“Birds of Prey” and the Fantabulous Creation of One Final Act

Matt Gaetano

“Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn,” directed by Cathy Yan, is the latest installment in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe), a series of films inspired by the eponymous comics company. Unlike its counterpart, the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), the DCEU has been working towards a more experimental type of superhero film. Following the critically acclaimed “Joker,” “Birds of Prey,” tries to deliver a new flare to the world of DC but ultimately falls short.

The story follows Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) after breaking up with her longtime lover and partner in crime, the Joker (not to be confused with the Academy Award winning Joaquin Phoenix adaptation). Without the Joker’s protection, Harley is thrown headfirst into a variety of encounters with Gothamites who want her dead, the primary example of which being the mob boss known as Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). After being captured, Harley is quick to save her skin by making a deal with Mask to recover the Bertinelli Diamond, which is featured prominently as the mcguffin of the story. 

The film boasts a diverse cast of characters from the pages of DC comics. As Quinn works to recover the diamond, she joins forces with an assortment of strong women who have “wronged” Black Mask. For comic fans who are interested in faithful adaptations of the characters brought to screen, prepare to be treated to a mixed bag. The vengeful vigilante, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), goes almost unaltered, while others like Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) are close to unrecognizable. The remainder of the “Birds of Prey” are composed of the hardboiled TV cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and the melancholy Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett-Bell). The cast of characters are at their best when they are able to play off of one another, which doesn’t happen until the final sequence of the film. 

Throughout the majority of the movie, the audience spectates Harley as she tries to help Cassandra pass the Bertinelli Diamond, which has been swallowed. Robbie plays Harley with a zany sense of humor and lack of morals, reminiscent of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool. However, the laughs don’t come as easily. McGregor’s take on Mask tries to deliver the same amount of zeal as Harley but simultaneously doubles down on the immorality, making it hard to find a laugh from his onstage performance as well. 

As an action-comedy superhero film, “Birds of Prey” succeeds with the action and fails to deliver with its comedy. The funniest part of the movie is easily the interaction between Harley and the “Birds of Prey,” which again isn’t delivered on until the final act of the film. The contrasting personalities, particularly of Huntress and Harley, is a delight to watch and is something that a sequel is in desperate need of. Though the film’s comedy mostly falls flat, its action sequences are some of the most fun and dynamic fights brought to the superhero genre. 

The fights featured in “Birds of Prey” blur the lines between gritty realism and the now commonplace superhero slugfest. The choreography of every one of these fight scenes is spectacular, and each corner of the frame is littered with some piece of the action. The last fight in particular, which takes place inside a fun house, stands out. It is highly imaginative and uses set pieces to the fullest advantage of the scene. The entire final act of the film gushes style with thrilling fights and fun comedy, to the point at which the viewer is almost tricked into thinking that the entirety of the film is spectacular. Unfortunately, this is not the case. 

“Birds of Prey” tries to deliver a unique sense of charm and wit to the superhero genre but fails largely due to a sense of disinterest up until the final act of the film. Had the team of women formed towards the middle of the movie, “Birds of Prey” would likely have been much more successful in all regards. While good action is delivered throughout the film, the best action sequences involve the entire cast of characters being put to use and the same applies for the film’s comedic qualities.

The final act is the only one to deliver on this and leaves the audience dissatisfied that it wasn’t given more of the best parts of the film. Despite failing to deliver for the majority of the movie, “Birds of Prey” leaves its viewers with plenty to look forward to in a sequel, promising more collaboration between the team in terms of both action and comedy. Until a sequel however, the first installment will have to make do.