It’s been a bit of a wild ride over the past few years watching the DC cinematic universe try to put itself back together (or the DC Extended Universe as it apparently prefers to be called). After the critical failure one two punch of Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad and the universally “meh” response to Justice League after
that, it looked like the shared DC movie universe was pretty much dead in the water. Every news story that came out was about this or that actor leaving the franchise, and for every new project that was announced, it seemed like two more were pushed back or faded off of the release schedule entirely. But somewhere along the way, DC has started to pick itself back up.
First we got Wonder Woman (which admittedly came out before Justice League) becoming both a critical and commercial smash success. Shazam was a major tonal departure from the previous DCEU movies with positive reception, and it’s still baffling to know we now live in a world where the Aquaman movie made over a billion dollars at the box office. Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is the latest entry in the DCEU redemption tour and with its entry into the cinematic franchise, we finally have, without question more good DCEU movies than bad ones.
Birds of Prey is the closest thing we have to a direct sequel to Suicide Squad (at least until Suicide Squad 2 comes out next year.) with Harley Quinn taking a clear lead role in the movie. This time, however, it’s a different Harley Quinn (played once again by Margot Robbie) . Having recently been left by The Joker, Harley suddenly finds herself without purpose or direction in her life. But an unexpected side effect of her newly single lifestyle is that everyone that left her alone because she was The Joker’s girlfriend is now free to seek out their revenge, from mob bosses, the police to random citizens who were victims of The Joker and Harley’s particular brand of comedic torture. Harley suddenly has the biggest target in Gotham on her back.
Harley Quinn narrates the events of the movie, presenting them in a madcap non-sequential kind of way. While we start the movie off following Harley Quinn, again and again we’re taken back to the beginning (or even before the beginning) of the movie to introduce a new character including nightclub singer, Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) the vigilante Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), teen pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), and the main villain of the movie Roman Sionis, the crime lord also known as Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). With all the different story lines seem to be flying in all directions, out of control and sometimes crashing into each other, as the movie progresses, but as the movie flies toward the climax, the narrative it’s weaving starts to come together revealing that the plot is in fact tightly managed and meticulously detailed.
The real success in Birds of Prey comes from it’s decision to take really big swings time and time again. Margot Robbie is playing the same character that she was in 2016 (and the events of Suicide Squad are briefly mentioned) but this interpretation of Harley Quinn is a much more interesting one. It’s a richer and more layered performance than Robbie’s first take on the character creating depth. The slower character moments for Harley Quinn are just as appealing as the action ones this go round.
And that’s not to say that the action beats of the movie shouldn’t be touched on. While Birds of Prey doesn’t ever play in the gore for gore’s sake territory, the movie does feel a bit freed by it’s R rating. Hits that should break bones get to break bones in this movie. That being said, the R rated action still feels like a cartoon at all times with loud music and fast paced movement accompanying the fight choreography to make sure this is still clearly set in a comic book world. For an expanded universe that wanted to be taken as the “serious one” a few years ago, the action beats in this movie, and really the tone and style of the movie as a whole, help to serve as a kind of dissertation as to what wasn’t working with the early DCEU movies.