At the time of posting, I am not even sure what the title of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) will be. Ultimately something so superficial should not even matter. Because at the end of the day, Birds of Prey turned out to a pretty entertaining (and a bit violent) DCEU entry.
Clocking in at a relatively tight 1 hour 49 minutes (especially by contemporary comic book standards), Birds of Prey never feels like it is treading water storytelling-wise.
I say this as someone who, in the lead up to the film’s release, had absolutely no interest in the story. But I had some Fandango Cash credit and nothing to do last Sunday, so I went for it. Even without foreknowledge of the character’s (as embodied by Margot Robbie) first outing (Suicide Squad), the film provided enough exposition so I was not lost. It wasted no time jumping right into the story. I really appreciated that. Thanks director Cathy Yan and writer Christina Hodson.
Breaking Down the Bad …
I will not bore you all with a too-long post-mortem as to why Birds of Prey underperformed its already low box office projections. Do a quick Google search and you will find all the information you need to on that account. But for the sake of me being me, let me call out two specific points which resonated with me:
- Release Date. Clearly the studio had little to no faith in the film, leaving a significant dent in the box office based solely on sliding it in during the first weekend of February.
- MPAA Rating. Make no mistake the rating is more than earned. But it is clear that there is a fascinating phenomenon which arises when a comic book adaptation receives an R rating. It can go one of two ways – 1) studios marketing can go all-in (a la Deadpool) or 2) executives can edit down the film with the intent of getting a more ‘audience-friendly’ PG-13 rating. For better or worse, it appears that Warner Brothers decided to leave Birds of Prey as is, but clearly hedged how they marketed the film. The results led to a lukewarm reception to the teasers and trailers. If I were to guess, the promotion left many moviegoers scratching their heads, but not in a way as to entice audiences to rush to the local multiplex.
Accentuate the Positive
But enough with the negative … on to the performances. I can see why the studio initially greenlit a Harley-centric story. Robbie has the charisma and charm to pull it off. As I watched the film, I found that when Harley Quinn was not on screen, my interest level dipped just a bit. That said, all the other performances were more than adequate. It is worth noting that it was quite amusing seeing Ewan MacGregor hamming it up as the “slightly” off kilter chief antagonist of the story.
I also found the film a bit amusing at times – more than worthy of the occasional chuckle. One thing that earns Birds of Prey credit in my book is the clear sense of self-awareness – the film gets it – the film’s value lies in not taking itself too seriously and going completely over the top with the more fantastic elements of the story. As a result, it (almost) sheds all of the weight of previous DC film adaptations, which have been a bit too earnest. By taking this approach, Birds of Prey is a welcome departure from a creative vision which seemed hell bent on deeply rooting its characters in a bleak and dour world. Again, my extended thanks to Cathy Yan and Christina Hodson.
The Final Word
All of this is to say, give Birds of Prey a chance. You might just like it.