Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was a striking character in Suicide Squad and she has gotten her own spin off movie in Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. Yes, that is the full title. It may want to be a team up movie but the real star of is Harley, so much so that it sometimes sags without her. Still, despite sometimes lacking focus, the movie makes up for it with crunchy action, a bit of heart, and some snarky, swearing dialogue. If Suicide Squad was watered down to make a more profitable mass audience friendly rating, Birds of Prey doesn’t feel like that at all.
Quinn (Robbie) has broken up with her boyfriend, the Joker (Jared Leto in Suicide Squad who is not appearing in this film aside from the back of probably his body double’s head and recycled footage). On her own for the first time in years, Harley tries to get out of her funk by blowing up Ace Chemicals plant which attracts the attention of a Gotham detective, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and a local crime boss, Roman (Ewan McGregor). Roman is also has to deal with a crossbow wielding vigilante bumping off his criminal associates. This is Helena (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who is calling herself The Huntress, but nobody knows that because she keeps killing the crooks before they can tell anyone. Harley strikes up a friendship with one of Roman’s lounge singers, Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollet–Bell), who seems too nice for working in a crime ridden bar. Things get incredibly complicated when a street kid, Cassandra (Elia Jay Basco), steals a precious diamond from Roman. Now the unlikely group of misfit women have to team up and Harley will have to become what she has never been, a hero.
Robbie delivers an energetic, fun performance. Harley starts off the movie down in the dumps as she tries to define herself without the Joker. What does a sidekick do when they don’t have anyone to sidekick for anymore? In Harley’s case, catharsis involves blowing a lot of stuff up. Robbie shows how Harley has some quick emotional moments then often reverts back to happy go lucky chaos. The best moments Robbie has is little random asides, like Harley being enthralled with a delicious sandwich, or when a guy gets lippy and she promptly breaks his legs and snarls that she has a PhD. As Harley was once a psychiatrist, often she will throw out quick psychological analysis of someone randomly.
McGregor as the baddie gets to be loud and campy which is amusing, although the movie slightly overdoes the gore as he casually orders people’s faces to be cut off. He gleefully often just throws a bomb into chaos like how he puts out a large bounty on Cassandra to multiple parties just because it’ll be fun. He has a villainous sidekick with Victor Zszsaz (Chris Messina) who glowers with a knife, although his personal scarring history would only resonate with comic book nerds. There is a lot of cutting back to McGregor’s Roman ranting in his office just to keep him prominent in the story as he doesn’t interact with Harley too often.
The rest of the titular Birds of Prey have their moments, Dinah is a pouty lounge act singer and her sudden displays of superpowers is cool for fans who know the source however it seems incongruous with the non–superpowered nature of the story. The flashbacks to the Huntress’ backstory are compelling. Even though Huntress sees herself as a righteous avenger since she’s spent her entire life training for revenge she doesn’t know how to deliver cool lines properly which Winstead is great at. As the grizzled detective, Perez puts some flair into the cop cliché Montoya, and her being constantly looked over for promotion is a decent social commentary. Basco as Cassandra gets in some fun back and forth as Harley is she’s stuck with her, although her character is quite different from the comics (she eventually becomes Batgirl). Since that is such an important character it is odd why they picked Cassandra Cain to be some random plot piece punk kid here. None of the crew comes close to stealing the spotlight from Harley so whenever she or Roman isn’t around, things tend to drag waiting for the fun to come back.
Directed by Cathy Yan, the movie has a bright candy coloured palate that befits Harley’s character. There are pop up infographics whenever an important character is introduced (just like in Suicide Squad) with fun factoids that breeze by. The scene where Harley invades the Gotham Police Department is a scream; it is one of the best action scenes in a DC movie in years as she uses rounds of teargas and beanbag bullets to take out the entire cop shop. With rampant profanity throughout the film it feels different from most mainstream DC efforts. If Joker was adult grimdark, this is adult zany.
Birds of Prey may stumble a bit here, sometimes the tone edges a bit too dark to be funny and the supporting characters aren’t as interesting as the lead, but as a wacky action movie with a bizarre sense of humour it works. It has glitter and mayhem and never stops trying to be different. V
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
Director: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead,
Ella Jay Basco and Ewan McGregor