The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, or “Birds of Prey” for short, is a much more enjoyable and entertaining follow-up compared to its loosely linked predecessor “Suicide Squad” (2016) in the DCEU film series from Warner Bros. Studios. “Birds of Prey” borrowed what it was trying to accomplish in the first film and resulted in establishing a Harley Quinn movie that can be viewed as a standalone film without the chains of being a tied-down sequel. Little nods are given to “Suicide Squad”, and it’s for the best. Harley Quinn’s voice over speaking to the audience is peppered throughout mostly occurring in the first half of the movie. It works as both a non-linear story structure and as if Harley is speaking as a patient in a psychiatric tone. “Birds of Prey” spends more time this round actually establishing characters. Maybe not entire background stories, but the behavior of some characters like Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis/Black Mask gives you enough to know who that person and their motivation.
The visuals really pop out starting with an animated prologue bringing up to speed where Harley came from and how she got to where she posts Joker break-up. The interactions between the characters and the world they thrive in bring a more grounded tone to the mafia plot and steps back from the supernatural (with what looks to be one superpower used). We really get to see Harley show off her batting skills and her best action sequences in a police station and abandoned funhouse. Staying true to her character, she even uses her roller derby skills outside the ring. When she gets knocked unconscious, instead of seeing swirling stars like a cartoon character, Harley sees a musical number dancing in her head. It becomes a little obvious, but not too in-your-face, with the female empowerment when Detective Montoya’s male boss takes credit for her work and the Birds of Prey fighting off a bunch of male goons. But there was that one female bounty hunter that got blown up in a brief car chase. Even Harley’s Asian restaurant owner friend, Doc, betrays her for the reward money. But his character could have had a tiny bit of redeeming quality. Maybe set up Harley ignoring a pile of mail at her doorstep with Doc slipping a note marked “URGENT” for her to find to possibly warn her of his deception. But the note is found too late by Cassandra for anything to be done. At least something to suggest men are not all evil. The movie is still a wild ride from beginning to end.
The movie is self-aware and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Slipping meta-references similar to Fox/Marvel’s on-screen portrayal of Deadpool. So you know the filmmakers were having as much fun as they can. McGregor delivered Sionis as a person with self-esteem issues trying to keep the tough guy persona past his paranoia. His fascination with cultural masks and heads was just a glimmering peek inside his head. When Sionis finally wears his black mask towards the end of the movie, it feels like he draws energy from adorning the gear. It’s like when a child wears sunglasses to feel invisible. Or in this case, invincible. Even Harley broke his character down like she would with her Ph.D. background. She displays her high psychoanalysis intelligence identifying liars and childhood traumas. Everyone feels like they play a part in interaction with one another like cogs in a machine. I appreciate the team-up doesn’t finally happen until the end of the movie. The title “Birds of Prey” works more like the female characters are the “chicks” or “birdies” that a preyed upon by Gotham’s most wanted. For those more versed in comic-book lore, the female line-up for the team is not the original nor comes with certain original character backstories. But the moniker of the team name has been played around before with “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “The Avengers”, “Justice League”, “Suicide Squad”, and “Sinister Six”. Heck, even Batgirl, Red Hood, and Robin have had different people using the same name. Best to walk into this movie and let it be its own interpretation as a fun popcorn flick.
You may walk out of this movie craving a bacon and egg breakfast sandwich. I know I did.