Entertainment

'Birds of Prey' Isn't the Complete Pile of Garbage You Thought It Would Be

Sure, it's not perfect—but critics say it's leagues better than the train wreck that was 'Suicide Squad.'
February 6, 2020, 6:49pm
Harley Quinn
Still courtesy of Warner Bros.

After the unforgivably terrible Suicide Squad—a movie critics called a "bloated and cheerless monstrosity," a "cacophonic, senseless disaster," and "an all-out attack on the idea of entertainment"—it seemed like DC's follow-up, Birds of Prey, was virtually guaranteed to be just as god-awful as its predecessor. Ahead of its release on Friday, the first batch of reviews are in, and surprisingly, it sounds like this thing might... actually be kind of good?

Critics have largely liked the movie, which follows Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and her band of ass-kicking, anti-heroine comrades as they raise hell across Gotham and try to avoid getting murdered by a crime boss named Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who has a fetish for cutting people's faces off or something. He's on the hunt for a big ol' diamond, which one of Quinn's friends swallowed, and he's threatening to kill Quinn if she doesn't return it, which is a problem because she broke up with the Joker, so he can't protect her anymore and... yada yada yada. The plot of this movie doesn't matter. The joy of it, critics say, comes from the simple fact that it's extremely fun to watch Robbie and her co-stars break dudes' legs and blow shit up.

Here's what reviewers have to say about...

Margot Robbie's Performance

Alex Abad-Santos, Vox

Robbie makes the difficult task of bringing a character like Quinn to life look fairly effortless. Unlike many of DC Entertainment’s superheroes (think: Wonder Woman) and supervillains (think: Phoenix’s Joker), there’s an edge of camp and crassness to Quinn—oftentimes cartoonish humor undercuts her violence and horror. Unlike in Harley’s animated roots and comics appearances, live action doesn’t lend itself as easily to those visual gags, leaving Robbie to do the heavy lifting of injecting the right amount of comedy into Quinn’s mania. Sometimes she loosens her face into a smile amid bone-breaking violence, or sharpens her features into a pout as Quinn completely and uncomfortably misreads a situation.

Owen Glieberman, Variety

The inspired spark of Margot Robbie’s performance is that she plays Harley as a party girl who is also a total freak—the ringleader of her own playground. With her platinum-blonde hair split into tinted pigtails (one pink, one blue), her pasty face bedecked with tattoos of a small black heart and the word “ROTTEN,” and that light-up-the-room-with-insanity grin, she’s a psycho siren who teeters between vengeance and valor, turning one into the other.

Kate Erbland, IndieWire

Robbie walks a fine line, tasked with making Harley lovable and annoying, grating but sincere, worthy of redemption but not always willing to work for it. Just as she did in 'Suicide Squad,' she succeeds at conveying this tricky balance, with a multifaceted “superhero” character uninterested in the status quo and wholly detached from the idea that someone needs to be “good” in order to do good.

The Action Scenes

James Whitbrook, i09

Robbie and [director Cathy] Yan also deliver in the film’s excellent and varied scope of action scenes from the get-go, from chase sequences to brutal fight scenes (reportedly assisted by John Wick director Chad Stahleski). These moments are rarely gory despite the R-rating, which is used primarily to punctuate its script with a delectable amount of cursing, something that feels casually empowering for its female cast. They’re strengths that eventually push the movie’s initially stalled momentum into a nonstop rollercoaster of exhilarating, often hilarious set pieces that marry a carefree breezy tone with some incredibly inventive, viscerally engaging action.

John Defore, the Hollywood Reporter

Yan finds plenty of opportunities for exciting set pieces: Extravagant action choreography makes the most of colorful set design, unlikely gimmicks, and wrasslin'-style brutality.

Nicole Ludden, Arizona Republic

The flashy fight scenes fueled by an all-star female cast make 'Birds of Prey' a DC depiction fans are sure to remember... [Yan] masters the mechanics of imaginative, swirling scenes that make otherwise overly drawn-out action sequences feel like an amusement park ride.

The Supporting Cast

Alex Abad-Santos, Vox

Sionis is totally grossed out at messiness, loves Botox, and also has a sociopathic quasi-boyfriend henchman in Victor Zsasz (a platinum-haired Chris Messina). McGregor spends much of the movie flipping his wrist to signal a murder like a conductor directing an orchestra, lounging in silk robes, dancing to no music, and saying the word 'birdy' over and over in reference to his lackeys. He just about slinks away with the entire movie, making you wish his Roman and Messina’s Zsasz had their own Warner Bros. supervillain prequel where they get to be gay and do crimes.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

The fun comes in watching the women kick ass. Jurnee Smollett-Bell does just that as Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, a songbird in Roman’s nightclub who’s become a street fighter to deflect male aggression. Mary Elizabeth Winstead excels as Huntress, aka the cross-bow killer, who’s taken a vow of vengeance against the gangsters who killed her family right in front of her. She’s pissed. So is Rosie Perez as Gotham police detective Renee Montoya—she’s tired of being passed over for promotion by men who don’t have an iota of her smarts. The dudes have to go down.

The praise only keeps coming from there—and while yes, these reviews are mixed, and yes, the plot is shallow, and yes, the whole thing is a bit ridiculous—it holds together at least well enough to be standing at 88 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. On the whole, it sounds like Birds of Prey isn't going to wow you—but if you're looking for something to do on a rainy Sunday, it's at least worth your time.

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