REVIEW: ‘Birds of Prey’ (Almost) Finds ‘Emancipation’ from the Status Quo

From left: Rosie Perez (Renee Montoya), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Helena Bertinelli), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Ella Jay Basco (Cassandra Cain), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Dinah Lance). Credit: Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc.

By Erin Brady |

This might just be a personal preference of mine, but I enjoy going to the movies when the weather is bad. You know, rainy and windy weather. To me, a quiet and empty theater just adds to the atmosphere of moviegoing.

With this in mind, I was not sure if I should go to the movies under a severe weather watch. Classes were cancelled, co-curriculars were rescheduled, and I even saw a couple of doors on Riberia Street being protected by sandbags.

However, I had already bought my tickets and my Lyft ride, so there was no going back now. Prepared with both my umbrella and rain-jacket, I went and saw the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe, a franchise known for moody films similar to the weather I was anticipating.

What I experienced instead was a colorful, gleeful action film that, despite accuracy flaws, was a delight to witness.

‘Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)’ is the latest entry in the DCEU. Directed by up-and-comer Cathy Yan, ‘Birds of Prey’ centers around the most scandalous event in Gotham’s history: the breakup between the Joker and Harley Quinn.

Finding herself without her Joker-adjacent immunity, Harley finds herself roped into a heist involving a stolen diamond, all of Gotham’s crime rings, and a young girl without a sense of direction.

Recent Oscar-nominated actress Margot Robbie reprises her iconic role as Quinn, who appears to be having a blast alongside her eclectic cast of crime.

Newcomer Ella Jay Basco adds a naive charm in her first movie role as the misguided thief Cassandra Cain, and ‘Star Wars’ favorite Ewan McGregor is both hilarious and terrifying as the crime lord Roman Sionis. 

However, it is ‘True Blood’ alum Jurnee Smollett-Bell who gives the standout performance as club singer Dinah Lance, who harbors an important secret ability.

In one particular scene, Smollett-Bell’s Dinah confronts disgraced police detective Renee Montoya (portrayed by Rosie Perez) about her alleged part in the death of her mother. Her body language throughout the scene, tense yet trying to stand tall, is convincingly raw, adding a level of realism rarely seen in the DCEU.

There are a lot of things to adore about ‘Birds of Prey.’ The stunts shown throughout the film are some of the coolest yet, evoking inspiration from 1970s Hong Kong action films.

The newfound R rating is put to good use, with f-bombs galore and more than a few action sequences that test your ability to resist flinching. There are also a number of visual gags that are bound to get a chuckle or five out of audience members; highlights include an aptly-placed #HotGirlsForBernie reference and a lewd t-shirt Montoya is forced to wear after a messy encounter with Quinn. 

Another important thing to note is the feminist undertones the film has. Despite a couple of on-the-nose jokes, ‘Birds of Prey’ is surprisingly subdued in its messages on girl power and the destruction of the patriarchy.

It’s just a group of people that just happen to all be women fighting crime; nothing revolutionary, but way more effective in telling its message than ‘Avengers: Endgame’s’ groan inducing team-up montage.

The DCEU is known for having very distinct styles within their entries, especially following ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ director Zack Snyder’s departure from the Warner Brothers project (superfans have issued calls to “Release The Snyder Cut” of the ill-fated ‘Justice League’ to varying degrees of success).

This trend continues with ‘Birds of Prey,’ evoking only hints of producer David Ayer’s predecessor ‘Suicide Squad.’ Where the latter covered bright buildings and costumes with a grimey filter, the former makes sure every color of the rainbow is at the forefront of every scene.

Unfortunately, this is still the DCEU we are talking about here, the franchise infamous for director fallouts and butchered screen tests. Despite their roster steadily improving over the course of the past few years, they still carry major flaws, and unfortunately ‘Birds of Prey’ is no exception.

One benefactor of this is the bland and uninspired performance of Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the mysterious Helena Bertinelli. A vigilante trying to complete a lifelong mission, her performance is pretty forgettable and one-note, especially in a film of performances otherwise ranging from hammy to genuinely great.

An editor could have easily taken her out all of her scenes in the film and it would not have made a difference.

‘Birds of Prey’ also falls victim to the same overall structure many comic book movies have adopted. Individual team members are introduced (Quinn being far more prominent than the others), villain is introduced, members cross paths, members defeat the villain.

The unreliable narration provided by Quinn is rather fun during scenes where she “forgets” an important part of the plot and rewinds the story, but it could have been used for more than just quirky transitions.

However, ‘Birds of Prey’s’ biggest vice would be its inaccuracy to the comic runs it was based on. Fans of DC Comics will be able to spot different characterizations (Cassandra Cain, for example, is not the Batgirl or Orphan character she portrays in the current Rebirth run) and plot inconveniences regarding character abilities.

One particular instance might seem harmless at first, but it had me nearly squirming in my seat. The film even engages in the all too common Hollywood practice of whitewashing, as Winstead’s Bertinelli is currently shown in the aforementioned Rebirth comics to be a Black Italian.

Those unfamiliar with DC Comics might not be able to spot these seemingly miniscule details, but for some, they have the potential to ruin the entire experience. 

When I left the theater, it was not raining like I expected, but it was rather chilly. The atmosphere I searched for that evening was certainly present, as both the theater and the weather stood still, the quiet before the storm. However, this was quite different from the nonstop insanity that ‘Birds of Prey’ provided.

Even with the rather minuscule faults that would only be noticeable to DC fans, ‘Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)’ is an enjoyable ride that should not be missed, no matter the weather.

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