Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was one of the lone bright spots of Suicide Squad, a movie with so much potential, but sadly ended up being a dumpster fire, despite making bank at the box office. Seeing how Robbie was practically born to play Harley, DC and Warner Bros opted to bring the character back (other Suicide Squad members weren’t as fortunate) by giving her her own starring film. That starring film would be the long-winded title Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which would double as both a Harley Quinn movie, as well as a vehicle to bring DC’s team of female antiheroes, the Birds of Prey, together on the big screen for the first time.
In Birds of Prey (we’ll just refer to it as that from here), Harley Quinn is dealing with her puddin’ “Mr. J” (Jared Leto’s Joker from Suicide Squad) dumping her. Her means of recovery is adopting a hyena which she names after Bruce Wayne, taking up roller derby and blowing up Ace Chemicals, the locale where she pledged herself to Joker by ditching her Harleen Quinzel persona and becoming Harley Quinn. This draws the attention of detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who is on the hunt for someone that is murdering mobsters via a crossbow. Meanwhile in Gotham City, crime lord Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) sends his chauffeur Dinah Lance, who calls herself Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell) and deranged henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) after a young girl named Cassandra Cain, who has stolen a diamond from him. In other words, it’s a normal day in Gotham.
It gives me great delight (and relief) to say that Birds of Prey, unlike Suicide Squad, is not a disappointment. Directed by Cathy Yan (Dirty Pigs), Birds of Prey is first and foremost a Harley Quinn movie. The entire movie is told from her point-of-view. Harley catches the audience up on what has happened since we last saw her and walks us through the wild goose chase she eventually becomes involved in.
It isn’t until the final act when Birds of Prey really becomes, well, a Birds of Prey movie though. At this point of the film, Harley finds herself in a predicament and must become unlikely allies with Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary and Renee Montoya in order to take down their common enemy, Roman. If you were looking forward to a Birds of Prey movie, you may be disappointed that they get together so late into the film. Now, when they do get together, it’s great. There’s an action scene in an abandoned amusement park where they take on Roman and his goons that is a terrific action set piece. It’s what you wanted to see, but again, it admittedly takes a while to get to that moment (despite the movie only being 109 minutes, which is relatively “short” for comic book movie standards).
I still found the movie to be perfectly enjoyable prior to their team-up though and that of course, is thanks to Robbie, who unsurprisingly disappears into this role once again. She commands the screen by transforming into Harley Quinn. I honestly completely forgot the actress is originally from Australia, she speaks in Harley’s iconic Northeastern accent so effortlessly. Whether it’d be the comics or Batman: The Animated Series, Harley has always been an unpredictable character. And that’s part of her appeal. She’s the kind of character that’ll raid the GCPD with a grenade launcher full of smoke bombs and confetti in tow, as evidenced in probably my favorite action scene in the movie.
Speaking of the movie’s action, it comes as no surprise to learn that the John Wick team lended a hand to the film’s action sequences. The action is unflinchingly brutal and the stunt work is top-notch. You could make a legitimate case that this movie has the best action of any film in the DCEU. You could also make the case Birds of Prey is the funniest film in the DCEU. Each time one of Harley’s foes appears, they are introduced with colorful title cards that list off that foe’s grievances with her. All I’ll say is, I didn’t expect this movie to reference Bernie Sanders. It’s things like these title cards, the candy-colored color palette of the film and the soundtrack that’s basically needle drop porn that really give this movie strong personality.
I’ve never seen Ewan McGregor play a character like this before. His Roman (later to become Black Mask) is eccentric. And scary. One moment, he’ll make you chuckle by taking offense to a snot bubble, but with the snap of a finger, he’ll menacingly order someone to strip. McGregor chews up all the scenery here and is clearly having a blast getting to do something different. I also really liked Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, who is a straight-up badass. Just don’t call her weapon a bow and arrow, she takes offense to that. I feel a lot of people will come out of this movie clamoring for a Huntress solo movie. For as cool as the character is, she probably gets the least screen time of any of the Birds of Prey. We get a brief glimpse of her interesting backstory, but that’s exactly it; it’s brief. Black Canary is also a potential fan favorite, while Renee Montoya was probably the weakest link. Not to say the character was bad, but she wasn’t as interesting as the others.
I am a bit discouraged by the film’s disappointing opening weekend at the box office. I’m hopeful that word-of-mouth will be good and it’ll wind up having strong legs and be just fine. I feel part of that has to do with people being turned away by it with its Suicide Squad connections, and possibly to some (lesser) degree, the fact that it’s rated R supposed to PG-13. But trust me when I say this movie isn’t the failure that Suicide Squad was. It’s in fact, quite good. It’s enjoyable from start to finish and much like the DCEU’s more-recent efforts, has its own voice. If you’re looking for a breakup movie this Valentine’s Day, go see this. It’s directed by a woman, featuring a diverse female cast who kick ass. It deserves your money. Please, go see Birds of Prey.