The originally titled film was Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. It was a fun and long title that made sense for the oft-kilter love interest of the Clown Prince of Crime. But here’s something you notice as the film goes on: It’s not about the Birds of Prey at all, it’s unmistakably and unabashedly about Harley Quinn. After the receipts from the box office had the film pulling in a disappointing $33 Million box office, they changed the name of the film to “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey”.
The late name change coincides with a lot of the decisions made in this movie: Too many ideas muddled together without a clear direction. And that’s the ultimate weakness of this movie. Birds of Prey or Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey doesn’t know what story its telling. It’s Quinn’s emancipation from Joker and how that leads everyone to want to kill her since they don’t fear retaliation. But its also Officer Mendoza’s (Played by Rosie Perez) emancipation from a job that doesn’t respect her and looks down on her. It’s also somehow about revenge for a hit job on a mafia family, a diamond, a pick-pocket, a not so subtlety hidden homosexual relationship between boss and employer, and a lounge singer who can shatter glass (and also bones) with her voice.
What’s maddening about Birds of Prey is that all the individual elements of the film are absolutely fantastic. Margot Robbie melts so effortlessly into this role that if you put her other two performances from last year in Bombshell and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, you’d almost swear it was two different actresses. Robbie has Quinn’s psychotic and erratic persona down flat, matched with the inherent naivete as her animated counterpart. She’s so much more in command of this character than she was in 2016’s Suicide Squad that its noticeable, and we only hope it continues when James Gunn reignites the franchise.
Another standout here is Jurnee Smollett-Bell who’s Dinah Lance a.k.a Black Canary is sharp-witted, aggressive, and exudes beauty and ferocity in every scene she’s in. Ewan McGregor was probably the main actor I was concerned about stepping into this role as Roman Sionis a.k.a Black Mask, but he made the character dark, twisted, and very much a threat even if his defeat was ultimately anti-climactic.
The action scenes also have to be called into question. Not that they’re bad, they’re actually quite violent, which is great, but right when they could go farther, they pull back. Right when they should elaborate on the threats the girls are about to face, it drifts back into cartoonish folly. The biggest strength of this movie should’ve been it’s action sequences, but there are moments in the film where you can spot how choreographed the fight scenes are. Someone holds a punch too long or someone moves out of the way before the punch is even thrown and it comes so late that its obvious. It’s something they clearly didn’t clean up in post that they most certainly should have.
But even with all its flaws, Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey (which it should’ve been called) is a lot of fun. You’ll laugh, you’ll cheer, and you’ll smile. And despite it’s best efforts to shoot itself in the foot, we’re intrigued and invested enough in this world that we’re actually hungry for more. So we can’t wait to see where this franchise goes from here, but hopefully, next time they get the damn name right.