THE STORY – It’s open season on Harley Quinn when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask, his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz, and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women — Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya.
THE CAST – Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong & Ewan McGregor
THE TEAM – Cathy Yan (Director) & Christina Hodson (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 109 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
There’s no denying it. “Suicide Squad” was a massive disappointment for Warner Bros and fans of the DC Extended Universe. There was, however, one good thing to come out of it and that was the captivating, manic and wonderful characterization which Margot Robbie brought to beloved comic book villain Harley Quinn. Where before she was an important member of a large ensemble of DC comic book characters, here she is leading the ensemble in the female written and directed “Birds Of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” but for the purposes of this review, we’ll keep it to “Birds Of Prey.” The result is a noticeable improvement over “Suicide Squad” that delivers on the fun and crazy in all the right ways.
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has broken up with the Joker and is now all on her own. However, without Mr. J watching her back, the entire city is descending upon her for past grievances. One particular crime boss named Roman Sionis aka. Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) is seeking a valuable diamond which will give him the power to bribe every public official in Gotham City and grant him unlimited power. Young pickpocketer Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) comes into possession of the diamond but also crosses paths with Harley Quinn who needs to deliver the diamond to Sionis in exchange for her life. With the two of them on the run from Sionis, they encounter an assassin with an affinity for crossbows named Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a vigilante singer named Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and cop named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who is chasing them all. Realizing they are stronger together than separated, they become the “Birds Of Prey.”
Bursting with vibrant colors, kinetic camera work by cinematographer Matthew Libatique and some impressive fight choreography, “Birds Of Prey” is filled with animation (literally…there’s an opening animated sequence explaining Quinn’s backstory) and playfulness. While it certainly earns its hard R rating with a number of bloody moments and choice F-bombs, it never goes the darker route that other DC films have gone down before confusing the notion that darker somehow always means better. Instead, writer Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee“) and director Cathy Yan (“Dead Pigs”) keep things movings at a quick pace, with a number of silly gags (there’s one involving Harley’s obsession with a breakfast sandwich that is destined to go down in internet legendary meme status) and fun character moments setting up this awkward group of female misfits into one worth caring about for future installments.
Watching Margot Robbie fully embody Harley Quinn once again is even better than it was the first time around. Her dedication, facial expressions, and wild mannerisms are all on full display here, helping us to realize once again what a versatile actress she is. Every time she is on screen, you cannot take your eyes off of what she is bringing to the role for your entertainment. Other cast members try to match her energy throughout with varying degrees of over the top performances (most notably from Ewan McGregor who has never been this free to let loose in ferocious and unpredictable ways) and while the tone of these performances may fluctuate, Robbie is the glue that is constantly holding the film together from splitting apart.
“Birds Of Prey” delivers on a number of badass action moments delivered by women that will surely get audiences excited but there are also a number of questionable moments in the screenplay which keeps this film from being an all-out winner. Most of these issues revolve around McGregor’s Black Mask character. There’s a subplot revolving around his relationship with Chris Messina’s Victor Zsasz character with homoerotic undertones which are never fully explored and instead bring about an old stereotype of the portrayal of gay men as evil in cinema. There’s also an exploitative scene involving women’s bodies, where Roman forces a woman to strip in front of everyone in his club. This scene is used to show just what a cruel and sadistic character Roman Sionis is but it feels redundant when we already received that message with an execution scene involving face peeling earlier in the film. However, for every misstep the screenplay takes with Roman Sionis, McGregor is always giving it 100% (look for a scene where he is gleefully showing off tribal heads in his apartment) and makes for one dastardly villain.
A story about independence and the disregard for men’s protection (and how that protection is really just another form of dominance over women), “Birds Of Prey” has something to say and it says it with an enthusiasm and level of fun that further showcases that the DCEU is finding its rhythm in how to tell its stories. It’s messy screenplay (the opening will be confusing at first but everything gets explained later) and leaps in logic (how can Harley Quinn dispose of a bunch of thugs so easily but then struggle to fight a drunk Rosie Perez one on one?) keep it from being an all-time great film. It may not even be the best DCEU film. However, for a February release at a weak time of the year, with some enjoyable performances and heightened moments of badassery filled with imagination from the female perspective, “Birds Of Prey” is not just for the birds.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Over the top, wild and unpredictable performances from Margot Robbie and Ewan McGregor that are always fun to watch. Visuals that burst with vibrancy, color and imagination.
THE BAD – A few questionable aspects of the screenplay hold it back from being perfect. As fun as it is, it is still incredibly silly and really pushes the audience’s limit for how far they can suspend their disbelief.
THE OSCARS – None