“If you want boys to respect you, show them you’re serious. Shoot something, blow it up!”
The flippant tone of Birds of Prey is its greatest strength, a bright colour palette veering deliberately away from the dark tone of the DCEU with a story told, messily, by Harley Quinn. The script weaves a thin plot around the conceit that she is striking out on her own after years under the Joker’s sway, but for the most part it just strings together a series of acrobatic fight sequences. There is some creative choreography, with a few well-observed moments in the hands of a female director like Harley offering Black Canary a hair-tie during a fight, but it is shot predictably in chaotic quick cuts. We never see the level of audiovisual flair found in Harley’s prison breakout in the The Suicide Squad and, whilst comparing Birds of Prey to a later film may seem unfair, Gunn understood what we need to see and feel to get into the mind of one Harley Quinn, which is almost as important as Margot Robbie’s performance. Birds of Prey tries to do that through its use of voice over and colour palette, but it never quite succeeds.
“Look, people can be terrible about things they don’t understand.”
This soft reboot of the Transformers franchise often feels like a cars-and-robots take on How To Train Your Dragon, similarly centred around an outsider bonding with a powerfully destructive but kind and damaged creature. Michael Bay’s films revelled in robotic carnage, whilst scenes featuring humans were generally an afterthought (it’s evident from Bay’s filmography that he doesn’t really get or care about humans). That is inverted here, with humanity at the core of the film. Between True Grit and The Edge of Seventeen, Hailee Steinfeld has swiftly become one of my favourite actors of her generation. She has less to work with here, but her warmth and charm routinely make us forget she is acting against a central character that wasn’t present; it is this, as much as ILM‘s wizardry, that brings Bumblebee to life. Bumblebee may be largely predictable family-friendly fare, but beneath the metallic sheen is humanity that the franchise has sorely lacked.