Generally, when I ask people what they thought of Suicide Squad (2016), the answers vary anywhere from a lukewarm response to a very vehement scorching of the movie. The criticism, in my opinion, is well deserved because frankly, Suicide Squad was not a very good movie. But, in the midst of the overall dislike of the film, it seemed as though there was at least one element that worked – Margot Robbie’s playfully crazed portrayal of the love sick Harley Quinn. So it made complete sense to pull her out of the rubble that was Suicide Squad and toss her into her own movie.
My expectations of Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) shifted erratically as photos began to leak of Harley’s wardrobe, details of the film were revealed and then the trailer releases. Eventually, I landed somewhere between excitement and apprehension, but I was preparing myself for Suicide Squad levels of disappointment. Thankfully I left the theater more than satisfied, which I understand could have been because I had such low expectations. But really, it was because director Cathy Yan finally gave Harley Quinn the kind of movie she deserved.
Birds of Prey finds Harley fresh off of her breakup with Mr. J, aka The Joker. She’s finally on her own, reeling from the end of her mutually abusive relationship. As word begins to spread of the couple’s split, Harley quickly discovers that she no longer has the Joker’s protection, and everyone she’s wronged in Gotham is out for blood, including the sinister Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). In order to save her own butt, Harley convinces Roman to spare her long enough to find a very valuable diamond that Roman is after. This leads Harley to a young pickpocket, and the two realize that Harley is not the only one after the girl.
Robbie is once again a delight as Harley Quinn, so gleefully demented and breezy, even as she breaks kneecaps and noses. She is someone who could so easily become a one-dimensional caricature in the hands of the wrong actress, but Robbie balances Harley’s insecure psychopathy and vulnerability in a way that actually makes her quite charming. It helps that she also has some fantastic comedic timing and chemistry with the rest of the cast, most notably Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who plays Black Canary, and Rosie Perez, who plays Detective Renee Montoya. Mary Elizabeth Winstead shows up in a supporting role playing Huntress, an assassin with her own vendetta. Her dry sarcasm and social awkwardness garnered some of the loudest laughs. And I would be remiss not to mention Ewan McGregor’s marvelous turn as Roman Sionis. McGregor is clearly having fun in the role, and Roman is just as bonkers as Harley, though he manages to mask it just a little bit better. Roman is the kind of psychotic, unpredictable villain that I have been waiting to see in the DCEU and it was a thrill watching he and Harley Quinn go head to head.
But the movie truly shines when the core women share the screen together, whether they’re insulting each other, fighting each other, or fighting Roman’s goons. It was a blast watching them have to work together to make it out their predicament alive. One thing Birds of Prey does well is that it definitely makes the most of its R rating. It’s extremely violent and gruesome, especially during its frequent fight scenes, which seemed to be excessively long at times. I also felt like the movie dragged a bit when it focused on Harley’s “mentorship” of Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the young girl in possession of Roman’s diamond. I understand it was meant to not only introduce Cain for possible future appearances in the DCEU, but also push Harley’s growth as a person, but I was simply not that invested in Cain as a character. She felt like more of a plot device than anything else, and it slowed the action down, but that is really my only gripe about the film that is otherwise briskly paced.
Birds of Prey is ultimately about feminism and tackling misogyny together. Cathy Yan presents it in a colorful, hilariously chaotic and brutal package that is bound to appeal to anyone looking for some bite in their CBMs. It’s exactly what I wished Suicide Squad would have been. Hopefully, this is just a taste of where the DCEU is headed.
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