2016’s Suicide Squad, (also reviewed here on DeaconsDen) introduced movie watchers to the cinematic Harley Quinn. No matter your feelings on that film, one thing that was positively mentioned was Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist who is manipulated to criminal activity by The Joker. Now Harley is on her own in Birds of Prey, following a breakup with her beloved “Mistah J.” Alone in Gotham City now Harley must pick up the pieces while evading killers from sadistic crime boss Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (portrayed by Ewan McGregor). Along the way she will cross paths with Gotham detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), songstress Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), junior pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) and the crossbow wielding Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The events that follow is a madcap, live action cartoon that is the essence of Harley Quinn.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson. The talents of these women give way to a vibrant yarn that truly encapsulates the vibe of the character. Yan’s direction is frenetic and it is best seen when watching the excellent fight scenes and Hodson’s script hits on all the notes of the theme of emancipation as all our main characters seek some form of freedom from prior circumstances. The plot is nothing complex, but this is all about spending time with Harley and these new characters. The film also incorporates a nonlinear storytelling element that as you look at it, does not really work, but at the same time it does, because it feels like the scattered nature in which Harley would tell a story. With a run time of 1 hour 49 minutes, Birds of Prey moves at a great pace and honestly I wanted to spend just a little more time with these ladies.
On the performance front, Margot Robbie continues her run to superstar status as Harley Quinn. Here we get a larger range of emotions now that she is no longer tied to Joker or to Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad. Happiness, sadness, confidence, confusion are all in play and Robbie juggles all of them. The other standout performance is the scene chewing Roman Sionis. Ewan McGregor relishes in every moment he is on screen and he switches from charismatic to terrifying at the drop of a hat. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a determined edge to Huntress who I wish we got a little bit more time with. Jurnee Smollett-Bell knocks it out of the park as Black Canary, Ella Jay Basco also is admirable as the street smart Cassandra and Chris Messina is unnerving as Victor Zsasz. While I had no issues with Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, I do not think the film did it’s best in portraying her, but she brings veteran energy as a veteran cop.
I very much enjoyed every second of Birds of Prey. It’s a live action cartoon that takes the popular character and basically sets up her future. Great direction and themes combined with kickass action and fight sequences make for a movie that I look forward to revisiting as well as hoping for further adventures with this powerful women of the DC Universe. It is a fun and fanciful time.
If you enjoyed Birds of Prey and haven’t yet, but have an interest in Harley comics, I recommend everything written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, as their work I feel reflects some of the creative decisions made for this film. Also, if you have the DC Universe streaming service, definitely check out the Harley Quinn animated series that also follows her efforts to gain her own footing without the Joker. It’s a great time to be a Harley fan!