Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Written by: Christina Hodson
Starring: Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez
It seems that DC are still trying to find the right formula. As much as they’d like to emulate the MCU and its dominating presence, it just cannot seem to find a straight path, and for a good few years just seems to have been throwing mud and seeing what sticks. Nothing was more evident of that than the terrible Suicide Squad. A film that was firing so off the mark, it shot itself in the foot. From the terrible script, depressing cast and shocking wardrobe choices, they couldn’t even get a goofy squad of goons to be entertaining. And the less said about the awful, awful Joker, the better. However, from the ashes of that trash fire, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) seemed to be its only lasting good impression. The villain-cum-anti-hero certainly works better with a smaller squad, and when given the room to breathe, really shines. Birds of Prey focuses on Harley Quinn essentially breaking away from the role of the Joker’s other half and showing she has as much value as her own being/character than just being revered and feared because of her romantic relationship with a psychopathic villain. And it really works.
Putting Harley out there on her own against Gotham’s sleaziest low lives and seeing who comes off worse is great. There’s an early sequence that plays out like Mr Magoo as she’s trying to get away from several gangsters and the police, after she basically loses her immunity following the break up. As much as I can’t normally abide that sort of daft slapstick style, it’s so silly and fun, you can’t help but enjoy it. There’s lots of fourth wall breaking and silly little breaks in the action that also bring something a little fresh and fun to the movie, and yes, this is a current DC film, so in order to keep things from getting too light and fluffy, there’s plenty of dismemberment, broken bones and salty language to throw in to the mix as well. Birds of Prey has a wonderful sense of 90’s Batman about it. And although the films sucked, you can’t deny that Schumacher’s Batman movies had a uniquely camp-goth aesthetic, which appears to have been captured here, from the fluorescent glow of Gotham at night, to the imposing industrial architecture, and the menacing old style amusement park, the film oozes with what makes Gotham great.
It feels like they’ve found a great formula for the character, and while it’s a Birds of Prey movie, Harley Quinn is clearly centre stage here, however Rosie Perez gets a good deal of screen time as the constantly undermined detective Renee Montoya, always just one step behind the bad guys, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress is both a stone cold badass, with a bit a goofy side when it comes to interacting with allies. Normally she goes it alone, so doesn’t hold much of a conversation with anyone for more than a few seconds, and it shows. Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is the dark horse of the group, as she may be able to hold her own in a ruck, she doesn’t reveal her true ability until the films climactic action scenes, and what scenes they are too. Some of the best fight choreography I’ve seen in a film like this for a long time. Ewan McGregor continues his recent run of great roles as the narcissistic and flamboyant Black Mask, clearly relishing the part and making the most out the horrible yet camp mob boss, elevating it from what could’ve just been a rather generic villain, to someone who is both intimidating and funny. Birds of Prey is a very entertaining movie, with stylish visuals, great costumes and a great soundtrack too. One of the best offerings DC has brought to the table in some time.