Birds of Prey’s greatest strength is also its most glaring weakness: a sheer commitment to an over-the-top, unrestrained style of insanity that makes every scene feel like it drank way too much Red Bull. While this style can be an obnoxious way for the movie to mask its shallow plot, it more often than not results in a movie that’s just plain fun, and also a refreshing detour from comic-book movies that are so concerned with taking themselves seriously or figuring out their place in a larger cinematic universe.
Quality aside, Birds of Prey really isn’t a movie that should be called Birds of Prey. The focus here is clearly Harley Quinn on her own adventure, navigating (and also narrating) the turmoil of her own life after a fallout with Jared Leto’s Joker, who thankfully isn’t in the movie since everyone is trying their best to pretend Suicide Squad never happened. I’m more than happy that connections to Suicide Squad are severed — even if left canonical — but it does leave Birds of Prey with a bit of an identity crisis in terms of why it even exists in the first place. As for Margot Robbie’s Harley, she continues to be a great portrayal of the seductive and spontaneous character, yet her charm does wear a bit thin when carrying the burden of leading an entire movie. Her instability and craziness can at times feel like a one-note joke, and it’s a joke constantly repeated through her fourth-wall breaking narration which completely restructures the movie’s unfolding of events in ways both interesting and confusing. Perhaps this is for the better, because if the movie ever gave you time to think about its plot you would realize that there isn’t too much going on in terms of character-work or anything else, but the focus instead is kept on the breezy tone and it mostly works.
The movie being so definitively from Harley’s unique point-of-view can feel unconventional just for the sake of being different, but even if it lacks purpose it ultimately keeps the movie moving at a brisk pace and helped me suspend my disbelief during its more ridiculous moments. This is a movie that’s totally unashamed about being a comic-book movie, and there’s something nice in seeing that play out both in the film’s colorful cinematography and wild action sequences that could simply never exist in a MCU movie. Action truly is the highlight here, boasting great choreography with editing that — gasp — lets you actually see what’s occurring on-screen, and it’s all ridiculous and in service of the movie’s pure comic-book-iness.
It’s easy to sit here and nitpick this movie for lacking any sort of substance, so perhaps I’m taking it too easy when I say that I didn’t really care. I’d take something sloppy like Birds of Prey over a more familiar MCU movie most days of the week, and even if I wasn’t too high on this or Joker, I truly love that DC is giving filmmakers like Cathy Yan the creative freedom to bring their own voice and take risks. Still, Birds of Prey shows that while style will certainly get your wings flapping, it won’t quite send you soaring in the air; it’s up to you whether that’s good enough.