“Birds of Prey” is a movie for audiences who like to see faces sliced off screaming victims and hear the amplified blows of baseball bats snapping limbs and crushing skulls. And it’s all meant to be good, clean fun. Audiences who don’t find these events entertaining will be less enthusiastic about buying tickets.
A sloppy, unpleasant DC comic-book clinker from Asian filmmaker Cathy Yan (who co-wrote the script with Christina Hodson), “Birds of Prey” goes nowhere slowly. It’s burdened by narration you’re not interested in hearing, a preposterous muddle of a thin plot, inscrutably staged action sequences and characters you don’t care about.
“Birds of Prey” is a followup of sorts to the 2016 “Suicide Squad,” another incoherent, barely watchable supervillains-turn-superheroes saga from DC. This movie, which makes Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) the story’s central figure, holds firm to the dull, gratuitously violent aesthetics of its predecessor.
We’re back in Gotham City, which resembles downtown Philadelphia, but where the dark alleys and garish nightclubs seethe with crime and corruption. Here we find Harley, crushed by her breakup with the Joker. So what is a heartbroken girl psycho to do? Easy. Blow up the chemical plant where she dived into a tank of acid to prove her love.
The plot revolves around the search for a teenage pickpocket who stole a large diamond wanted by Gotham crime kingpin Roman Siones (Ewan McGregor), the face-slicer, and his henchman Victor Szasz (Chris Messina), a scarred, wild-eyed sadist. The gem contains an encrypted code that can bring unlimited wealth and power to its owner. Or something like that. In this messy movie, the details are irrelevant.
To save the young pickpocket from Roman and a fate worse than death, Harley enlists the tetchy assistance of three women with an assortment of powers and skills. Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is a detective with a Sherlock Holmes-type intellect sick of seeing her incompetent male colleagues get all the promotions; Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the daughter of a mob chief vengefully assassinating with a crossbow the men who executed her family; and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a club singer with martial-arts savvy and supersonic vocal cords.
Meanwhile, it’s open season on Harley, pursued by every criminal organization in Gotham now that she doesn’t have the Joker’s protection. She finds the teen thief and takes care of her. Who could believe that Harley Quinn, Gotham’s loony princess of crime, would sit in her apartment, eating popcorn and watching TV with a kid?
Robbie, Winstead, Perez, Smollett-Bell and McGregor are capable actors reduced to props in Yan’s disjointed, hysterical approach. The picture always seems on the verge of flying apart since nothing is tethered to the plot or the characters. Some scenes are left incomplete, so we never know what happens to the characters or how they resolve their predicaments.
Yan provides no dramatic or emotional center. Her comic-book vision lacks all depth of feeling. “Birds of Prey” is plastic and impersonal, unremittingly tedious and utterly without reward.