REVIEW: Birds Of Prey has a fun and shapely cast but a shapeless plot

Marcus Goh
Contributor


Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance in Birds of Prey. (PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures)

Birds Of Prey finally managed to achieve what Suicide Squad could not — which is to be a movie that is actually fun (no surprise since Birds Of Prey didn't have to undergo last minute reshoots to become "fun"). Irreverence is the name of the game in this film, which makes it a point to show just how chaotic its mostly good-looking characters can be. But while the general premise of the movie is a fun one, its plot is a mess.

The film follows the adventures of the insane criminal Harley Quinn after her breakup with the Joker. She runs afoul of old enemies even as she finds unlikely allies all over Gotham City. But she struggles to overcome her worst impulses, which may be both her greatest strength as well as her worst weakness.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey. (PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures)

Birds Of Prey is fun. Gratuitously, violently, holistically so. That's what the entire point of the film is, after all. From the action, to the violence (or rather, carnage), to the skimpy costumes, to the (literal) colourful characters, there's no mistaking that the film was made with a mindset of fun, even if the plot is a somewhat confusing.

Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) in Birds of Prey. (PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures)

There's very little resembling a plot in the film. Sure, there's some form of a narrative going on, but it's not so much a plot as it is a series of contrivances to get to the end point. But the problem is that the premise of the film is its end point — not its starting point. In other words, the movie takes a long time to show how a team of misfits who need emancipation get together, rather than starting with a team of misfits who need emancipation and showing us their hijinks.

But it's an odd storytelling choice, especially since the movie's script is in shambles. Why not just throw them all together in the first act and give audiences more scenes of them in action, rather than taking so laboriously long to manifest the premise of the show? If storytelling doesn't matter, just throw the characters together and have them do their thing. The script already struggles to maintain each of the character's storylines before clumsily mooshing all of those threads together at the end. It should just have accepted that a coherent story was not going to happen, and just assemble the team in the first 20 minutes.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain in Birds of Prey (PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures)

Character-wise, the film shines. Ewan McGregor is absolutely hilarious as the tantrum-throwing villain Roman Sionis. In any other film, he would be completely out of place. But his self-obsessed narcissism fits in perfectly with the over-the-top world of Birds Of Prey. And it's clear that McGregor is having a ball of time depicting Sionis — he really sinks his teeth into the role and enjoys it. It's one of the most entertaining aspects of the film.

Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in Birds of Prey (PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures)

On the other hand, the main character herself is a little underdeveloped. Margot Robbie takes to the role of Harley Quinn with gusto, but the problem is that the film takes way too long trying to dissociate her from the Joker. Then it tries to shed light on her thoughts with copious voiceovers of what she's thinking, but she sounds awfully sane for an insane person. It feels like an attempt at a character study, which doesn’t work for a character who’s main schtick is that she’s crazy.

But then, you don’t need sanity for a character to be likeable. Harley’s insanity outshines her lack of character depth, even as she prances from set piece to set piece to get what she wants. Her infectious joie de vivre brightens up the whole movie and ultimately, she’s the one who pulls everyone together and gives them a (sort of) reason to carry on in their darkest hour.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey (PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures)

Ultimately, Birds Of Prey's is a fun outing in terms of visuals and action, but its story is as unstructured as its cast members are colourful. Stick around for an irritating post-credits scene.

Score: 3/5

Running time: 109 min

Birds Of Prey is a superhero film that's the eighth in the DC Extended Universe.

It is directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodgson. It stars Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzel), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Huntress/Helena Bertinelli), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Black Canary/Dinah Laurel Lance), Rosie Perez (Renee Montoya), Chris Messina (Victor Zsasz), Ella Jay Basco (Cassandra Cain), and Ewan McGregor (Roman Sionis). It is rated NC-16.

Birds Of Prey opens in cinemas:
- 6 February, 2020 (Singapore)
- 6 February, 2020 (Philippines)

Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) in Birds of Prey (PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures)

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Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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