Review: “Birds of Prey” is entertaining but shallow

Vaughn Clissold, Staffer

In recent years, I’ve noticed an odd trend. Whenever I see a trailer for a new Marvel movie, I’m so excited that I can hardly wait for it to come out. In contrast, when I see a trailer for a new DC movie, all I feel is anxiety. Superhero movies are largely “hit or miss,” and most DC movies that I’ve seen have been clear misses. Sometimes, I’m not sure that they even swung.

“Birds of Prey” is their most recent entry into the DC Cinematic Universe, or DCCU. I was especially nervous to go see this movie because of how Harley Quinn, the protagonist of “Birds of Prey,” was portrayed in DC’s 2016 movie “Suicide Squad.” It was released to poor reviews, and with good reason. It was muddled and poorly written, with stilted dialogue and mediocre pacing. On top of that, all the characters were flat and lifeless. This film betrayed the characters and stories that DC comics had made so beloved. And this included Harley Quinn. Her personality wasn’t very interesting and she was completely different from her comic-book self, and I was afraid that the same would be true in “Birds of Prey.”

Even with all this, I came into the theater as unbiased as I could. Even with its poor reputation, I have hope for DC. After watching “Birds of Prey,” this hope remains, bolstered a little bit by this most recent entry into the DCCU. 

My feelings towards this film are complicated. Most movies only have a few elements that pull them away from being bad, and not enough to be considered amazing. This movie is different. Many pros and cons cancel each other out and make this movie neither mediocre or great. 

I do value positivity, so I would like to also discuss what I enjoyed about this movie. Our heroine, Harley Quinn, has always been a favorite character of mine. In this movie, she’s her usual crazy, chaos-loving self, and is very interesting to watch. I can’t think of a single character in this movie that I hated, and they all had different personalities. A pet peeve I have in movies is when all the heroes have the same basic traits, and that’s not the case here.

It’s not marketed as a comedy, but I would consider it as such. I had many moments of genuine laughter and enjoyment.

This film also has one of my favorite tropes. A villain takes care of a child for selfish reasons, but comes to appreciate the kid as the two spend time together. In the end, the villain is redeemed through their relationship with this adopted child. This arc is one of my favorites.

Now, the problems. The main issue I have with this film is the finer details of the story. They don’t hold up to scrutiny and the way they’re conveyed is messy and confusing. 

A large portion of the story is narrated, which can be used well, but is often a crutch. The reason this plot doesn’t work is because it relies far too much on telling instead of showing. It doesn’t take advantage of the fact that movies are a visual medium, and this makes the movie seem amateurish.

Another problem I have is the film’s pacing. Even though the movie is nearly two hours long, every scene feels rushed. Characters aren’t given much time to organically develop, and to fix this issue the movie uses far too much obvious exposition and too many flashbacks. 

The film skips around far too much, to the point where the first 30 minutes are showing us things we’ve already seen. My experience while watching this part was akin to the myth of Sisyphus: every time I think that it’s making progress, it throws me back to the beginning painfully and abruptly.

The feminist message in “Birds of Prey” is blatant. The message itself isn’t original or nuanced, and there were moments where it seemed forced and distracting.

I’m not upset by the message itself, and I consider myself to be a feminist. It’s the delivery. The message can be boiled down to “women don’t need men to succeed.” This is a fine thing to say in a movie. But as with many other aspects of the story, it is told and not shown. The dialogue relating to the feminist angle is usually forced and out of character. 

For example, in the beginning of the movie, Harley Quinn says, “You know what they say: behind every man is a badass broad.”

Later in the film, to describe herself, she says, “ Do you know what a harlequin is? A harlequin’s role is to serve. It’s nothing without a master. And no one gives two sh*ts who we are beyond that.”

Harley continues to proclaim her own character traits until the end of the film, for example, “Call me a softie, I dare ya!”

These parts of the film don’t seem like genuine thoughts of the character, it seems like the characters are reading the director’s script notes by mistake.

Again, I have no qualms with strong female characters or a film that tries to empower women. But moments that show a blatant agenda aren’t fun to watch. These scenes do not aim to entertain, they aim to persuade. 

However, I didn’t really pay much attention to these problems for most of the film. I knew they were there, but it didn’t bother me much. That’s because, above all, this movie is extremely entertaining. I wasn’t bored for a minute. The character dynamics were all very fun and seem genuine, and the action scenes were wonderfully choreographed. The color pallete was lively and vibrant, and most of the dialogue was funny or at least sounded real.

I do think this film values style over substance, but the style it puts forth is extremely entertaining. The problems aren’t problematic until you start probing. Overall, this film was an enjoyable experience, but only that. 6.5/10.

P.S. A note to “Birds of Prey,” and all action movies since the introduction of film: you cannot fight in heels.