By her own admission, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) becomes a slightly less terrible person in Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). She was, of course, first seen in 2016’s Suicide Squad where Robbie’s psychiatrist turned psychotic fell in love with Jared Leto’s Joker. The Squad is nowhere to be found and neither is her clown in crime. Harley is newly single and drinking her sorrows away when the proceedings begin. Her recent separation means she’s a marked gal with no protection from her former bonkers beau.
With the Joker (rather inexplicably) missing in action, flamboyant crime lord with a penchant for peeling faces Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) is the head baddie in a picture filled with them. He’s in search of a diamond that contains codes to a massive fortune. Roman isn’t the only one. Helena Bertinelli aka The Huntress (or The Crossbow Killer) had her whole family killed for it and she’s hellbent on exacting revenge. Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is Roman’s conflicted driver whose superpower seems to be her singing skills. Then there’s Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a teenage pickpocket extraordinaire who boosts and then consumes the crown jewel. Her intestines become a sought after commodity.
Rosie Perez is Detective Montoya, who must deal with all these crazies while getting no credit from her male coworkers. That’s a running theme in Prey where the females do the heavy lifting and pulverizing while the dudes hold the power. With all these characters being introduced (and their many grievances with Harley literally spelled out onscreen), our main character occasionally feels like a supporting participant in her own stand-alone. This is especially true early on.
Robbie was a bright spot in the very uneven Suicide Squad. Robbie still displays her demented joy in this role. In many ways, Prey improves on Squad. First off, her new squad of friends is a tad more interesting and colorful. McGregor is a better main villain and the veteran thespian has a ball going for the gusto.
Director Cathy Yan and her tech team construct some looney violent set pieces that are intermittently effective. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that by the time we arrive at a theme park for the climax, Prey had become rather repetitive. The pic keeps its tone more consistent than Harley’s first big screen foray, but it’s one that can become tiresome. There are times when Birds flies close to being the vehicle Robbie deserves and it is certainly not terrible, but it stays a tad grounded in its own whacky reality.
**1/2 (out of four)