Movie review: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

The new DC Comics movie “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” made about $33 million at the domestic box office this weekend.

Now, I personally would love to make that much money in a single weekend, but for a big-budget superhero blockbuster, that number was a little underwhelming.

That number is even more puzzling, when you consider that critical buzz for this film was very good (currently at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes), and online anticipation seemed to be high. And even though the R rating may have eliminated younger fans from the potential audience pool, R-rated superhero movies have certainly found success at the box office in the past. The first “Deadpool” opened to $132 million back in 2016, and “Logan” opened to $88 million in 2017.

So, why didn’t “Birds of Prey” connect with audiences as much as it was anticipated to, and how does the film rank among the movies of the DC Extended Universe?

“Birds of Prey” is a sort-of (but not really) sequel to 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has officially broken up with the Joker, and she’s looking for a fresh start in life. Except, now that she’s no longer part of the Joker’s squad, there are quite a few people who have grievances against her, and who see this as the perfect opportunity to get a little revenge.

Harley tries to outrun her increasing list of enemies, while unexpectedly becoming a guardian to a young diamond thief named Cassandra Cain (it’s a long story). She’ll need help from Helena Bertinelli a.k.a. Huntress; Dinah Lance a.k.a. Black Canary; and Gotham City PD detective Renee Montoya to take down the crime lord “Black Mask,” who is after Cassandra and the diamond she stole.

“Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” — which is an amazing title for a movie, by the way, if a bit long — was a fun film, and I felt like I got my money’s worth out of it. My feelings about it are kinda similar to how I felt about the first “Deadpool” movie, actually. It was funny and entertaining, even if it didn’t necessarily blow me away.

This movie does a lot of things, to varying degrees of success. As a starring vehicle for Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, “Birds of Prey” is fantastic. Harley was one of the bright spots of “Suicide Squad” for me, and “Birds of Prey” wisely allows Harley to steal the spotlight. By removing the Joker from the picture, she gets to shine completely on her own. She’s a manic explosion of neon, glitter, and unhinged giddiness, and it would be fascinating to watch her and Deadpool tear up the town together.

As for the other characters, my favorite was probably Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance/Black Canary. I was already familiar with the character Black Canary from the “Arrow” TV series on the CW, but I really enjoyed seeing a different take.

I wish we’d gotten more from the side characters in this movie; while the film clocks in at under two hours, I would have gladly watched more. I almost felt like they waited too long to show the team-up between all these characters, and then it was over too quickly.

I did enjoy Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis/Black Mask, but felt like this was another character they could have done more with. McGregor’s obviously having a good time playing this role; let him be as unhinged as Harley herself.

I’m not sure why “Birds of Prey” under-performed at the box office, unless maybe audience perceptions of “Suicide Squad” were a damper. It’s also possible the film wasn’t marketed as well as it could have been; I either forget or just straight-up didn’t know this movie was going to be R-rated until I bought my ticket.

“Logan” was a film that really needed its R-rating (and used it well), but “Birds of Prey” could have easily been dialed back to a PG-13, capturing a wider demographic.

Still, maybe word of mouth will give this film a boost in the coming weeks. It’s not one I necessarily need to see in the theater again, but I’d definitely watch it via streaming/rental when it’s available on home video.

And I hope they do get to make another one, because I have a feeling this might be like “Deadpool”/ “Deadpool 2” for me, where I thought the first one was decent, but I really loved the second one. Once they’ve gotten the origin story business out of the way, they can just let Harley & Co. be as wild and crazy as they want. I’m ready to go along for the ride!

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