The best pairing in Birds of Prey - Margot Robbie and Ella Jay Basco. Picture: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros Pictures via AP
The best pairing in Birds of Prey - Margot Robbie and Ella Jay Basco. Picture: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros Pictures via AP

Margot’s movie is not quite fantabulous

Birds of Prey accomplishes a rare thing. It manages to both feel so big and yet not quite big enough.

Like the trailers teased, the Margot Robbie-starring DC Comics franchise movie oozes bedlam and mischief in its slick studio package, but it's also sometimes, umm, kind of boring?

This is a case of over-promising and underdelivering, but that's not to say Birds Of Prey is a bad movie, it's just inconsistent, which is emblematic of the DC cinematic slate as a whole.

And latest entry doesn't belong anywhere in the troughs with the worst offenders, Batman Vs Superman or Justice League. No siree, that would be wildly unfair.

What Birds Of Prey is, is fine. It's aggressively OK.

It has thrilling highs, like its propulsive and genuinely exciting action sequences, and it has some lows, like a shockingly miscast Chris Messina in a thankless henchman role that wastes the actor's considerable talents.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the breakout character from Suicide Squad.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the breakout character from Suicide Squad.

 

Directed by Cathy Yan, Birds Of Prey takes the standout character from the much-maligned Suicide Squad - Harley Quinn (Robbie), an antihero/villain with mad acrobatic skills and a penchant for swinging things.

Robbie was so charismatic and playful in that role, it made perfect sense to give her her own vehicle. And then it also made perfect sense to surround her with a cast of other female DC heroes in an ensemble piece, now that studio execs have cottoned on to the fact that female-led superhero blockbusters still make bucketloads of money.

These newbies include nightclub singer and high-kicker Black Canary/Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), expert marksman Huntress/Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and overlooked but whipsmart detective Renee Montaya (Rosie Perez).

The story starts with Harley having just been dumped by Joker (who only appears in a flashback in animated form - don't be surprised if you never see Jared Leto's Marilyn Manson impression again).

This quintet takes too long to form.
This quintet takes too long to form.

 

First, Harley is at a loss, unsure of who she is without the Joker, given her whole villain persona was crafted for and with him. But when word gets out the two have called it quits for good, every person Harley has ever wronged - and there are many - is out for blood now that she's no longer under the protection of the Clown Prince of Crime.

One of those people is Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), a crime lord and narcissist who's obsessed with owning things and people.

The plot is mostly driven by the MacGuffin of a diamond with bank routing numbers etched on the inside that Roman wants back after teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) lifts it from Roman's number two Victor Zsasz (Messina).

Everyone is after the diamond, or after someone who's after the diamond, which puts all the core characters in each other's paths, though it takes far too long for the hero/antihero ensemble to actually form.

That's one of the movie's weaknesses, where you're waiting for the promised team-up which doesn't eventuate until the final scenes.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell joins the DC movies as Black Canary. Picture: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros Pictures via AP
Jurnee Smollett-Bell joins the DC movies as Black Canary. Picture: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros Pictures via AP

 

The plot unfolds through choppy flashbacks which generally works without sucking too much momentum out of the story, except when it frustrates - albeit nowhere to the same degree as when Channing Tatum popped out from under the floor in The Hateful Eight, resulting in a 40-minute flashback.

What makes Birds Of Prey take flight (sorry) is the fight choreography, a mix of gritty, grounded hand-to-hand combat with heightened and stylistic set pieces. Yan worked with Chad Stahelski (John Wick) in realising the action and it shows. The result is pulsing, and without having to rely on fast edits to hide less than top-notch work.

In the final act, while the production design of a funhouse is not as effective as it must have seemed on paper, the choreography of incorporating four female fighters - and Black Canary's high kicks are something to behold - is truly impressive.

But can Hollywood please agree to stop using "Black Betty" as the song under any more action scenes? Please.

A playful Ewan McGregor with a miscast Chris Messina. Picture: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros Pictures via AP
A playful Ewan McGregor with a miscast Chris Messina. Picture: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros Pictures via AP

 

McGregor is obviously delighting in playing a comic book villain with a camp streak, even if the vibe sometimes resembles the cartoonish bad guy played by Peter Greene in The Mask. McGregor's oddballness also elicited the most laughs.

Robbie's Harley is an intriguing character because she's not a hero but she's also not a true villain, as evidenced by her use of nonlethal force against cops, reserving the deadly stuff for the real bad dudes.

There is a character arc, largely thanks to the presence of Cassandra in her life, a teen who softens Harley and teaches her that maybe she's not the bad person she thinks herself to be.

The dynamic and on-screen chemistry between Robbie and Basco works really well, which only highlights the awkwardness between the five principles later on when they finally band together.

While it could have cohered better or it could have really, really committed to being properly bonkers or rageful, Birds Of Prey is mostly fun, snappy and entertaining - in other words, it's OK.

Rating: 3/5

Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) is in cinemas from today

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