(and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Birds of Prey is a frenetic explosion of subversive humor, vibrant color and poetic violence that is a near perfect reflection of anti-hero Harley Quinn — the unstoppable foul-mouthed engine that powers this candy-coated action flick.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the one part of the otherwise dismal Suicide Squad to receive near universal praise. As such she was pretty much able to write her own ticket for a follow up. While the studio pushed for a “love story” with Jared Leto’s the Joker, Robbie wanted a female-centered action movie.
Robbie’s Harley finds herself on her own after a tumultuous break-up with the Joker, the ultimate toxic boyfriend. She quickly realizes that without his protection, all of Gotham’s underworld sees her as either fair game for retribution or as a possession to own. Ewen Macgregor alternately sees her as both in a scene stealing and scenery chewing performance as oily criminal kingpin Black Mask, turning in the kind of performance that would make a studio never dream of replacing you with Joaquin Phoenix.
Harley is joined by mobbed-up torch singer Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), beleaguered cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), teenage pickpocket Casandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) and enigmatic assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth-Winstead). There is a complicated, interwoven plot involving a classic MacGuffin in the form of a giant diamond that everyone is after — but that’s not what the movie is actually about. Like the title says, it’s about emancipation.
Serving as both producer and star, Robbie and screenwriter Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) have crafted an all-too familiar tale of women who are marginalized, objectified and underestimated by the men that surround them. By the end of the film, they have all recognized the chains that are holding them down and have teamed together to break them.
It’s “smash the patriarchy” with a giant wooden mallet.
Sophomore director Cathy Yan does a great job, making the nonlinear story told by the world’s least-reliable narrator easy to follow. The fight scenes flow like ballet, thanks in part to a consulting assist from John Wick director Chad Stahelski. The inventive fight choreography utilizes skates, crossbows and an oversized gun that shoots glitter bombs and neon-tinted smoke grenades. (Ed. – I need this gun on a deeply personal level.)
While it’s obvious that they were restrained slightly by a lower than average budget for a superhero flick — There is a noticeable lack of superpowers on display and Robbie has admitted in interviews that she only has one hyena in the movie instead of Harley’s traditional two for “money reasons.” — the cast and crew have created an incredibly entertaining popcorn flick that should cement Robbie’s Harley as a cornerstone of the DC movie universe for years to come.
Birds of Prey opens nationwide on February 7th, 2020.