Birds of Prey
WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2020)
Director: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor
...and the wondrous independence of highlighted anti-hero.
Whatever it may be called (given its recent title change), Birds of Prey - the latest offering from the DCEU, who have been on something of a hot streak with their recent releases (if not always in box office, certainly in critical response) – sees Margot Robbie return as the wacky, violent yet somehow lovable rogue that she is making her own – Harley Quinn. Last seen in Suicide Squad, Harley and Birds of Prey pick up after the events of that hot mess.
You see, Harley and Joker (see: Mr J., Puddin’, the Clown Prince of Crime) have split up – for good. Free from the restraints of a toxic relationship, Harley can go about her daily business of getting hammered, devouring breakfast sandwiches and blowing up chemical factories, but it’s that last act that catches the attention of the scum and villainy of Gotham City. Whilst with the Joker, Harley upset a lot of people and, now, without his protection, she’s fair game and Gotham wants her dead – including the charismatic lunatic Roman Sionis (McGregor), AKA Black Mask. However, if she can plunder and return a priceless diamond to Sionis, she may just escape with her life.
As the breakout star of Suicide Squad, it was fairly obvious that Harley Quinn would land her own movie and, whilst this is labelled as Birds of Prey, this is very much her movie. Harley is front and centre throughout, whether we see her reeling and dealing with her breakup from Mr J., living up the single life, mowing enemies down in the most extravagant ways or even softening up to others, it’s all about Dr. Quinzel. This isn’t a problem as Robbie flings herself back into the role with chaotic glee but it does mean the remaining BoP – Huntress (Winstead), Black Canary (Smollett-Bell) and Renee Montoya (Perez) – do feel sidelined in terms of their hero personas, though we see development for each as their actual selves. It’s disappointing as there was great potential with each and the actresses were all first-rate within their roles. Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis/Black Mask, on the other hand, was excellent – chewing the scenery with a real paranoid menace that was great fun to watch (even if his American accent is ever so dodgy...). Cathy Yan has given us some interesting characters and she also serves up some excellent action scenes - bursting with colour, confetti, violence and a sprinkling of fabulous madness, even the extended use of slow-mo couldn’t take the fun out of the wonderfully cartoonish set-pieces. Yan makes great use of the sets and environments to craft some really entertaining action scenes, but also delivers a grimy enough looking Gotham, though one that looks more like any regular US city than we’ve seen before - besides Todd Phillips' Joker.
For all of the pizzazz, verve and spectacle, the screenplay is lacking somewhat. Yan and Christina Hodson make the most of their R-rating but dropping F-bombs can’t fully conceal a story that feels light and relies on said pizzazz, verve and spectacle to thunder it along. The subplot of Harley dealing with the breakup, her feelings towards herself and her actions over the years was never drilled into more than a few solemn looks or a sentence here and there. It felt like a missed opportunity at adding some genuine pathos to Birds of Prey.
With DC being accused of being hyper-serious and brooding, recent releases Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam! and, yes, Suicide Squad have done away with that antiquated tag and replaced the brand image with something more appealing and Birds of Prey continues with this tone and approach. Bursting with feminine fury and more than a few great moments, Birds of Prey, whilst lacking on story, is a fun romp that allows Harley Quinn a platform to shine again.
February 18th 2020