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Review: Birds of Prey

There wasn’t much to like about Suicide Squad back in 2016, other than Margot Robbie’s scene-stealing performance as Joker’s crazy cartoonish girlfriend Harley Quinn. Three and a half years later, Harley is front and center, stealing the whole show as Joker’s crazy EX-girlfriend in Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The movie takes characters from the DC Extended Universe to all sorts of wild and wacky extremes, fueled by #GirlPower – in front of the camera, and behind it. It’s an R-rated girl gang action movie that’s quirky and irreverent and violent and self-aware and for the most part, frenetically entertaining. Obviously, it’s not for everyone. Think Deadpool meets John Wick – if John were a Jane dressed as a clown princess. You either jump in and buckle up and enjoy the ride… or choose a more sedate alternative.

Harley Quinn narrates her own story in Birds of Prey, with voiceover that’s often as manic as she is, and an unapologetic breach of the fourth wall. She recaps her troubled history as psychiatrist-turned-sidekick to Gotham’s most notorious bad boy, and sets up her current “situation” – that of a jilted ex struggling to establish her own identity while fighting off a slew of nemeses from her violent, criminal past. She will pause, however, to extol the virtues of the perfect egg sandwich. That’s Harley “freakin’” Quinn for ya.

Birds of Prey works fine as a standalone, i.e. don’t feel compelled to watch or re-watch Suicide Squad. The plot is thin but serviceable and – unlike Suicide Squad – fairly straightforward: Harley joins forces with several other badass broads to save a troubled young girl (newcomer Ella Jay Basco) from the evil and narcissistic crime lord Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and his creepy enforcer Zsasz (Chris Messina).

The sisters-in-arms make up a twisted “justice league” of sorts that includes a sexy singer known as Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, HBO’s True Blood) who works for Roman; a vengeful mafia princess turned crossbow-killer known as Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, All About Nina, 10 Cloverfield Lane, TV’s Fargo) and a tenacious detective named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez, Fearless, Pitch Perfect 2) who spouts dialogue reminiscent of every TV cop show from the 1980s. As with Harley, each of the women is seeking emancipation from some toxic relationship or situation. They don’t set out to work together, but their chance alliance proves critical to their survival and to the success of their rescue mission. They are accidental superheroes. Strong, witty, wacky and wise. And also plenty weird.

Birds of Prey is a wild tale of female empowerment, powered by director Cathy Yan (an indie filmmaker with just one feature film under her belt, Dead Pigs) and screenwriter Christina Hodson who penned the unexpectedly decent 2018 Transformers movie Bumblebee. They helped steer Birds of Prey, but Margot Robbie is the film’s glue. She manages to evoke a sense of genuineness, sympathy and vulnerability in just about any role – from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and I, Tonya to Mary Queen of Scots and the Legend of Tarzan.

As Harley Quinn, she’s fearless, quirky, vulnerable, dangerous, spunky, deadly, and a force to be reckoned with on roller skates. And I doubt we’ve seen the last of her.

Joker who?

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