It’s open season on Harley Quinn when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask, his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz, and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women — Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya
But after a thrilling first act with its self-referential humor, cheeky graphics and knowing narration, “Birds of Prey” drags in the middle as it jumps around in time and establishes the backstories for the various “birds” with whom Harley will team up eventually. This seems sort of inevitable when going through the motions of setting up new characters within a burgeoning franchise, but the downshift feels jarring compared to the fast-paced section that preceded it.
Besides Black Canary, the nightclub singer whose voice carries overpowering sonic waves, there’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the amusingly stoic and socially awkward Huntress, who’s spent her whole life training to exact revenge with a crossbow. Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya is a bit underdeveloped as a former Gotham City police detective who’s battling her demons even as she finds new purpose as a vigilante. And Ella Jay Basco brings a naturalism to the role of teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain, who draws them all together when she steals the film’s MacGuffin – a valuable diamond – from the head honcho to mob boss Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).
The glittery object that binds them to each other isn’t as important as the newfound freedom they’re all enjoying from the jobs, relationships and circumstances that held them down for too long. The title refers to Harley’s emancipation but all five women get to feel what it’s like to blaze new trails on their own terms. The timing couldn’t be more apt in this post-#MeToo era, and the tone of “Birds of Prey” feels like a welcome breath of hopeful air following last year’s well-acted but self-serious “Joker.”
But Yan was wise to let the fight scenes play out rather than providing a false sense of energy by overly editing them, allowing us to appreciate all the athleticism and artistry the choreography demands. These birds truly do take flight, and they’ll continue to soar.