As “Birds of Prey” would have it, Batman is a wimp — things go bad one day, and the Caped Crusader splits town. Isn’t that just like a man? While die-hard fans may protest the slam to the hero’s rep, the WB scores points for giving the Dark Knight mythology a complete feminine makeover with “Birds of Prey,” a fantasy-adventure tale of sisters doing it for themselves.
After the success of the Frog’s other superhero series, “Smallville,” writer Laeta Kalogridis (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”) further invigorates the concept with a femme-empowerment spin surrounding Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott), the child of Batman and Catwoman who takes over the family business. Pilot director Brian Robbins sticks close to the gothic milieu but updates Gotham and its inhabitants with a crisp look that is both comicbook and futuristic.
Debut seg spotlights the action factor right from the start with a flashback to the Joker’s violent revenge spree that leaves Catwoman Selena Kyle dead and Batgirl Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) critically injured.
Unable to save them, Batman leaves town dejected. Flash-forward seven years. Daughter Helena is all grown up, still dealing with her mother’s death and abandonment by her father. When not in therapy with the cryptic Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara) or tending bar, Helena is tutored in the ways of crime fighting by Barbara. (Now in a wheelchair, Barbara continues Batman’s mission from behind the computer in a secret clock tower lair.)
Despite the latest gadgets and killer DNA, theirs is not a smooth operation. Helena has her father’s devotion to justice combined with her mom’s superhuman powers, but she isn’t good at following orders. Her internal struggles often interfere with her ability to fight, — and she won’t wear a mask. Barbara tries to guide Helena but is struggling with her frustrations now that she can no longer physically fight the bad guys.
Their dysfunctional family unit is soon invaded by Dinah (Rachel Skarsten), a young clairvoyant who has made her way to New Gotham in search of Barbara and Helena, the women who have appeared in her visions since she was young.
With “Birds of Prey,” Kalogridis has crafted a tidy concept, crossing an idol with a villain to make a new breed — slightly naughty, definitely conflicted but with some serious kick-ass power.
Scott physically captures a stealthy cool, but her Helena is too erratic and unpredictable to instill any confidence as a superhero. One also questions her lack of fashion sense; it looks as if she’s fighting crime in something from the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Meyer brings a good deal of balance as the seasoned veteran, but as a trio, the actors and characters are clunky. The power of three has been done before, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has the lock on using the supernatural experience as an analogy for real life. Perhaps the producers can learn from the demise of shows such as “Dark Angel” and realize that good looks and highly stylized action aren’t enough.
Technical credits reflect an expensive budget, with the real proof in John Gray’s special effects. “Batman” fans will surely take note that Mark Hamill provides the voice of the Joker here as well as in the animated version.