Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is the latest release in a series of amusing but empty comic book adaptations from the DC Extended Universe. The film, formerly known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), relies on the charisma of its title character to make good on its promise of light-hearted, homicidal fun. There’s only so much star Margot Robbie can do.
When the Joker and Harley Quinn (Robbie) break up, Harley’s first instinct is to publicly announce the breakup with a bombastic crime. She settles on destroying the Ace Chemicals plant, a locale tied to the Joker’s origin story, in a fiery inferno. Harley is trying to escape Gotham City detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) when she’s abducted by henchmen of nightclub owner and crime kingpin, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).
Roman reveals himself as Black Mask, a supervillain. Harley overhears plans to recover a lost diamond before Black Mask enters the room to kill her. She offers to retrieve Black Mask’s missing jewelry in exchange for her life. Harley must reclaim the diamond, which was stolen by a young orphan named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), by any means necessary.
The R-rated Birds of Prey is a throwback to the casual violence seen in comic book movies like Blade, The Punisher (2004), and Sin City. Deadpool, a more contemporary companion piece, is the clear template for Birds of Prey. The two characters share an idiosyncratic sense of humor, a screwball personality, and an anti-hero disposition. Breaking the fourth wall isn’t a taboo so much as a way of being for the Marvel mercenary and the DC rogue.
Deadpool’s disjointed structure and Deadpool 2’s superhero team-up provide the framework for Birds of Prey. Harley is joined by Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Montoya, and Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). The group can’t live up to Josh Brolin’s Cable or Zazie Beetz’s Domino, but the all-women team is charming in its own right.
McGregor’s Black Mask is outlandish and forgettable, but the actor deserves little blame. At least he’s having fun, which is more than can be said about the audience in a third of the movie’s 109-minute runtime. Robbie, in her second stint as Dr. Harleen Quinzel (after 2016’s Suicide Squad), carries the film with a movie star performance.
Laughs break up the lulls in the script, penned by Christina Hodson. Birds of Prey is a Frankensteined cartoon come to life thanks to director Cathy Yan. The sunniest portrayal of Gotham City in recorded history is slapstick and farcical, awash with a candy-coated, Guardians of the Galaxy-style lacquer. Barren but visually striking, Birds of Prey is enough to keep your attention. Just don’t expect it to make an impression.