Released: February 2020
Director: Cathy Yan
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $82 to 100 million
Stars: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, and Ewan McGregor
After separating from the Joker (Jared Leto), Harley Quinn (Robbie) struggles to carve her own legacy in Gotham City. When she incurs the wrath of the sadistic Roman Sionis/Black Mask (McGregor), she is forced to team up with a rag-tag group of women who have also become targets of Sionis.
Let’s not mince words: Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016) was a bad film; it had so much potential and squandered it through sloppy editing and a questionable plot. However, two of the stand outs from that God-awful movie were Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Will Smith) and Margot Robbie’s scene-stealing performance as Harley Quinn. Given the character’s cult-like following and increase in popularity, her return seemed all-but-inevitable but, in the odd, shifting, uncertain climate that surrounds the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) it was never a guarantee. However, Robbie, apparently, took it upon herself to put together a film that is not just a solo outing for Quinn but also provides a look at some of DC’s most iconic and bad-ass female characters. The result is a film as much about female empowerment and establishing your own legacy independent of others (especially abusive partners or male patriarchs) that takes everything that was good about Suicide Squad, sprinkles in more than a liberal borrowing from other violent, curse-filled superhero outings (like the Deadpool (Various, 2016 to present) films), and results in a pretty decent inclusion in an extended universe that seems to be increasingly losing sight of its direction.
After being rescued by the Joker at the end of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn has been unceremoniously dumped by the Clown Prince of Crime. Her first reaction to this is to, smartly, tell no one so she can continue to enjoy the fruits of being Joker’s main squeeze, which allows her to live a life of debauchery, drinking, and buying hyenas. However, once word gets out about the break-up, it becomes open season on Harley not in the least because Roman Sionis wastes no time in wanting to lay claim to her unique abilities. In the midst of fighting for her life, Harley runs into Cassandra Cain (Basco), a pick-pocket who picks the wrong pocket when she lifts a diamond out of the pocket of Roman’s top henchman, Victor Zsasz (Messina).
Desperate to lay claim to the diamond in order to consolidate his stranglehold on Gotham’s criminal underworld, Sionis puts a hit out on Cassandra and, in trying to recover the diamond and buy her freedom, Harley crosses paths with disgraced and undervalued Gotham City Police Detective Renee Montoya (Perez), the vengeance-seeking, crossbow-wielding assassin Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Winstead), and Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Smollet-Bell), a singer from Roman’s club with more than a few hidden abilities.
First off, this is largely Margot’s show; she narrates the film, controls the narrative and timeline through some amusing fourth wall breaks, and is the central, strongest character in the film. Perfectly encapsulating Harley’s many and varied (and chaotic) character and personality quirks, Margot cements that she was the perfect choice to play this character and more than capable of standing on her own.
However, as we saw in Suicide Squad, Harley works best when bouncing and playing off of other characters, especially ones who are snarkier, more serious, or more sadistic than she is. Birds of Prey gives Harley a lot of these characters to work with and each one helps flesh her out in different ways: Cassandra helps her explore her protective, maternal side; Canary gives her a peer on equal footing as a fighter and a smart-talker; Huntress sets a standard off no-nonsense bad-assary that Harley wants to live up to; and Montoya gives her a foil, of sorts, to clash ideals with.
And yet, amongst all these strong-willed women, is perhaps the most atrocious antagonist in the DCEU yet played with delightful glee by old Obi-Wan himself, Ewan McGregor. Black Mask seems like a simple, one-note sadist but, actually, he has a few layers to him that may not be immediately noticeable as, unlike most characters, he doesn’t really get a flashback or onscreen text to go through his backstory. Roman flip-flops alarmingly between a charismatic smooth-talker and an unhinged psychopath and Ewan is clearly having the time of his life in the role. Apparently, there’s been a lot of negativity surrounding Birds of Prey and it’s even had a slight title change (to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey) to try and better capitalise on Harley’s popularity but I don’t really get why anyone wouldn’t like this movie. It’s fun, with some really brilliant (and vicious) action sequences, and is basically Deadpool but with some kick-ass women taking centre stage.
Maybe people are having issue with the film’s portrayal of strong, independent women but…it’s Birds of Prey, a superhero group founded by, and exclusively comprised of, women! People have also been criticising the title; apparently, some didn’t realise Harley Quinn was in this movie? Which is just…mind-blowing to me as she’s been central to all of the marketing I’ve seen (and there’s been a lot of marketing for this movie). Saying that, though, the title is a little misleading; it’s only really Birds of Prey by the conclusion and it may have been better to just title it The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn but none of that should stop you, or anyone else, checking this one out because it’s one hell of a good time.
Normally, I talk about some spoilers in my review (which I unhide when the film comes out on DVD) but there really isn’t much to spoil in Birds of Prey; it’s just a fun, entertaining, kick-ass little film that’s got a lot of action and humour in it and it really doesn’t deserve all the vitriol it’s been getting. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast throughout this movie and like they’re really happy to be there and the film does a pretty good job of giving everyone a chance to shine. I guess I can understand Cassandra Cain fans being a bit disappointed, though, as she is a far cry from her comic book counterpart but, overall, Birds of Prey has way more hits than misses (Cassandra is, in my view, the only real miss of the film) and I would say it is definitely worth your time and money.