Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), 2020.
Directed by Cathy Yan.
Starring Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong, Matthew Willig, and Dana Lee.
After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.
Roughly 3.5 years after David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie returns to the fan-favourite role of Harley Quinn in Cathy Yan’s exceedingly entertaining and fun DC ensemble Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Robbie leads an impressive cast that works quite well together under Yan’s direction and a tight script from Bumblebee‘s Christina Hodson. The story moves along at a nice pace and features some of the best action sequences in DC’s films so far.
When Harley is dumped by The Joker, she finds herself the target of multiple enemies who want to take revenge on her now that she is no longer under the Clown Prince of Crime’s protection. Her circumstances find her caught up in a chase for a young girl and an item she unwittingly stole, forcing Harley and some other anti-heroic women to come together and protect the child from a powerful and unhinged mob boss. It’s not a complex story, but it does tell it in a couple of unconventional ways through Harley’s early non-linear narrative and nice pacing throughout the film that is broken up with some very entertaining action beats. Nothing feels like it was forced in or could be easily cut, making it run for just as long as it needs to.
Though Birds of Prey is the film’s central title, this is very much Harley Quinn’s show and Robbie steals every moment of it. For such a wild character, Robbie never overdoes her performance to the point where Harley becomes annoying instead of eccentric, but also shows a much more vulnerable side to the character as she tries carving out a path of her own. Throughout the film Harley balances the line between looking out for herself and trying to do the right thing, placing her further in the anti-hero category. Robbie displays the complexities of Harley’s character and her mindset quite well, particularly with her shifts from an eccentric (and violent) woman to the sharp wit and mind she still retains as she psycho-analyzes various people. If one thing is certain, you’ll never get bored when Harley is onscreen.
Out of the supporting cast Jurnee Smollet-Bell is the most impressionable as Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary. Like Harley, she tries to balance the need to keep her head down and stay out of trouble with the desire to help others. Smollet makes Dinah easy to relate with and has quite a presence when she comes into a scene, a presence which grows throughout the story as Dinah’s conflicting feelings come to a head. And when it comes to the fight scenes Smollet certainly has the moves. From her kicks, punches and dodges, she employs a whole lot of energy into her fight choreography and shows just how tough Canary is known to be in the comics.
Ella Jay Basco, Rosie Perez and Mary Elizabeth Winstead round out the rest of the group as Cassandra, Renee Montoya and Huntress respectively. Basco has a nice chemistry with Robbie that makes it easy to see why Harley and Cass would be drawn to one another while Perez, who is perhaps the most grounded character in the film as an under-appreciated detective, has a lot of fun with her role and its riff on cheesy 80s cop movies. Winstead is also great as Huntress and, like Smollet, revels in the physicality of the role and the film’s climax, though she doesn’t get very much to do before then. It would have been nice to see her character explored more before the climactic fight and spend more time with the others, but for the time she is in the film she is quite strong (especially with her humourous awkwardness at the basicness of hanging with a group of women after spending years training with assassins). Ewan McGregor also shines as the villainous and smarmy Black Mask, seeming like a rejected R-rated Batman ’66 villain yet makes it completely fit within the world Yan and Hodson present.
One of the best aspects to Birds of Prey is the fight sequences throughout the film. There is a huge entertainment factor in watching the characters fight with the final act having some of the best action in a comic book film, let alone a DC one, in a while. Part of that is due to both the practical effects as well as the choreography that utilizes a lot of complicated shots and movement throughout the sequences. There is a lot going on in some of these fights, yet it’s all presented in a pretty clear manner that is easy to follow but has a ton of re-watchability. They also earn the film’s R-rating with the brutal rawness of the combat with the amount of broken bones, blood and sometimes body parts that result, yet none of it feels overly excessive than it needs to be.
With the fast-paced story, stylish editing, great performances and some exciting fight scenes, Birds of Prey is quite an enjoyable film and one of the more original comic book adaptations audiences have gotten in recent years. Robbie is a captivating presence as Harley Quinn while her supporting cast, particularly Smollet, hold their own against her, though the film would have benefitted more from Winstead’s role. Yan’s direction makes Birds of Prey a more than worthy addition to the DC franchise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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