This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative
DC may have made some of the movies starring superheroes of all time like Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman but it’s certainly made some of the worst movies starring villains with Joker and Suicide Squad. While this one is better than Joker, it’s still at a really low level and feels like it is picking up where Suicide Squad left off in a lot of the worst ways. The more we get films like this, the more I’m convinced it is definitely best to stick to films based around the heroes. Not every film can pull off a Venom where you get the lead to be a rather fun anti-hero. The first step is probably to remove Harley Quinn from the starring role though. You also have to get the memo that any film with a villain as the main characters needs to make that character effectively turn good or be an anti-hero. You can’t have the villain…stay a villain.
The movie starts with Joker dumping Harley Quinn so she’s quite upset. She gets drunk and into trouble a whole lot but this catches up to her once she tells the world that Joker no longer protects her. She barely lasts a day before she is captured and Black Mask orders her to find a jewel that Cassandra Cain stole. If she doesn’t produce this jewel then she will be destroyed. Meanwhile Renee Montoya of the cops needs to find this jewel as well. She wants to make Gotham a better place but it’s been a tough road. Meanwhile Black Mask orders Black Canary to get the jewel as well and Huntress is making an appearance here as well.
So everyone wants the jewel that’s for sure. Don’t get hyped about Cassandra Cain though. Like just about everyone else in the film, she is the character in name only. This has to be one of the biggest ruined portrayals of a character. Forget Taskmaster, Lex Luthor, and the other big names. Cain has to take the cake here. Gone is the history of her being a lethal fighter trained from childhood who would go on to be one of the strongest hand to hand fighters in the DC verse. This version of Cain is a petty thief who isn’t very smart in choosing her targets. She is even caught by the cops almost immediately which speaks to her “skill” at being a thief. I did not like Cain here. I doubt I’d have liked her much even if she had a random name since she’s an annoying kid who gets everyone into trouble but this did not help matters.
Zsasz and Black Mask are your classic gritty villains here. Black Mask has a thing where he likes to cut off people’s faces. I don’t know if this is something he does in the comics as well but it’s certainly just here to remind you that he’s evil evil. The guy is incredibly unbalanced as he throws fits and cries and everything. You’re certainly not meant to find this guy all that interesting and his death scene is certainly something. Even the mask isn’t imposing because you already can’t take this guy seriously.
Zsasz is awful but I’ve never seen him in a continuity where he was good anyway so that’s to be expected. As always he’s a lunatic who just likes making scars and being a villain. He seems like a creep in all of his scenes and definitely someone you are hoping will get bumped off early so he won’t get much more screen time. With these two as the only big villains…that wasn’t setting things off on a good note.
The color scheme could have tipped you off to that right from the jump though. Everything is all gray scaled and grim throughout the movie. I saw a western film right after this one and the first scene has more color in it than this whole adventure. The gray scale can certainly work as with Man of Steel or Batman V Superman where you had a lot of compelling dialogue and great fights to balance it out. This film has none of that though so it just serves to continue to show Gotham as a super hopeless place that you should want to leave immediately.
As for the “Heroes” here, well firs toff is Harley Quinn who is decisively not a hero. She beats up people for no real reason like the guy at the club and abuses her power. She is quick to betray Cain when it benefits her and is really someone that you can’t trust at all. She talks tough but loses quite a lot of fights. If not for Black Canary saving her at the start she would have been in a lot of trouble. The problem is that Harley Quinn is not likable or entertaining. She’s just extremely annoying in all of her scenes and ends up being a liability most of the time. You absolutely do not want her in your corner if you’re going to be facing off against a tough opponent as she’ll fail more often than not.
The film will try to have you take her seriously again later on by having her beat a bunch of random thugs but she loses too many times in this film for that to actually work. Then you have Renee who is drunk half the time. That’s not doing her any favors and you don’t see how she will be much of an asset here. She isn’t a professional fighter or anything and the drinking will definitely hold her back. Of course like everyone else she is beating tons of experienced thugs at the end but you don’t see her career lasting long unless she gets some kind of big weapon.
Huntress should have easily been the best character here but she is used as borderline comic relief half the time. Nobody takes her name seriously and they interrupt her big speeches. She does get to use her crossbow to murder a lot of people of course but always blows up with her random anger issues that the other characters poke fun at. It’s a shame since she was so good in Justice League but she is severely lacking in this film. She doesn’t even get the classic costume or anything until the literal end of the film. She’s another character that might as well not be Huntress.
The worst part about all of these adaptions is that you’re likely stuck with them for the foreseeable future. Of course a good writer can improve these characters but otherwise you’re stuck. They really need to try and put some distance with the characters from Birds of Prey and Suicide Squad. Go for a soft reboot or something and then you can try to turn this around. I can’t say I have much hopes for any sequel or spinoff of this film though. It’s hard to picture it being a winner.
For Black Canary, well the film does remember that she has sonic abilities at the end. She is so incredibly nerfed though that a single hit is enough for her to faint. So I guess we can’t expect her to be going up against any tough fighters by the end of this. She does have a decent hand to hand fight against some of the random thugs though so at least there’s that.
This film could have really used an appearance by Batman at some point. Sure he would have stolen the show but it’d be worth it. This whole thing takes place in Gotham and Harley Quinn blew up a giant chemical plant. Surely Batman should be on the case right? Even just some references of Batman taking down minions would be nice since Black Mask is so openly sending his crooks around to bump people off and kidnap the characters off the street. I know this is Gotham but a lot of nights pass by without any sightings of the Batman. They can’t be everywhere but in this case it’s literally Gotham city, he should be popping up somewhere.
I would say Gotham itself is a big problem for the film. A lot of times films like to show how depraved Gotham is and that’s where they tend to fail. For example, of course we have a scene where the villain orders a girl to strip and dance. That’s completely unnecessary and we also have Harley Quinn shown to be someone who frequents these kinds of establishments as a villain. The movie has a lot of fanservice throughout and sketchy costumes.
Birds of Prey is unrelentingly depressing most of the time. This is a harsh city where the heroes lost years ago and villains rule all over the place. It’s not to the extreme of Joker but you will have a hard time finding any really happy/fun scenes. Harley and Cain have some bonding moments but mostly that’s just Harley being a terrible role model the whole time. Someone who will act nice and talk a good game but lose in one hit or just sell you out in the next scene. It was fun to see the owner of the restaurant accept the money and leave though. In this city that seems to be the quickest way out of here.
The writing’s not particularly good and the song choices are really bad. The final song’s probably the worst one by far and had to be aired out at several moments. Yeah this film was really going for grit. The action scenes could have been worse in that respect as it didn’t try going over the top most of the time. We did have some real choreography and fight scenes which is good. The film wasn’t trying to be gritty all of the time. Usually in the moments it wasn’t, it was the characters just being annoying all the time though.
Overall, Birds of Prey is a pretty bad film. At least I’m glad they ended up ditching the long sub title later on since nobody ever used the whole title anyway. I know that point’s been beaten to death but it’s not even all that accurate with Joker having dumped Harley Quinn as opposed to it being the other way around. You can of course say that the process helped her but when you consider the fact that she would probably run right back to him if he would have her….it doesn’t help her case. Regardless, the biggest issue here is that this is a film about the villains…that forgets to make the villains likable. Harley Quinn and her constant narration does not make for a good lead. The Birds of Prey group aren’t likable yet either. Black Canary is decent and Huntress has potential but for the moment give me a random lead from any big DC character and I would probably take him or her instead. The Birds of Prey will have to work hard to improve their characters in the next film but without Harley Quinn holding them back at least they have a chance.