After a scene stealing turn in David Ayer’s calamitous Suicide Squad, it was only a matter of time until Harley Quinn got a film of her own. Robbie’s portrayal of the Batman villain was ICONIC. Sticking with her is smart business from a studio still trying to figure out its place in the world of Superhero cinema and Marvel/Disney domination.
At cinemas the film bombed, unfortunately. Suicide Squad’s bad rap, along with Superhero fatigue, the 18 certificate, a February release date, and (let’s not fuck around) some degree of sexism, clearly held the film back at the box office. The core cast of women and their relatively unknown characters could very well have been the key turn-off for dudebro’s everywhere who hoovered up Jared Leto’s gangbanger Joker and the lame vibe of SS with zeal. Which sucks because Birds of Prey is fucking fantastic and better than that other movie by a looooong shot.
Director Cathy Yan opens on a brave new world; Harley Quinn and Joker have split up. The prize couple in Gotham City’s Rogues Gallery have gone their separate ways and, unfortunately for Harley, that means it’s open season for anyone with a grudge. One such grudge-holder is Roman Scionis (Ewan McGregor), aka Blackmask, a psychopathic gangster who has the city in chaos trying to find the key to a mysterious fortune.
From square one you know why you’re here: as an audience we could watch Robbie’s Quinn do her shopping (which she does lol). But there’s so much more on offer here; namely a collection of great characters brought to life by superb talent. McGregor and Chris Messina’s thinly veiled homoerotic tension makes for arresting chemistry. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress and Rose Perez’s Montoya get put on the backseat somewhat compared to characters like Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett Bell) but it’s a small gripe. Everyone is so well cast; you just want to see more of them.
There’s laughs and love, but there’s great bite to Birds of Prey too. Bones are broken (broken again, then broken one last time for safe measure), faces are peeled, heads caved, bodies eviscerated, and nuts are cracked. That comfort with gore allows the film to have a physicality missing from many superhero films; the fights feel weighty and unrestricted by desperation to keep within 12A guidelines. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but Birds of Prey sports the most creative, exquisitely choreographed, and bombastic bust-ups of DC’s canon thus-far.
It’s a disservice to liken Birds of Prey to other superhero films because it just doesn’t fit that mould. Yan and crew seem to take more cues from the world of Guy Ritchie gangster flicks more than anything else, building and filling a seedy glam pop underworld with preposterous bonkers characters and exuberant pop-art jubilance.
Director Cathy Yan knows exactly what she’s doing. All those things Ayer tried so desperately to ham-fist into Suicide Squad, come so much more comfortably to Yan. Birds of Prey is effortlessly sincere, especially when its stoo-pid. It’s an infectiously fun ride, crammed with high-octane energy. The sense of humour is dastardly, the taste is borderline trash, but the soul of the film is so refreshingly pure it’s impossible not to get swept up and have an absolute blast.
Dir. Cathy Yan
Starring. Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan MacGregor,