MOVIE: BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN)
STARRING: MARGOT ROBBIE; ROSIE PEREZ; EWAN MCGREGOR; MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD; JURNEE SMOLLETT-BELL
DIRECTED BY: CATHY YAN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Hiding in the shadows of the Suicide Squad and the massive success of Joker, arrives Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). That title is a mouthful, but this is a film that is doing things on it’s own terms. It’s a superhero movie, but a majority of the characters are villains. It’s about an all-girl team working together, but everyone is in it for themselves. It’s a mixture of action, laughs, meta commentary, breaking of the third wall, and one hell of a performance from Margot Robbie. Similar to Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine, I can’t picture anyone better to play Harley Quinn, the pigtailed, bat swinging, egg sandwich eating partner of the Joker. But this time she’s unleashed, and she’s bringing a posse of ladies with her for the fun. Birds of Prey is a different kind of comic book movie because you can’t pin it down. It’s in your face, it’s wild, free, and that’s why it’s good.
The plot is simple, Harley let’s the entire world know, with a bang, that she’s not with the Joker anymore. That makes it open season for thugs to get back at her, including wealthy mobster Roman Sionis aka the Black Mask (Ewan McGregor having a ball in this one), who personally puts half a million on her blonde head. This makes things difficult, but when a valuable diamond of Roman’s is stolen by a pick-pocketer named Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), Harley has one more chance to get the diamond back and save her hyde. Along the way we meet a pissed off detective Montoya (Rosie Perez) looking to put a stop to all the madness, a pissed off killer that calls herself Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and a song bird named Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) who can kick a lot of ass. Bad things happen and these ladies begin to find out that they might need each other if they are going to survive the anger of Roman Sionis and his thugs.
On the surface there’s not a lot that is magical about Birds of Prey, but there is a laid back, and fresh unconventional approach by director Cathy Yan. Working with the script of Christina Hodson, there are elements that separate this from the standards of the genre, but also not similar to the more obtuse comic book movies like Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy. There is an inspiration from things like Bugs Bunny cartoons, mixed with a premise, action, and bloodshed of John Wick, while also having a comedic side similar to Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And all of that helps with the performance from Robbie. I have not liked either of the Deadpool movies and the one thing that Birds of Prey is missing is the annoying chatterbox of Ryan Reynolds. Robbie plays the dits, the devil, the badass, and the vulnerable human all in one. Yes, there is a great supporting performance by McGregor, who plays a wicked man, plus strong work by Rosie Perez, and scenes stolen by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but this is the Margot Robbie show. This is Harley Quinn’s movie.
There’s a few flaws in the overall makeup of Birds of Prey. The clear problems that came from Suicide Squad leave a dark cloud hovering over this story, which is completely absent of Jared Leto’s Joker. They don’t want to reference him, they don’t want you to think about him, as they should, but it’s a blemish that is not washing off. Not to mention, I also struggled a bit with a movie that only celebrates the bad guys. There’s not really a single good person in Birds of Prey. Sure, some characters are victims, some are looking for redemption, but there are scenes where Harley Quinn is plain evil. It’s the new movie trend these days. Joker was asking us the sympathize with the mad man, now Birds of Prey wants you to have fun with all the killing. That typically does not sit well for me, but the trends keep going.
Ultimately it’s the good that outweighs the bad. Birds of Prey has an energy to it that is impossible to resist. A majority of that is Margot Robbie, who is not only having fun here, she’s showing the world that she has massive range in acting. From I, Tonya to Mary Queen of Scots, and her rise as Harley Quinn, she’s only getting better. And she couldn’t do it all without her ladies surrounding her. Cathy Yan has delivered a bright, loud, and impressive film, and this is only her second feature. It’s a strong route for movies about women, made by women, exactly the way that it should be. Besides, this gang of ladies makes being bad look incredibly good. Take flight with Birds of Prey.
Written by: Leo Brady