The best thing the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) ever did was cast Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Quinn’s a fan-favorite character and possibly the most interesting character in Batman’s rogue gallery. Likewise, Robbie’s rendition was the only spark of charisma in “Suicide Squad,” (2016) which gave her very little to do. Thankfully, “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” (2020) is not only much, much better than its zany predecessor, but it gives both Quinn and Robbie the film they deserve.
Set after the events of “Suicide Squad” and following a breakup between the Joker and Quinn, “Birds of Prey” gives Quinn the driver’s seat. The film owes its existence to Robbie, who produced it and pushed for its creation for five years. It’s a far more interesting story than much of what DC has produced before; now that Quinn is single and no longer under Joker’s protection, much of Gotham City’s underworld wants her dead, including Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), also known as Black Mask. “Birds of Prey” also introduces Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), also known as Huntress, the saucy singer Dinah Laurel Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Gotham City Police Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
The cast is talented, and the characters are vibrant. McGregor especially shines as Sionis — but then again, it’s McGregor, so that’s expected — and it goes without saying that Robbie absolutely owns Quinn and all her quirks. “Birds of Prey” is her film and it’s well-deserved. It’s a performance that leaves us thankful that DC is leaving Jared Leto’s Joker out. The Joker is a character that’s been done and redone plenty of times — most recently in the dumpster fire “Joker” (2019) — but Quinn’s story is new and more exciting. Hopefully, “Birds of Prey” shows DC just how lucky they are to have Robbie on board.
Audiences watching “Birds of Prey” will certainly notice just how well done and frankly, awesome, the fight choreography is. This film is certainly an action film and it makes full use of its R rating. There’s plenty of broken bones, bruises, crushed limbs, fractured skulls, lost teeth, injured male groins, gunshots and stab wounds. And it’s absolutely lovely to watch. The fights are quite possibly the most fantastic, well-choreographed action in a comic book movie yet. This might be thanks to the realism of “Birds of Prey”; less magical powers and laser beams, more baseball bats to the head and kicks to the other head.
And audiences will enjoy the fantastic soundtrack, too. It’s a soundtrack full of bops — not unlike previous comic book movies — with exciting tracks like Megan Thee Stallion and Normani’s “Diamonds” (2020) and Doja Cat’s absolute bop “Boss Bitch” (2020). They’re songs that deserve radio and streaming love beyond the film.
While “Birds of Prey” certainly moves past “Suicide Squad,” it reuses much of the film’s eccentric vibe; there’s glitter, colorful smoke and shiny costumes to enjoy. This time, it’s much less vomit-inducing. The settings are fun and flavorful. Director Cathy Yan makes the oddities work and adds some new elements: Quinn’s narration of the film, including a few instances of breaking the fourth wall, is perfectly timed and used well. For many viewers, it might feel similar to “Deadpool” (2016), but “Birds of Prey” is far more polished.
And funnier. “Birds of Prey” is absolute fun from start to end and spends less time trying to be funny — cough, Deadpool — and more time giving us a film to laugh along with. Rather than just existing within a franchise and feeling like a stepping stone to a crossover movie — àla “The Avengers” (2012) or “Justice League” (2017) — this film is its own entity and it’s quite happy about it. Yan seems to take pride in letting Quinn exist rather than trying to find something bigger for “Birds of Prey” to do. Maybe that’s why “Birds of Prey” soars: it’s not trying to add up to the next film in the franchise or present some sort of serious narrative message. Those aspects come naturally.
Thanks to Yan and Robbie, “Birds of Prey” could be and should be the creative focus of the DCEU. Maybe it’s time to leave Superman and Batman out of it and focus on Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey. There’s plenty of room for sequels and spin-offs. With any luck, “Birds of Prey” might just dominate this comic book franchise (along with Wonder Woman). DC’s struck gold with “Birds of Prey.” Here’s hoping they continue the dig.