REVIEW: Birds of Prey would have been better with just the Birds

The biggest problem with *deep inhale* Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is how it tries to serve two masters, with one taking up the lion’s share of screentime when it’s the other—lesser—storyline that was not only more interesting but less annoying.

In short: The problem with Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is not the Birds of Prey part, it’s the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn part.

I get why this movie was made. Or, at least, I get why it was made the way it was. We very easily could have had a Birds of Prey movie that stood on its own merits and, separate from that, we could have had a Harley Quinn movie that followed-up on her life after Suicide Squad. I get why the two ideas were combined: DC is not to the point where they can release C-list superhero movies. Not when their A and B-list hero films are inconsistent. I mean, I thought Shazam! was great, but it barely made its money back. DC movies just don’t have the built-in goodwill that Marvel films have, which means it all comes down to star power and advertising to sell a DC film.

It’s too big a risk to try and release a stand-alone Birds of Prey movie. Likewise, probably somewhere along the way it was decided that Harley Quinn isn’t a strong enough character to carry her whole movie either, so the two ideas were merged into one.

Unfortunately, the project that needed Harley Quinn’s (or, more particularly, Margot Robbie’s) star power is the better idea and it was forced to play second fiddle to the lesser idea.

Harley Quinn is a supporting character that works best when she has, say, seventeen minutes of screentime spread out over a two-hour movie. Here she’s probably on screen for forty-five (at least) of the film’s one-hundred-minute runtime. She’s everywhere, with her cartoonishly over the top expressions, exaggerated reactions, and ear-aching accent. And to be clear: That’s Harley Quinn. That’s what you get with her. Over the top cartoonish obnoxiousness is her character; Margot plays the role really well but it was never designed for long-term use.

On the other hand, the Birds of Prey have a great little origin story that’s only half-explored; the other half is reduced to a mere montage. A film about the Birds of Prey, who they are, how they formed, and what makes them fun would have been a great movie. It could have been a great movie with Harley playing a supporting role, either as a chaotic neutral character flitting in and out of the movie, tangentially related to the main plot, or even as a wildcard bad guy that the ladies have to contend with.

Instead, DC decided the movie not only needed Harley Quinn’s star power, it needed to make the whole movie flow through her, too.

It’s like building a whole movie around the donkey in Shrek.

RANDOM RANTING THOUGHTS

In terms of comic-faithfulness, Birds of Prey ranks on the lower end of the adaptation spectrum. Characters like Black Mask and Black Canary are well-translated but Victor Zsasz might as well have been a no-name goon and Cassandra Cain was an entirely different person altogether. Huntress had the best origin story in the film but it was blown over in a two-minute montage scene; Mary Elizabeth Winstead did the best with the thin screenplay and was largely wasted.

The film is relatively short (barely over an hour-and-a-half for a comic book movie is unheard of these days) so it’s good that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it’s also really poorly edited, depriving the audience of any kind of a flow…

For some reason I can’t fathom, the movie tried to recreate the horrible first act of Suicide Squad, which was hacked to death by its editors, only this time doing the helter-skelter cutting between flashbacks and present-day, fourth-wall-breaking and voice-over narration in not just one act but two…

Speaking of the first two acts, the movie basically flips them so that the story begins with act two, and only flashes back to the happenings of act one. So the movie starts at 100mph then screeches to half for an act one flashback, then revs up again to 100mph, then stops, then starts, then stops, then starts. It’s not until the end of the first hour that we even get to what the plot is about.

I simply can’t understand why this movie was put together the way it was: Act two and one overlapping each other and then, without a proper middle to follow the beginning (since the beginning and the middle happened in parallel), the film just shifts to a looooong third act to wrap everything up, all the while spending as little time as possible with the characters who are actually named in the true title of the film.

Bizarre.

RANDOM SHORT THOUGHTS

The Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend number didn’t work. I get it. Harley goes into another place, mentally, when abused. I get it, but it didn’t work. It was jarring and felt out of place. It needed something else to make it clear why it was happening.

The action scenes are good, with lots of clever choreography, good stuntwork, and fun locales. All good stuff. There are good moments here, just not a good story around them.

I feel like this movie would have been perfect for whatever big WB streaming service the studio is soon to put out to compete with Disney+. I guess it’s HBO Max? Whatever it is, this would have been right at home.

Huntress’ backstory montage alone would have been good enough for a whole movie. 

Ewan McGreggor was aces as Black Mask and while I wish he hadn’t died, I can’t deny how fun and sudden his final moment in the movie was.

In my fantasy world, WB/DC has a good public opinion, is doing well with their A-list films, and releases a Birds of Prey vs Black Mask movie (sans Harley). In my fantasy world, it’s a fun ride that makes good money at the Box Office and everyone is happy.

In reality…

6/10 – I guess it’s better than Suicide Squad, but there’s little worth revisiting in this mess of a movie.

Do not stay until the rumored Post Credit Scene. It does not exist.

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