are supposed to be providing that aren’t doing that. Ultimately, we see Cassandra establishing that connection with Harley. True, Harley isn’t exactly a role model, but, on the other side of the coin, she does provide a genuine relationship with her and looks after her and cares about her in a way that the people from her previous home never did. Harley and Cassandra’s bond stood out to me as a darkly comic yet sincere, sisterly bond that I truthfully found heart-warming. I admire simply watching them eat cereal and chuckle over Looney Tunes on the tube (Because, what else would Harley be watching in this movie?).

I will say that some of these characters, cool as they are, could be given a little more time spent developing them and fleshing out their personalities and what makes them tick. As much as I love Ewan’s performance and character in this movie, for instance, I don’t really know what motivates him to become the wacko that he is, and the movie never takes a moment to give an idea of that. Cassandra is cool but I would’ve liked to learn a bit more about her, too, and the “protect the kid” storyline that surrounds her, while not awful here, has been done before in countless other movies and shows. In terms of the plot itself, it does tend to jump around back and forth quite a bit with it abruptly halting quite a few times to explain what happened before, sometimes for a little while. While I can follow what happens in it fine, the pacing of the narrative and its flow feels a little jarring during some moments.

All in all, though, “Birds of Prey” works pretty darn well. The action, confidence, and chaotic glee shined fondly in the movie, and much of that results from the great direction, terrific acting, and the number of flawed yet lovable and bold women at the center of the movie. A little tighter work on the script might’ve elevated this film from being pretty good to great, but, thankfully, the characters and the movie’s firm handle on balancing brutal, comedic action with enough sincerity made this a blast to watch, even more so than, say, “Shazam” (I liked it, but I didn’t love it). It’s the most enjoyable time that I’ve had watching a comic book movie in a while, and how much I cared about its cool characters and Harley at the center of it made me grin even more with a close-to-wicked sense of glee.

Grade: B+

I’m passionate about movies, animation, and writing, in general, and I only want to learn more.

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