Back in 2016 Margot Robbie stormed onto our screens as the anarchic DC comics favourite Harley Quinn. The ex-PHD psychotherapist who became the Joker’s right hand woman following a rebirth at ACE chemicals. And while Suicide Squad was far from perfect as an introductory film. It is fair to say that Robbie’s Harley Quinn shone through an otherwise mediocre affair. Now three years later, Harley Quinn’s back on the big screen, but this time she is single and ready to mingle. As Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) bursts onto our screens. In an explosion of comic book colour and ferocity, under the stewardship of director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs).
Our story opens with Harley having split with Joker (or been dumped) depending on your point of view. Her vengeance and closure being the destruction of the ACE chemicals plant where her transformation began. However, sitting in the background of her mourning for Mr J is the crime king pin Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Who offers a delicious mix of camp versus evil that shines on screen, next to his sinister henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). And as Roman searches for a precious diamond, his criminal empire growing in strength. Harley finds herself unwittingly wrapped up in the search. As she protects a young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who happens to have the diamond in her possession.
However, Harley isn’t the only woman looking for the diamond or vengance. With Gotham PD’s Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) crossbow killer Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and nightclub singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) all on the trail. And as all five women lives converge in the search. Harley finds herself momentarily on the side of the good guys, while equally looking after number one.
First and foremost Birds of Prey is a Harley Quinn movie. And this may lead to some disappointment for those hoping to see other characters burst through. However, this does not mean Black Canary, Huntress, Renee and Cassandra are left on the sidelines. In fact much of the anarchic joy of the film comes from all five women interacting towards the end of the movie. But let’s be clear, the film is very much a chance for Margot Robbie’s Quinn to shine. And believe me she shines.
Robbie’s interpretation of Harley Quinn is near perfect, just as it was in Suicide Squad. But here she is given the room to develop the independence of the character. While, equally embellishing on the moral turpitude of one of DC’s best loved characters. Her freedom and choices tinged with childlike wonder, intelligence and wicked humour as she bounces from one action scene to the next. But, it is when this perfect performance is coupled with Black Canary, Huntress, Renee and Cassandra that Birds of Prey truly finds its wings. Empowering DC’s female characters within a riot of colour and mayhem.
However, despite these strengths, Birds of Prey suffers from a wobble in its pace mid-way through. Creating a saggy middle that struggles to join the films fast paced opening, with its beautifully orchestrated end.
However, there is also so much to love and admire in Cathy Yan’s vision and direction. From an opening that echoes the early work of Tarantino, through to an end that reflects the gothic darkness of Tim Burton’s Gotham. All surrounded by cinematography that bathes the audience in vivid colour. Bringing the intensity and manic joy of the comic book characters to life with a vibrant energy that was missing from Suicide Squad. Equally, Birds of Prey is proud of its female strength and diversity. Joyously celebrating the female characters at its heart, while ensuring the patriarchy of Gotham is firmly placed on the naughty step.
Ultimately Birds of Prey once again shows DC comics ability to finally find the right on screen mix for their characters. By allowing their characters to inhabit unique stories that focus on the individual or group over constant story continuation like Marvel. And with Shazam, Joker and Birds of Prey hitting all the right notes. The rebirth of DC Comics in film may have truly found its modern voice.
Director: Cathy Yan
Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina
Margot Robbie also appears in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Bombshell
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