Synopsis – After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.
My Take – As a massive DC fan myself, it was quite distressing to witness how, in order to play catch up to their massively successful and well-structured rival, Marvel, the comic book giant’s film division crumbled in itself, by releasing back to back underwhelming films despite starring some of the most superheroes ever created.
However, with their wise division to play by their own rules, and letting go of their attempt to replicate Marvel‘s inbuilt connecting universe structure, DC Films, as a label, have been crawling back to relevance, with massive success of films like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam! And the biggest surprise of all, Joker, under their belt. And with Joker earning about $1.072 billion at the worldwide box office, it makes a certain sense to expect a similar level performance from his closest accomplice, Harley Quinn, right?
Even though 2016’s Suicide Squad was poorly received by many, despite doing financially very well, most would agree that Margot Robbie‘s performance as Harley Quinn was a major highlight, and with Robbie on her way to become a major star, retooling her character as a lead seemed like a perfect cash cow the previously bleeding studio needed, despite being a bold concept right from the start. And, now having seen it, I can confirm the film absolutely continues DC‘s streak of quality content for this genre, by being an absolutely the bombastic, hyper-color explosion of film making the comic-film industry needed.
Equal parts slapdash, artfully arranged and designed to please anyone who wants more depth and weight in a light humor-focused comic film. Yes, it is messy, but it’s messy in a way that feels natural. Mostly I was left surprised and stunned by the rest of the film’s bloody, candy-colored pieces falling into place around Margot Robbie‘s performance, who once again displays such ownership of the character, understanding and embodying her in a way that demonstrates her investment in the character and the source material.
While, this may not be DC’s first female-led comic book film, but it certainly is its goriest and most violent, making it riotous fun for anyone choosing to watch it.
Picking up after the events of Suicide Squad, but also kind of throwing away everything that happened in it, the story follows Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who has finally broken off from her abusive relationship with the Joker and is now on her own for the first time in a while. However, without her ex’s reputation left to protect her, she soon discovers, that being freshly liberated from that well feared villain also means that the local lowlifes of Gotham city have absolutely no problem with coming to exact revenge upon her.
A factor tested when she finds herself in the cross hairs of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a feared mob boss and nightclub proprietor, who in exchange for her life wants her to go after Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young pickpocket who has stolen precious diamond from Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), his switchblade-happy right hand man, and is currently in the custody of the GCPD.
While Harley agrees, Sionis wants reassurance that he’ll be reunited with his missing valuable and lets every terrifying baddie in the city’s underbelly know they’ll receive a handsome reward if they get them back together. Also caught in the mix are Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a vengeful former mafia daughter turned vigilante, Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) a nightclub singer-turned Sionis’ driver and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a Gotham City Police detective who wants to bring Sionis to justice.
They’re a bunch of personalities you wouldn’t naturally put together but, with Cassandra’s fate in their hands, their unlikely alliance is quickly cemented, with Harley bringing in her signature blend of chaos to the proceedings.
What director Cathy Yan and Margot Robbie have done here is make a film that Suicide Squad so desperately wanted to be, but couldn’t be due to a PG13 restriction. In the sense, it’s loud, bombastic, brutal, rude, funny, violent, exhilarating, and most of it is just good comic book film fun. The film jumps back and forth in time do their best to mask what is actually quite a threadbare story-line that’s quite simple. In fact, a few of the characters, if you look closely, aren’t really that well fleshed out, though you don’t really feel the need to look closely, because the film as a whole is so raucous and distracting and fun.
The film knows and embraces what it is, making it a very smart adaptation from screenwriter Christina Hodson, working closely with Robbie (who also produced the film), who though change a lot from the comics but also combines the pieces in a way that works. For example, the character of Harley Quinn is not a member of the Birds of Prey team, and interestingly, the film doesn’t try to make her a member, but she’s narrating their origin story.
Harley is an unreliable narrator, which gives the film license to mess around with the structure, rewinding and fast-forwarding as Harley gives telling the story her best shot. Here, director Cathy Yan has style to spare, and unlike several earlier DCEU films, this isn’t one that feels like it has been obviously been meddled with by studio executives.
As a director, Cathy Yan has done a terrific job as she imbues the film with chaos and disorder and nonsense in a way that always borders on the obscene but falls just enough on the charming side. Especially with the overarching tone of the film being anarchy, which is represented both within characters’ actions and the jumpy nature of the narrative. There is plenty to enjoy in seeing Harley wreak havoc upon members of Gotham’s crime syndicate with little care for the enemies she is making in the process, constantly reminding the audience that she is still technically a villain in spite of her attempts at a good deed.
Armed with an R rating, this film feels particularly liberating in how DC has better embraced a more adult superhero picture. While Deadpool paved the path, this film followed it with a glittery neon trail.
As the film’s crowning glory, are the various fight scenes, which will surely number amongst the year’s most innovative and beautiful. Here, director Cathy Yan choreographs action set-pieces with a clear eye, fully aware of how women can best find men’s weaknesses; where to hit, what to say, when to lean back, and who’s really worth fighting for.
Each character displays a distinct fighting style that corroborates their backstory which, though a small and easily missed narrative detail, is one of the many ways the film demonstrates just how much thought has gone into every element. The film also possess a cracking score, which is something that Suicide Squad tried to do, but failed.
Unfortunately, I felt that the remaining members of the titular team were somewhat underused. The majority of this film is all about Harley Quinn, which is fine because Margot Robbie is terrific as this character, but considering how Mary Elizabeth Winstead shined so damn well as Huntress, but got to occupy mainly the third act was disappointing.
The same goes for Rosie Perez‘s Renee Montoya who despite being given glimpses about the troubles she faces on the all-male force, and her struggles with an ex-girlfriend (Ali Wong), felt underused. Honestly, the plot wouldn’t be much different without her so that it’s not just Rosie Perez fault, but the writing.
As a fan of the comics, I also did not connect to the character of Cassandra Cain, a character, who is supposed to be a deadly daughter of assassins who eventually became Batgirl. While Ella Jay Basco’s performance was fine, her character too left a lot to be desired.
However, unlike what I predicted, I really liked Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s performance and her take on the character, I really hope they further their stories in future films, but the real stand out of the film for me was Ewan McGregor, whose hammy performance had me laughing on multiple occasions. Chris Messina was trouble-free to watch so I was definitely fine with his act, but nothing outstanding. On the whole, ‘Birds of Prey’ is a fun, colorful, silly and chaotic comic book film that is breezily entertaining thanks to its humor and violent action.
Directed – Cathy Yan
Rated – R
Run Time – 109 minutes