Sunday, October 24, 2021
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Birds of Prey is for the birds

When Margot Robbie made her debut as the insane clown criminal Harley Quinn in 2016’s “Suicide Squad”, it seemed like a match made in movie heaven. Except that “Suicide Squad” is a truly awful movie, quickly nixing the prospects of seeing more Quinn anytime soon.

Now, with the release of the ridiculously titled “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” Robbie dawns her pale face makeup, edgy tattoos and massive mallet to once again wreak chaos.

The end results are mixed. “Birds of Prey” does a lot of things well and a lot of things not so well. 

At it’s best, it’s a film full of zany, over the top, sugary violence anchored by solid performances and enough cinematic flair to keep the senses engaged. At its worst, it’s an uneven and unfocused attempt at a style that never quite becomes a slog, but gets just close enough to be a mark against it.

If anything derails “Birds of Prey,” it’s the movie’s plot. It doesn’t have one. Harley Quinn has broken up with her abusive (and criminally insane) boyfriend The Joker for good. Now a single and free woman, she searches for meaning and independence. 

This is a more than decent premise, and for the 10 minutes that the movie is only about that, it’s good. Unfortunately, those 10 minutes end, and the plot becomes convoluted and cliché as a precious diamond goes missing in Gotham, and for some reason Harley Quinn is involved.

There’s a lot of moving parts to the story and none of them really go anywhere. Everything is told out of order because that’s how Harley, who narrates, chooses to tell the story. It’s a neat idea and distracts from how basic the plot is, but doesn’t redeem it. 

Superhero movies aren’t known for their stories, but with a character like Quinn, you can go in literally any direction, and it’s disappointing to see them go so hard down a safe street.

But when the plot can’t entertain, the acting can. Robbie plays Quinn without restraint. Totally off the walls, her energy never not at the highest possible level. 

The entire cast brings their A-game. Ewan McGregor tries his hardest to steal the show as the villainous Black Mask and comes close to doing so. 

The titular Birds of Prey, a group of fellow female butt-kickers that Quinn just kind of ends up with (the story isn’t good) don’t get as much screen time as they ought to but all play off each other well, each vastly different personality creating a unique but ultimately underused dynamic.

“Birds of Prey” is a great example of style over substance. For all the kinetically energetic performances and some of DC’s best action scenes to date, the movie can’t escape how little of it amounts to. Not a bad movie by any fair use of the term, and there is certainly fun to be had with it, but it’s something you’ll struggle to remember the next day.

Except for the part where a hyena eats a dude. You’ll probably remember that.

mason.robert.dredge@mail.umkc.edu

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