It had to happen sooner or later, a superhero movie that’s female-centric. “Birds of Prey” is that, but in the same manner as “Suicide Squad,” it goes its own way in using the DC Comics universe as a springboard.
Also like that film, this one — subtitled “And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” — indeed makes Harley a pivotal character, as played again by recent Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (who’s also a producer this time). The lively, self-styled Harley has consciously uncoupled from The Joker, making her a supposedly easier target for enemies. She knows she’ll need some help to stay alive, so she enlists such allies as Black Canary and The Huntress, and it doesn’t take long for the mayhem between groups and genders to start flying.
That’s really what “Birds of Prey” is, a parade of frantic and sometimes quite graphic action. There are some stabs at wit, which you’d have to expect from Robbie playing this character again, but the picture largely wants to play it safe while showing that women can be tough, too — something the Marvel movies started doing some time ago.
Some other good performers put their best feet and fists forward here, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead (as The Huntress), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (as Black Canary), Rosie Perez (as a Gotham detective), Ewan McGregor (as the piece’s main villain) and Chris Messina (as the latter’s henchman). There’s fun to be had in seeing them bring their talents to this world, even if none of them does anything that could be deemed iconic in the way that makes you eager to see more.
There actually is a specific plot to “Birds of Prey,” involving a priceless jewel that someone has swallowed for safekeeping, but that doesn’t prevent others from still wanting it. Retrieving it could get a bit complicated, and that’s part of where the movie ventures into “R”-rated territory, turf that the DC-based films rarely have gone onto. It may serve the immediate purposes, but it isn’t a story that will stay with you.
It’s nice that Margot Robbie got another, more prominent shot as Harley Quinn, but “Birds of Prey” leaves the impression (not countered by its performance at the box office) that the anti-heroine’s second movie also is the last one.