REVIEW: ‘Birds of Prey’ cluttered, lacks meaningful content

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Courtesy of IMDB

Margot Robbie in "Birds of Prey."

After “Joker” became the first R-rated film to garner over $1 billion at the global box office (and to earn eleven Academy Award nominations), eyes have been understandably  focused on this mature sub-genre and its successors. Warner Brothers and the DC Universe have quickly piggybacked on the success of Todd Phillips’ character study with the release of the Margot Robbie-produced “Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” The prolonged title  speaks volumes to the film’s outcome, as so many stylistic aspirations decorate the screen to the point where the emotional core of “Birds of Prey” becomes translucent. 

Harley Quinn is heartbroken and lost after breaking up with the Joker. But soon after realizing that she doesn’t need his presence and protection, she really begins the antics befitting of her infamous name. Quinn’s journey toward self-realization crosses paths with Black Canary, Huntress, and detective Renee Montoya. There are many potential protagonists that make it hard for viewers to conjure up any sort of sympathy towards any of the suspects. The film spends a fairly equal time with each of them, though Huntress is the unfortunate outlier. Quinn is still the one at the wheel, a ride that’s as intentionally reckless as fans should expect. 

DC’s latest dive into the “Suicide Squad” universe stages Harley Quinn as she narrates a zigzagging storyline that is surprisingly engaging at times, and purposefully distracting at others. What she is distracting us from is Christina Hodson’s script that feels like a checklist that is perpetually rushed throughout the film, lathered with stylistic quirks in editing and character introductions. Storytelling through editing has potential to greatly enhance a movie, but here, we see a juvenile approach to the process with brisk jokes illuminated with neon-infused title cards and one-offs. When this technique works, it really works. . It worked for me when the editing was used to accomplish something that usually would take up unnecessary screen time. One clever use is when the film’s villain, Roman Sionis, or Black Mask, is unveiled as having a plethora of grievances against Harley Quinn, such as “voted for Bernie” and “being a woman.” Other absurd details discreetly characterize Roman while outwardly entertaining us with this unique tone.

The sequences that build this tone range from explosive roller-skating car chases to quaint discussions between Quinn and her accomplice, Cassandra. However, the filling in between these two opposite approaches is far from seamless. The film shifts from Quinn’s momentary celebrations to Black Mask disturbingly torturing and harassing a woman in his club, an unnecessary scene. 

The story’s twists, turns, and blurry focus are very noticeable, but there is still fun to be had. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are beautifully calculated and presented, and dedication from performers like Robbie and Rosie Perez, is on full display. Unfortunately, these scenes are presented more as an afterthought. With so many characters to focus on, it’s hard to tell who we want to align our feelings with most. Despite this, the climax did manage to push aside some of the extravagant decorations to let the rare scenes of emotional  connection shine. 

“Birds of Prey” wants to achieve an awful lot, and if you’re a die-hard Harley Quinn fan, then maybe all of this clutter is exactly what you wanted. For me, I just wish there was something that would make me want to return to the film or want to see these characters in another universe. Maybe a sign of my wishful hope for the potential of these heroines and their bond, maybe an indicator that this film just wasn’t enough. Sometimes, too much of something ends up feeling like a lot of nothing.