Sadly, improved doesn't necessarily mean good in this case.
There's something very askew plot-wise in this movie, in that it doesn't really have one, and the shards of a plot it does have are presented in especially sloppy fashion. The movie hops around time crazily like a tweaker on a pogo stick. Also, while I love Robbie, her Harley Quinn shtick can get a little grating at times.
By the way, I'm watching Margot on Hot Ones as I write this review, and she's giving a captivating performance. Not as good as Shia, but still. She cannot handle her hot wings. I'm actually fearing for her life as I watch this. She might tap out. I won't give away the ending.
Back to the review... Harley Quinn is joined by the Birds of Prey this time out, and the likes of Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) all get high marks for what they bring to the party. The basic plot involves bad guy Roman Sionis, a.k.a. Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), trying to get a big diamond from a young pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco). That's about it for story.
Much of the film is spent talking about the Joker, which is a bit strange because this movie is supposed to be proof that the Birds of Prey don't need the stupid Joker in their movie. Okay, Harley broke up with the Joker so, mercifully, we don't have to endure Jared Leto's take on the character again. Get that plot element out of the way, and then move on.
Instead, the film contains near constant references to the fact that Joker is not in this movie. Director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson seem afraid to let go of the Clown Prince of Crime as a plot presence. Newsflash: Nobody cares about the Suicide Squad incarnation of Joker. He was quite underwhelming. It's all about Joaquin Phoenix now.
The movie, despite being a bit of a fluster-cuck, is sporadic fun. There's a running bit involving the perfect egg sandwich that is pretty good. The ass kicking scenes, where the Birds fly into action, are kinetic and have pop. McGregor's Roman Sionis has a sadomasochistic relationship with his henchman Victor (Chris Messina) that's good for some laughs. And, I loved, loved, loved Bruce, Harley's pet hyena, named after a certain morose billionaire.
Of the Birds, Smollett-Bell registers the highest as Black Canary, a character who deserves her own movie. Smollett-Bell has the sort of screen presence that you only see come around a few times a decade. She's done some good work in the past, but she really makes a mark here. Rosie Perez hasn't been this much fun since Pineapple Express as a tough Gotham cop who is willing to bend the rules to get the job done. And the always reliable Winstead is good as The Huntress, although she's a bit underused.
Robbie is still fun as Harley, but the film's effort to make her a kinder, warmer Harley Quinn renders her a slight bit boring at times. She's better when she is pure nasty with a little bit of funny. This time out, the movie asks her to be a constantly up, hyper, maybe too heroic, safer character. Mistake. Also, the sequence where Harley reenacts the iconic Marilyn Monroe's Gentleman Prefer Blondes routine is just plain dumb.
Harley Quinn will be back for the James Gunn helmed The Suicide Squad. I'm thinking the failures of this installment might put future Harley-centric ventures on hold. Harley and her Birds of Prey have a lot of potential, but there first film together misses the mark. It also needed at least 10 more minutes of Bruce the Hyena.