Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) gets every opportunity to showcase a variety of trademarks in Birds of Prey, but the shiny, full-throttle feature rarely shows us a character fans will actually recognize. In similar fashion to several other superhero films which have recently lost their way, if there is a character who can, for any reason, be described as “crazy,” then that will become the beginning and end of said character. This is also brought to us here as Ewan McGregor‘s Black Mask never manages any sort of character at all, beyond the script notes that read, “Super Looney.”
Harley Quinn forced her way into pop culture, not because she’s crazy, or because she attaches herself to crazy, and she certainly didn’t gain the attention of fans everywhere because she’s rather ditzy and has the attention span of a gnat.
There are moments in Birds of Prey when we get a glimpse of Harley Quinn as she should be, but they are rare and this is a film that hopes viewers won’t really care all that much because something is about to get smashed. More importantly, this is a film banking on Robbie’s charisma, and while that’s a safe bet, it’s lazy.
Still, for all that the film is somewhat bonkers, in a way that almost makes it an homage to the old Batman TV series, what it manages to deliver well is mostly worth the time. It’s a film that becomes a test of what viewers are willing to trade, which probably isn’t as unusual as it sounds. Are corny fight scenes, and hollow, insane villains worth a lot of fun and a wild ride? Is a raucous, fourth-wall-breaking, trip with an occasionally hilarious “villain” on the run as most of the city’s other villains try to take her down worth a lot of nonsensical plot devices and questionable character motivation? If you’re in the right mood, it probably is.
There’s a lot to the sell actually, because as a rollercoaster this gets the job done, and most frequently by way of the co-stars who do not get nearly enough time on screen. Mary Elizabeth Winstead‘s Huntress could have her own film based on what is perhaps only fifteen minutes of actual appearance. That she will likely win fans with so little to work with is oddly reminiscent of Harley Quinn’s rise to stardom.
The film’s cadence ultimately becomes almost sing-songy, as it sets a rhythm of fight and flight that works at cross-purposes with the “chaotic” theory of Quinn’s ability to form plans, or indeed think five minutes ahead of her current impulse. Although it sets the stage for some of the ludicrously-choreographed fights that both do and don’t feel at home within the larger production.
Would that it could have truly broken loose from Suicide Squad, but it doesn’t have the attention to its own plot. Worst of all, bags of high-spirited fun or not, the frequent narration by Harley is something of a lie aimed directly at the audience, implying the film is going to give you some character. It may have her read lines that tell you snippets of her backstory and hint at the method to her madness, but opening the film with a dossier isn’t character development.