Note: This review will contain mild spoilers for Birds of Prey.
A movie like Cathy Yan's Birds of Prey is the hardest to write a review for, particularly after a single viewing. Over the course of the film's 110min runtime, I experienced the full range of emotions: sensible chuckling, mild surprise, legitimate surprise (did not expect to see anyone's face get peeled off in this movie), boredom, delight, excitement, annoyance, you name it. When the credits rolled, my overall impression was that I'd just seen a movie I enjoyed - it's pretty fun! - but I didn't have much to say beyond that. On the drive home, and as I sat here staring at a blinking cursor for 30 straight minutes this morning, I realized that I'd probably need to see the movie again before formulating anything approaching a hard opinion. For now, "Yeah, it's pretty fun" is about the best I can offer you.
Here's what I can tell you: Birds of Prey is a colorful, high-energy affair, from its performances to its set design to the animated intro and onscreen text which pops up on screen throughout the film. This is a Harley Quinn movie, through and through, with the character's bonkers personality splashed across every frame. I personally feel that - much like the Joker - Quinn's a character who works best in small doses, but Margot Robbie's performance (dialed down about three notches from the version of the character she played in 2016's Suicide Squad) is charming enough that the character's neverending antics never quite feel like overkill. It helps that the rest of the cast, and particularly Ewan McGregor as the villainous Black Mask, match Robbie's energy level. Almost everyone here is swinging for the fences.
What's all that energy being devoted to? A debatably convoluted narrative involving an old Gotham crime family that was wiped out years ago, a missing diamond, a young pickpocket played by Ella Jay Basco, Harley Quinn's disastrous break-up with the Joker (who is discussed but never seen; at several points, we are given clear indications this is a direct sequel to Suicide Squad, so I'm going to assume we're talkin' Leto Joker here), and the joining together of four very capable, very dangerous, very ass-kicking women: Harley Quinn, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell's Black Canary, and Rosie Perez's Gotham detective, Renee Montoya. They're all working for or against McGregor's Black Mask, depending on the scene, and though they butt heads initially, by the end of the film they'll all be joined together (er, more or less) as the titular crime-fighting team.
There's no getting around how uneven the film's first act is, a sensation that is only exacerbated by the needlessly non-chronological structure of that first 45 minutes. It's clear all the back-and-forth is meant to mirror Harley's unpredictable behavior, and I can see how that might work on paper. In practice, I spent the first hour sorta waiting for the movie to catch up with itself. The good news is, when Birds of Prey finally gets all its pieces in place and starts smashing them into one another, it is a goddamn blast. The fight sequences are inventive, well-choreographed, easy to follow and well shot. Not many punches are pulled in the violence department, either, with bones getting broken, faces getting removed and an increasingly funny number of folks getting shot through the throat with a crossbow. If you're worried Birds of Prey won't have enough action, or that it won't live up to its hard R rating, allow me to assuage you of those fears right now. You probably won't be left wanting.
From where I'm standing, this is all another step in the right direction for Warner Bros. and their DC line of movies. That whole operation got off to an undeniably rocky start, but it seems that many of the kinks have been worked out, and it further seems that they've worked out these kinks by not micromanaging their directors: WB's hired filmmakers who actually have their own approach to these characters, and by letting them run more-or-less wild, they've finally hit their groove. James Wan's Aquaman was a goofy, generally fun superhero flick. David Sandberg's Shazam found the perfect tonal balance between the dark and the light. Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman still contained a dash of that ol' Zack Snyder feel (most notably in its lumbering third act), but still sent viewers out of theaters feeling like they'd had a good time. Cathy Yan's Birds of Prey is another one of these movies, a wild-ass shotgun blast of ideas that mostly works, doesn't wallow in the grim "realities" of superherodom, and left me thinking, "Yeah, that was pretty fun." I'll take "pretty fun" over "Well that was a goddamn drag" any day of the week, especially when it's this kind of fun.
Go see Birds of Prey. You'll probably like it.