The long-awaited comic book film featuring the delightfully psychotic Harley Quinn hits theaters this weekend and has charmed critics. "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" is certified Fresh with an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score from more than 124 reviews.
The positive response to the R-rated female-driven action flick is a far cry from the dismal reaction critics had to "Suicide Squad" (27%) and "Justice League" (40%), two previous team-up films in Warner Bros.' DC Extended Universe.
As more reviews come in, the rating for "Birds of Prey" may change slightly. It has been bouncing between 87% and 92% since Wednesday, when the review embargo was lifted.
"Birds of Prey" centers around Harley, the breakout character from "Suicide Squad," played by Academy Award-nominated actress Margot Robbie. Since the last time we saw Harley, she's broken up with longtime boyfriend Joker (played by Jared Leto in "Suicide Squad") whose protection had kept cops and fellow criminals at bay.
"I want to kill you," crime boss Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor, says in a prereleased clip from the film. "Because without the Joker around, I can."
In an attempt to save herself, Harley volunteers to locate a diamond that was stolen from Sionis in exchange for sparing her life. Of course, things don't go quite as planned and Harley becomes unexpected allies with Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).
"This is a first: a Hollywood superhero movie written and directed by women, featuring a multi-racial female cast, with no male sidekicks or love interests, and a theme about learning to live without a man," Nicholas Barber, writer for the BBC, wrote in his review. "It's groundbreaking, it's long overdue, and it's bound to inspire a generation of girls."
Current estimates for the film's opening weekend hover between $40 million and $60 million, but the influx of positive reviews could push that number to the higher end of that range.
"If this movie didn't have great reviews, it would be in big trouble," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said. "The currency of a good review is an important thing."
Here's a rundown of what critics have said of "Birds of Prey" ahead of its Feb. 7 opening:
"What can a female supervillain do? Everything a man does, apparently, except backwards and in bedazzled roller skates," is how Entertainment Weekly reporter Leah Greenblatt leads off her review of "Birds of Prey."
Greenblatt calls the film "110 minutes of relentless hard-candy mayhem," which should give you a good idea of the type of ride you are in for when you take your seat in the theater.
The women in this film don't pull punches and neither do their male foes. The fight scenes, at times, can be cartoonishly violent, but are "kinetic," Greenblatt says.
"Though there are only so many creative-kill scenarios before the death toll becomes numbing," she said.
Greenblatt gave the film a B+.
"It's still mostly up to [Margot] Robbie, though, to carry the story, and she does it with a giddy mix of mad-dog ruthlessness and girlish glee; a kiss blown with a brass-knuckled fist."
Despite a slightly chaotic plot, once "Birds of Prey" gets going it is "wildly entertaining," Helen O'Hara of Time Out wrote in her review of the film.
O'Hara praised director Cathy Yan ("Dead Pigs") for letting Harley guide the story, even if she is a little manic.
"Yan steps up to the plate without a trace of the nerves you might expect of a first-time big-budget director," she wrote.
Additionally, O'Hara complimented Robbie's performance, the "flamboyant" costume design and the impressive action scenes. She gave the film four out of five stars.
"It takes a long time to get all these heroines to the same place, and some of the violence feels gratuitous and upsetting, but 'Birds of Prey' isn't interested in hitting all the usual superhero movie beats. It works because we haven't seen this story a thousand times before, and because it leaves behind the grim-dark posturing of 'Suicide Squad'. It's nice to see a joker who doesn't take herself too seriously."
While Nicholas Barber, writer at BBC, noted that "Birds of Prey" is a first-of-its-kind Hollywood romp, he was quick to warn that some viewers may find the film to be "exhaustingly laboured and twee."
The film is not "completely uncool or completely un-fun," he writes, but it does have a few flaws. The plot, he said, is more of a means to get the characters together than a thoroughly developed scenario.
"But the director, Cathy Yan, and the screenwriter, Christina Hodson, disguise this deficiency by having Harley chop up her story into pieces and then put them back together in a different order — just one of the gimmicks which Birds of Prey borrows from the 1990s and 2000s work of Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie and Danny Boyle," he said.
Barber gave the film two stars out of five.
"More of a fashion statement than a film, this flashy, sugar-buzzy caper is a barrage of voice-over, captions, freeze frames, flashbacks, animated interludes, and fight sequences which are essentially music videos."
While Robbie is the undeniable star of "Birds of Prey," the rest of the team shines, leaving potential openings for future spinoffs in the DC Universe.
Rosie Knight of Nerdist wrote that characters such as Black Canary and Huntress "are nothing short of brilliant" and Detective Montoya could easily star in her own movie taking on the Question, like her character did in the comics.
"Birds of Prey is some of the most fun I've had at the cinema for a long time," Knight wrote. "Though the film may have taken some notes from the likes of 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Deadpool,' Yan, Hodson, and their cast deliver something that feels fresh, and really entertaining."
She gave the film four out of five stars.
"Whether you're intrigued by its groundbreaking cast and crew, the R-rated action, or just because you love comic book movies, you'll likely be very happy with what you find. I was pleasantly surprised just how much I enjoyed the bizarro world of the 'Birds of Prey,' and thrilled at the prospect of it continuing long after this adventure ends."
"Birds of Prey" may be about female empowerment and, perhaps, a little bit about bringing down the patriarchy, but it "never gets caught up in cliched morals or weighty lessons," Johnny Oleksinski, of the New York Post, wrote in his review of the film.
He called it "the funniest comic book film since the first 'Deadpool' from 2016," noting that one of the running gags in the film is a dossier that appears onscreen every time one of Harley's foes appears. The pop-up lists their name and their "grievance" against Harley.
He gave the film three out of four stars.
"Marvel Studios, lorded over by Kevin Feige, prizes consistency above all else. Its 23 movies are mostly middle-of-the-road, big-budget spectacles, aesthetically generic enough to enable easy crossovers, like Tony Stark appearing in roughly half of them. DC, on the other hand, takes big risks and gives gutsy filmmakers more control over the look and content. That hurt the studio with a string of early duds, but it hits its stride with 'Wonder Woman,' 'Shazam!' and now 'Birds of Prey.'"
Disclosure: Comcast, the parent company of CNBC, owns Rotten Tomatoes.