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‘Birds of Prey’ reviews: What the critics are saying

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WATCH: ‘Birds of Prey,’ starring Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, is a DC Comics superhero movie that looks at life for Quinn following 'Suicide Squad' and her breakup with the Joker – Oct 2, 2019

After being given a second chance at portraying the infamous DC Comics character Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey, it seems Margot Robbie is, for the most part, being welcomed back into the DC Extended Universe with open arms.

Set to hit theatres this Friday, Birds of Prey‘s first reviews have rolled in, and while many opinions are mixed on the female-fronted superhero flick, most of the reviews have had surprisingly positive final verdicts.

Judging by the vast majority, however, the unexpected praise may be due to the critical failure of the film’s 2016 predecessor, Suicide Squad.

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinnas the film is officially titled — is the second major picture directed by Chinese-American filmmaker Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs). It’s also the first R-rated DC movie, with a “colourful” screenplay written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee).

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Ahead of the second film’s release, a variety of critics, including John DeFore of the Hollywood Reporter, are telling viewers there is no requirement to watch or “experience” Suicide Squad before seeing Birds of Prey.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the DC Comics film ‘Birds of Prey,’ which is set for a Feb. 7, 2020 release date.
Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the DC Comics film ‘Birds of Prey,’ which is set for a Feb. 7, 2020 release date. Warner Bros.

The new flick has even garnered multiple comparisons to the badassery of Quentin Tarantino‘s action-packed, cult-classic film series Kill Bill, which stars Uma Thurman.

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Here are some snippets of the reviews for Birds of Prey:

From the Hollywood Reporter:

“Leaning more heavily into action than laughs, the pic largely delivers on that front. But those hoping for a Deadpool-like fusion of mayhem and wit should lower their expectations: Harley may be known for her unpredictability, but Birds plays by action-movie rules,” writes DeFore.

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“Cathy Yan finds plenty of opportunities for exciting set pieces: extravagant action choreography makes the most of colourful set design, unlikely gimmicks and wrasslin’-style brutality. But Hodson’s script offers far less diverting banter than it might’ve between the fight scenes, and has a hard time imagining the unconstrained id that makes Harley Quinn so magnetic.”

DeFore later suggests that without Quinn, the film’s secondary characters would not be worth making a movie about.

“One or two beautiful sequences don’t suffice to keep the character’s magnetic madness alive onscreen. Nor does the picture suggest there’d be any reason to watch a Birds of Prey movie that stars only the crimefighters who’ll eventually adopt that name. Without Harley Quinn, these are characters who’d be doing well to carry a basic-cable TV series.”

From Entertainment Weekly:

Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt gave the film a B+ rating, calling it “pretty damn sweet.”

“Yan, who colours her comic-book palette somewhere between the Crayola pop of Dick Tracy and the urban decay of Dark Knight, skips blithely from enhanced reality to full-on fantasy. And she has a gift for kinetic fight scenes, though there are only so many creative-kill scenarios before the death toll becomes numbing,” she writes.

“The screenplay by Christina Hodson, thankfully, does what her script for 2018’s Bumblebee also did surprisingly well: inject the clanging mechanisms of a franchise with enough recognizable wit and human feeling to sustain all the wham-bam bits in between.”

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Greenblatt adds that with a new team, Robbie, 29, has successfully “liberated herself” from the “muddy, underwhelming effort” that was Suicide Squad, where Harley Quinn was first introduced onscreen.

“It’s mostly up to Robbie, though, to carry the story, and she does it with a giddy mix of mad-dog ruthlessness and girlish glee; a kiss blown with a brass-knuckled fist. Does the movie’s pop-feminist message need to be as consistently, cartoonishly violent as it is? Almost definitely not. But in a world gone mad, the catharsis of Prey’s twisted sisterhood doesn’t just read as pandemonium for its own sake; it’s actually pretty damn sweet.”

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From Variety:

Owen Gleiberman of Variety describes Birds of Prey as a “comic-book movie that isn’t pretending, in a single moment, to cast a spell of poetic awe,” adding that it’s “still a compellingly novel popcorn extravaganza.”

“[It’s] is a superhero-team origin story that tracks how Harley, mostly through sheer happenstance, comes together with a collection of misfits to form a motley crew of kick-a– superheroines. As a movie, it’s thin, lively, loud, brash, diverting, and forgettable. If anything, it’s a tighter film than Suicide Squad, but it’s been directed by Cathy Yan with the same sort of in-your-face slapdash aesthetic, ramping up the comics into cheeky overdrive.”
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Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel were female-superhero movies that offered the empowerment of earnest fantasy. Birds of Prey offers the empowerment of utter irresponsibility. The women in this movie look badder than those previous heroines did because, for the most part, they just don’t give a f—k. With any luck, that should all translate into a major hit.”

Though he dubs Quinn’s cohorts “kick-a–,” Gleiberman, like many others, believes Robbie’s leading role ultimately rendered most of her co-stars forgettable.

“The inspired spark of Margot Robbie’s performance is that she plays Harley as a party girl who is also a total freak [and] the ringleader of her own playground… Harley outshone her hellion comrades before, and she does the same thing here — though Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as the crossbow-wielding Huntress, has a fierce, cool, sizing-you-up implacability that’s potent enough to be spinoff-ready,” he concludes.
Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the DC Comics film, ‘Birds of Prey,’ which is set for a Feb. 7, 2020 release date.
Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the DC Comics film, ‘Birds of Prey,’ which is set for a Feb. 7, 2020 release date. Warner Bros.

From Empire:

“It’s a fun, fidgety, breathless start, but don’t expect it to settle any time soon,” writes Empire’s Ian Freer. “Perhaps the first rug-pull is that it isn’t strictly a Birds of Prey flick at all. It’s a moving-on-after-a-breakup movie, a Marriage Story with punch-ups.

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“It’s a film forged in the age of #MeToo / #TimesUp but wears any messaging lightly. This is just a group of women supporting 
each other, getting things done. It’s so much fun when the group finally come together, it feels like a misstep not getting them together sooner and more often. Save Harley, the characters aren’t deeply drawn but they are winningly played: [actor Jurnee] Smollett-Bell is authentically hard-as-nails, Winstead is funny as an assassin who takes umbrage that people get her superhero name wrong, and [actor Rosie] Perez reminds you she is not in nearly enough movies.”

Though Freer praised most of the film’s secondary characters, he didn’t seem too impressed with Ewan McGregor‘s performance as the leading villain, Black Mask (or Roman Sionis).

“McGregor’s antagonist nibbles rather than chews scenery; he isn’t big and flamboyant enough to pose a genuine threat. But the MVP is Robbie, who lends Harley charming quirk and believable menace, hinting at Harley’s inner life without reams of dialogue.”

“It’s not, as Harley might say, ‘poifect.’ It’s structurally chaotic. [But] when she’s on screen, Birds of Prey has the impact of a baseball bat to the head.”

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From the Guardian:

“Robbie’s capacity for pop-eyed, crazy-cyborg grinning is certainly put to work in this weirdly watchable supervillain comedy,” writes Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian, who calls Birds of Prey a “hyperactive aspartame overload.”

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“This film is a blitz of bad taste, a cornucopia of crass, and it is weirdly diverting — more than you might expect, given the frosty way Suicide Squad was received critically — and engagingly crazy.

“Watching it feels cheerfully excessive and unwholesome, like smoking a cigarette and eating a chocolate bar at the same time.”

From Rolling Stone:

Out of five, Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers gave Birds of Prey just two stars.

“Hallelujah!” he writes in his opening line. “Birds of Prey is not as gargantuanly godawful as 2016’s Suicide Squad. But it’s not fantabulous, either.

“All you feel is numb as Yan piles on one brawl after another to give the illusion that something is happening. Nothing really is. The fight scenes grow numbing as the birds take on the goons in melees that add up mostly to noise.”

Birds of Prey and its ilk are empty calories, not meant to disturb when they dazzle. Joker, whatever its shortcomings, tackled a festering society that created its own monsters. Slapping the topical theme of female empowerment on a story that trucks in business-as-usual violence does not qualify as a game changer — or a reason to go to the movies,” concludes Travers.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the DC Comics film ‘Birds of Prey,’ which is set for a Feb. 7, 2020 release date.
Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the DC Comics film ‘Birds of Prey,’ which is set for a Feb. 7, 2020 release date. Warner Bros.

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While many critics are suggesting Birds of Prey could perhaps be one of the most entertaining instalments of the DCEU to date, they don’t seem too positive about the future or significance of its characters aside from Harley Quinn.

More reviews of the movie can be found here.

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Birds of Prey is set to hit cinemas across Canada this Friday, Feb. 7.

Watch the film’s trailer in the video above.

adam.wallis@globalnews.ca