“Call me dumb. I have a PhD, motherfucker!”
Story: Harley has finally given Puddin’ the ol’ heave-ho (or at least that’s what she’s going with…) But flying solo has it’s drawbacks; everyone she’s upset over the years now knows Mistah J doesn’t have her back any longer. What’s a gal who’s trying to start over to do? Why, adopt a hyena, grab a glitter gun, and eat the best egg sandwich EVER. (Okay, so two outta three ain’t bad.)
Genre I’d put it in: Violently Adorable Acid Flashbacks
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the character from DC Comics, second film in the DCEU that features Dr. Quinzel.
Gotta say: Don’t even think about getting some sort of coherent origin story for the Birds. This one’s pure Harley, complete with confetti, cocaine and lots and lots of crazy. Birds is a music video of violence with tidbits of story scattered here and there, and director Cathy Yan cranks the candy coated colors up to eleven as Harley and the rest of the ladies crank up the ol’ ultraviolence. In fact, this film has a certain kinship with Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, with its Peter Max-esque colors and crazy-cool set design. If there’s a way to fit something colorful into a space, three are jammed in. Oh, and some sequins and/or glitter because why not? And it works y’all.
How? Because this story is from Harley’s perspective. She narrates throughout, often backing up and scrambling the chronology because like any good pal, she doesn’t want you to miss anything. Writer Christina Hodson creates a plot that shifts from Harley’s semi-reliable narration, time jumps, and record-scratch character introductions, all ending up in a slam-bang climax that may not exactly stick the landing, but has our gals come out on top. (What? Like them succeeding is a spoiler. C’mon now.) Add in onscreen text and emojis that help Harley tell her story, and well? You won’t need sugar to feel a rush.
Okay here comes the not so fun part. While the hyper-frenetic style of Birds lends itself well to it’s lead character, it gives us only passing glimpses into the rest of the gang. Sure, I could justify that by saying it’s because we’re going off of what Harley knows about these folks, so there’s lots of vagueness to be had. BUT. This is Birds of Prey and the…, not Harley Quinn and the… That Harley is larger than life, with a personality (and heart) to match isn’t in doubt. But during the movie I doubted that there was a real cohesive plan beyond Give ‘Em Moar Harley.
Ditto for the tepid villain conflict, though Ewan McGregor does seem to be having the time of his life as Black Mask/Roman Sionis, and it’s nice to see him kitted out in some of his old Velvet Goldmine duds. (Hey, if that blue velvet jacket doesn’t have a home, I would hug it and squeeze it and call it George. Just saying.) Don’t even get me started on how they absolutely wasted the genius that is Ali Wong in what’s basically a glorified cameo. I’m still kinda broken hearted that there’s not enough Bernie and Bruce (aka Bud…or maybe Lou) for my taste. Okay; there’s never enough of those guys. You got me on that one.
So just like Harley, I feel myself pulled apart by all the emotions. Do I love this film for letting Margot Robbie let rip and deliver her stunningly perfect version of Harley? Absolutely. Do the rest of the gang – Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead – deliver performances that make me want to see them in more DC films? Absolutely. (Especially Winstead’s delicately unhinged Huntress.) But did I long to check my watch during the screening to see how long this film had gone on without the Birds actually getting together? Absolutely hat trick. Birds leans a bit too hard on its lead psycho to keep things interesting, and while Robbie is more than up for the task – the incredible fight choreography alone is worth the price of admission – I can’t help but feel like this film is a glitter covered golden statue that’s hollow inside. And even the fun Riot Grrrl Power message can’t quite wash that feeling away. I think I need more licorice. And definitely more glitter.
PS: for fans like me who love a good end credits scene? Stay past the credits for a bit of Harley’s thoughts…just a taste. But the tidbit, like Harley herself, is a whole lotta fun.
Grade: B- (It probably should be a C+, but I just can’t seem to do that to the gal. I just can’t.)
#Protip: Check out The Take’s look at Harley Quinn, which highlights Harley’s ability to be an antihero that melts our hearts. (Plus, there’s some gorgeous Amanda Conner art from Harley’s DC’s New 52 look.) Enjoy!