The crazy is back and Margot Robbie returns to the DCEU with plenty of force as the one and only Harley Quinn in the full-on, R-rated, girl gang movie of the year in Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), and this one is so much fun!
Since the events of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn has left the Joker. When Roman Sionis, a narcissistic crime lord known as Black Mask, places a hit on a young girl named Cassandra Cain, Gotham City turns upside down looking for her. Harley joins forces with Black Canary, Helena Bertinelli, and Renee Montoya to protect the girl and to take Sionis down.
Swinging the giant mallet and bringing a new tempo to the DCEU with Birds Of Prey is director Cathy Yan, and this hotshot director cranks up the fun and it’s one fantabulous ride. With a solid balance of character, action and some very fun stylings, Yan plants her audience into the trendy world of Gotham City and takes them on a wild journey. She makes the most of the film’s R-rating and this gives Birds Of Prey a definite edge, while also taking her time to sprinkle plenty of visual sparkles up on the big screen as well. As a director, she gets to play with an assortment of different media, and this allows her to take audiences inside the frazzled and loony mindscape of one Harleen Quinzel, and so presents the film squarely from Harley’s perspective. Yan spins every angle of this film perfectly, and the result is something that is incredibly different and shakes up the idea of what a DCEU film can be.
Margot Robbie is once again front and centre here with her performance as Harley Quinn, and the actress cuts loose with her performance. In Birds Of Prey, she gets to explore the complex characterization of Harley Quinn, and with this film’s narrative she’s very much exploring what this character means in a bold new setting. Birds Of Prey finds Harley emerging into her individual self and having to be something more than just the side-kick. All her life she’s tried to please others, and coming off a bad break-up with The Joker she now has to define her new state of being and just what it means to be a new independent villainous in Gotham. Robbie takes her audience into both the highs and lows of being Harley and it’s a cracker performance from the actress.
Alongside exploring the emotional depths of Harley, Robbie also jumps into the action and gets to personalize it with Harley’s jester flair! Yan, Robbie and stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio and fight coordinator Jon Valera delve back into the character’s backstory and bring out here acrobatic flair and time spent as a champion gymnast to great effect in the movie. Robbie’s limber physique and cat-like grace serve her well in the stunt work, and this girl gets to do it all, from cart-wheeling smash attacks to roller-derby motorcycle chases. I also can’t forget to mention Robbie’s sassy sense of humour which also shines through in a big way. Robbie has to juggle a lot here with Harley from getting over a break-up, to smashing up the scum of Gotham, to living her best life and trying to find the perfect egg sandwich….and Robbie accomplishes it all as Harley.
Joining Robbie’s Harley is Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Laurel Lance aka Black Canary, a noir laced soul queen lounge singer who finds herself in the crosshairs of her deranged boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and has to join up with Harley. As Black Canary, Smollett-Bell brings a real Diana Ross-1970s style to the role and she’s got this wicked groove to her character. If there’s a word to best describe Black Canary, I think survivor works best, this girl has had a rough life, but still managed to find her place in Gotham, and that means she can aptly handle herself in any type of situation. Smollett-Bell owns the role here and her performance and grace shine through in a terrific light.
Crossing paths with Harley and Black Canary is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli, who adopts the moniker Huntress and who is ready to raise a little hell in Gotham. Winstead’s Huntress is a combination of lethal focus and uncontrollable rage, and she’s a ticking time bomb of an anti-hero who is waiting to explode. Winstead fully commits to the role and while she’s certainly a fearsome hunter, you also feel that she’s got this ‘little-girl lost’ quality to her as well as if she’s never had the time to grieve properly and this has left her with plenty of anger issues. Winstead adds the spice to the Birds of Prey, as her seriousness sort of throws Harley off a bit. She works great with the other actresses and I hope to see her slinging bolts in future sequels.
Cementing our Birds Of Prey unit is Rosie Perez as Detective Renee Montoya, a down on her luck Gotham City Police detective who is battling an incompetent police department and the rules and corruption that are, unfortunately, ‘just part of the job’. Perez plays into the character as a quintessential 1980s cliched cop, and this helps to strengthen the character and fits in perfectly with the film’s setting. While Montoya is a bit of a mean drunk, she’s also snappy and has a can-do attitude that allows her to circumvent standard operating procedure, and this is ultimately what leads her to join the Birds Of Prey.
Going up against the Birds Of Prey is a collection of diabolical bad guys and one particularly nasty villain is Chris Messina’s Victor Zsasz. From the moment you set your eyes on this guy, you can just tell that there’s something wrong with him and Messina has plenty of fun as this totally unhinged serial killer. Messina’s Zsasz is best described as Sionis’s loyal lap dog and when he’s not peeling faces off peoples heads for his master, he’s creeping out anyone and everyone who crosses his path. It’s a complete 180 turn for Messina and the actor rises to the challenge and gives this guy all manner of menace.
Finally bringing Birds Of Prey together is Ewan McGregor as Gotham City crime lord Roman Sionis/Black Mask, and it’s a performance from McGregor that we’ve absolutely never seen him play before. As Sionis, McGregor embraces the villain’s life with glee and he has a ball being the bad guy here. Best described as a violently narcissistic sociopath, he’s one mean creep and not the kind of guy you want to tick off. Sionis also has a pathological hate for women and this is of course directed towards our female characters, and he does some particularly despicable things. Sionis is a particularly worthy villain for the Birds Of Prey to face off against, and McGregor plays him with plenty of sadistic camp that frightens you as an audience member and has you rooting for his demise at Harley’s hands.
Birds Of Prey’s R-rating gives this film a huge advantage, and this dials up the intensity and aggressiveness of the film’s action scenes. Brace yourself for plenty of bone-breaking and ballbusting, because Birds Of Prey goes for it, and there’s a spattering of the old ultra-violence on display and at full effect going on. But aside from just being a gnarly watch, Birds Of Prey is also incredibly innovative in its use of action, as it uses its characters and their unique traits and personalities to shape the film’s action sequences. Birds Of Prey is also not repetitive with what it brings to the screen, and each new sequence offers up something different and this keeps things interesting and your adrenaline pumping.
Tonally and stylistically Birds of Prey embraces a unique visual palette and this is one of it’s most exciting features. It cranks up the comic book landscape of Gotham City and injects plenty of bright fuchsia pastels and Valentine reds into it for an original punk rock look and vibe. Yan and noted cinematographer Matthew Libatique capture something distinctive with Birds Of Prey and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in a DCEU film. With a great throwback to classic cinema works of the late 70s and early-80s like The Warriors and Big Trouble In Little China, and a touch of the mafia opulence of The Godfather, we get to see something very cool in this Gotham City. This comic book fantasy comes to life with plenty of high fashion sheen, and it’s a fantastic piece of cinema to look at.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a wildly spontaneous watch and is an exciting and fresh entry into the comic book movie landscape. It’s a girl gang movie that hits hard, and you’ll be sure to have a spectacular time watching this one.
Image: Roadshow Films