DIRECTED BY: Cathy Yan
STARRING: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong and Ewan McGregor
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.
When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis, and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz, put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya’s paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.
Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn is the latest DC film from Warner Bros. that follows on from the events of Suicide Squad, where Harley Quinn and The Joker have broken up and now without having his protection anymore, everyone that Harley Quinn’s ever wronged, is looking for payback. Meanwhile Gotham City gangster Roman Sionis, puts a target on a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain, who has stolen a diamond that he needs. This leads to Harley Quinn, Gotham P.D’s Renee Montoya, club singer Dinah Lance and a vigilante named Huntress crossing paths and having to form an unlikely alliance to protect the young girl and take Sionis down.
It was a given that they’d bring out a spinoff feature of Suicide Squad focusing on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and if you one of those people that liked Robbie’s performance as Harley in that film, then you’ll absolutely love her here in Birds of Prey as she quite literally carries this film as we get more character depth with her iteration of Harley Quinn, as we get to see just who Harley Quinn is out of Joker’s shadow and her unreliable narration and story structure does give the film some Deadpool meets Looney Tunes vibes. The latter comparison really comes into play with how the action sequences are handled. There’s one sequence in which Harley Quinn who enters the GCPD in order to grab Cassandra Cain, using non-lethal rounds, and it’s so absurd yet colourful that it’s entertaining to watch. The action has a lot of wide shots, the fight choreography is handled well for the most part and it balances the fine line of being silly but it’s never boring to watch, it’s arguably the films biggest strength and from a directorial standpoint, I thought Cathy Yan done a solid job on that front. The cinematography from Matthew Libatique (who frequently collaborates with Darren Aronofsky) is really good here, from the way Harley Quinn signals the end of her relationship officially with The Joker by blowing up Ace Chemicals to the look of Black Mask’s club as highlights, and the film has a heavy soundtrack to it but while it felt overused and out of touch in Suicide Squad, it’s used more reasonably here. The film introduces us to a few more DC Comics characters getting their live-action feature outing with one in particular shining brightly and that was Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis aka Black Mask. He’s eccentric, entertaining, menacing and unpredictable and you can tell that McGregor had an absolute blast with this portrayal of the character, giving absolutely no shit if it was comic book accurate or not. His chemistry and scenes alongside Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz, is also one of the more interesting routes the film takes and I can see that being discussed about long after the opening weekend. The character of Dinah Lance has already appeared on the small screen (Arrow) and this iteration I really enjoyed Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s performance as Black Canary, Ella Jay Basco was good as the young pickpocket Cassandra Cain, Rosie Perez was fine as Renee Montoya and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, with the limited screentime she has, shines as Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress.
The film does kind of trip slightly in the first half with its narrative structure of taking place a few minutes before an initial scene or moving back to a few days before, though it should work with it being narrated by Harley Quinn and given how she lacks long-term focus, it didn’t feel as effective for me personally. In the action sequences, some of the choreography does get repetitive when we get to the final act, from the leg sweeps to the timing of slow-motion bits. Also there is one scene in the final act that the CGI didn’t work for me and just felt very staged. The film has a good bunch of characters to introduce and brings them together in the final act where they must team up out of necessity rather than ‘assemble’ for girl power that people are bitching about online about how this film is demeaning to men etc. The issue I have with it is that not only does it take too long to bring the characters together, some of them still feel under-utilised, especially when your film is called Birds of Prey. Renee Montoya is a one-note 80’s detective cliche of a character, which they happily point out for comedic effect, but I still feel they could’ve done more with Rosie Perez in the role. The character with the most interesting backstory and unfortunately underused the most is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress, which is a shame as she makes the role work within a limited amount of screentime and a few minutes of snippets of her backstory and how she came to be. The origins of Huntress alone could make an interesting film but alas, this will have to do I guess. The thing that people will bring up though from comic fandom however is that there is absolutely no need for Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain to be called Cassandra Cain, other than being used as name recognition as it nowhere near resembles what the character is like in terms of origins (though in the grand scheme of things, that’s a nitpick).
DC and Warner Bros. enter Looney Tunes territory with Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn. The Suicide Squad sequel actually improves on the tone with well-shot/choreographed action sequences, colourful palette and having a memorable, entertaining villain in Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis. Margot Robbie solidifies that her Harley Quinn is here to stay long-term and the Birds of Prey are introduced in a way that has me curious to see how these characters are handled moving forward thanks to solid performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Rosie Perez. The film might divide audiences for being too cartoonish with its tone and its story structure, but if you buy into it you’ll have an entertaining film experience. Will it last on repeated viewings? Time will tell.