Everybody’s favorite thing about Suicide Squad is how sad and small it made Jared Leto. Everybody’s second favorite thing about Suicide Squad was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She was so good that she overcame having to be in the proximity of Jai Courtney, a charisma vampire whose “acting” siphons all joy from nearby performances. Had Birds of Prey steered just a bit harder into the anarchic, punk rock swagger it occasionally burps with its whiskey-covered breath, it would have fully been the film Robbie deserves.
Superhero origin stories are dead albatrosses hung like decomposing jewelry around the necks of comic book movies. Birds of Prey, or BOP as it playfully demands to be called, features a wholly unwise amount of origin tales. A kitschy animated opening recaps Harley’s journey from PhD to criminal mischief-maker, ignoring both the existence of Jared Leto and that whole pesky “Joker committed domestic abuse” thing. We then get labored backstories for each of the following:
- Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who can use her voice as a weapon, and not in a Gilbert Gottfried way
- Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a hard-nosed detective who speaks exclusively in 1980s cop movie cliches
- The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the orphaned daughter of a mafia family exacting revenge in a way that would make Robin Hood blush
- Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), an underworld kingpin with questionable decorating taste and even worse volume control
They’re all in pursuit of a diamond residing in the intestine/colon of a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). The sheer volume of characters means audiences are doubly cheated, in that there’s not enough time to develop a bond with the new folks and not nearly enough of Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
Despite the overstuffed cast and clunky plot, BOP dares you to have a bad time. Director Cathy Yan’s film is at its best when it is reckless and wild. From Harley’s binge-drinking after her break-up to her endearing grocery shopping trip with Cassandra, whenever BOP isn’t shackled by expected story beats, it is spectacular neon-spackled chaos. A special shout-out goes to the clean, clear fight sequences that are uniquely obsessed with knee dislocations.
Outside of what can kindly be called an uneven turn by McGregor, everyone else sparkles in want of room to shine. From Logan to The Mandalorian, pop culture is besieged by stoic, super-heroic dudes awkwardly raising kids. Harley Quinn, a fourth-wall shattering antihero, should have been given the solo space and time to riff and skewer those conventions. Instead, BOP feels like a desperate attempt to cram as many superheroines in as possible, out of a sad (and sadly realistic) fear that this may be the only space they’ll get.
Being denied two separate, better films isn’t reason to mourn one flawed-but-fun one. BOP is gleefully garish and somewhat blissfully devoid of bigger themes or meaning. Like its lead character, it is just out to have a good time and will bust you in the chops if you resist it.
Grade = B