“Birds of Prey”—What “Suicide Squad” should have been

Written by Ryan Sheehan

The best way to describe “Birds of Prey” is that it’s a spiritual successor to “Suicide Squad,” because it’s everything that “Suicide Squad” was trying to be.
“Suicide Squad” was trying to be DC’s answer to “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It did this by having a cast of likable outcasts, only with a darker tone and a stronger focus on anti-heroes. It had potential, but it ended up being a really bad movie.
“Suicide Squad” tried to be fun while maintaining a dark edge. It mixed an upbeat style with brutal violence and followed a team of compelling anti-heroes, who were likable despite doing bad things. That’s what it tried and failed to do. But it’s exactly what “Birds of Prey” does.
“Birds of Prey” is entertaining, fun, playful and hilarious. It follows Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie, who brings great energy to the role. This movie revolves around Harley Quinn, and Robbie’s performance really makes it work. After Harley has a bad breakup with the Joker, Harley loses the protection she had when she was his girlfriend. Now, Gotham City is plunged into chaos as all the people she has wronged in the past come to get payback.
There is also an ensemble cast of protagonists, who all become connected to Harley in one way or another. All of them share a common enemy—Crime boss Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor, and his assassin and right-hand man Zsasz, played by Chris Messina. Both actors embrace their characters, making them come to life. McGregor with his wild energy and Messina with his gruff voice and dead eyes.
The plot for the movie is told out of order, and it can feel overly complicated at times. This kind of works, though, because the story is being told by Harley Quinn. Telling the story while bouncing all over the place is something that her character would totally do.
It has occasional dark moments, but they never feel out of place. The film balances these two elements surprisingly well, to the point where they blend together in many scenes. “Birds of Prey” benefits from its R rating. It frees up the film to have casual, bloody violence and constant swearing, which works for the tone it’s trying to set.
Part of what makes the Birds of Prey work as a team is that they have no reason to be a team. The movie establishes that many of them are enemies or just flat-out don’t like each other. Yet they need each other’s help to survive. When they do team-up, it feels earned.
They are all rough around the edges, but none of them are truly evil. Except Harley Quinn, who, by her admission, is “kind of a terrible person, I guess.” She has so many people trying to kill her that she loses track of them. She does a lot of bad things, yet we still like her. This is partly because she does those bad things to bad people. But she is a true anti-hero, as she will beat up a cop or an innocent civilian now and then. We understand that many of the people wanting to kill her have legitimate reasons.
But not all the Birds are good characters. For example, Cassandra Cain. I hate to bash a child actor, but she doesn’t have a lot of range. Her dialogue can fall flat. She’s not the only one either—bad dialogue can be found throughout the film, especially with Renee Montoya, who is a movie cop cliche. We know she’s a movie cop cliche because the film keeps pointing this out. It’s played as a joke, but it comes off as annoying.
“Birds of Prey” is not on the same level as “Joker,” but if you’re looking for something similar to (but not as good as) “Guardians of the Galaxy,” then “Birds of Prey” will deliver.
In the past, I’ve been too kind to recent films from the DCEU. For my reviews of “Aquaman” and “Justice League,” I think I was just happy that they weren’t as bad as “Suicide Squad.” In hindsight, both of those movies aren’t very good either.
But this time I can say, along with “Shazam” and “Joker,” that “Birds of Prey” is a DC film worth watching.
7/10