“Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” stars Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, and Ewan McGregor. Released on February 7, 2020, the film has Harley Quinn protecting a young girl from a ruthless crime lord.
The film is directed by Cathy Yan, who also directed “Dead Pigs”, and it is based on the DC Comics team of the same name created by Jordan B. Gorfinkel and Chuck Dixon. It is also the eighth film in the DC Extended Universe. What better way to kick off a new year of superhero movies than spending some quality time with the baddest clown chick in town? The world of DC cinema is returning to its villainous roots once again because that plan worked out quite well last year when it comes to box office. We’ve explored the depressing and disturbing story of the clown prince of crime. Now it’s time to put the spotlight on his special sweetheart, or in this case, his former special sweetheart. Harley Quinn made her first big screen appearance back in 2016 with the release of David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad”. While the film suffered from reviews that were as revolting as the ones for “Batman v Superman”, Margot Robbie’s magnetic portrayal as the psychotic villainess did receive some praise from plenty of people, including me, and yes, I do think Robbie’s version of Quinn is very sexy, thank you for asking. “Suicide Squad” was one of the films that introduced me to Margot Robbie, who’s proven to be a remarkable actress in my eyes, whether it’s by playing Harley Quinn or starring in some respectable films that earned her several award nominations. Seeing her back in the role that started her path is obviously my main reason why I was excited to see this film. Well, that and the fact that it has a group of ladies kicking some villain butt. Now that’s “girl power”. With that in mind, let’s head on back to the criminal underworld and see if this latest installment can keep this superhero franchise’s winning streak going.
Taking place after the events of “Suicide Squad”, the story centers on Harley Quinn (Robbie), a former psychiatrist turned criminal who winds up becoming a solo vigilante after the Joker ends his relationship with her. To be honest, it was bound to happen sooner or later. She then gets herself into hotter water when she encounters Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (McGregor), a crime lord who masquerades as a nightclub owner. Sionis is also hunting a girl named Cassandra Cain (Basco) because she stole a priceless diamond from him, forcing Quinn to join forces with the likes of Helena Bertinelli (Winstead), Dinah Lance (Smollett-Bell), and police detective Renee Montoya (Perez) in order to protect Cain and defeat the psychotic madman. One noticeable detail that made “Birds of Prey” stand out from the other DCEU installments was the rating. This is the first film in the DC Extended Universe, as well as the second film from DC Films, to receive an R rating, which means there’s plenty of brutal violence and harsher language to go around in “Birds of Prey” compared to the teen-rated goodness from the other DCEU installments like “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman”. In other words, this is another superhero movie that’s only made for mature audiences. No kids allowed. While it’s nice to see that the DCEU is stepping out of its comfort zone unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we should not forget that an installment with a mature rating doesn’t automatically make it as good as the other installments with a PG- 13 rating, such is the case with last year’s “Hellboy” reboot and the 2020 version of “The Grudge” last month. As always, it is all about the quality of the film and how tolerable that quality is to its target audience, and by “tolerable”, I mean fun. As a respectable fan of DC, I’m happy to say that this is another solid victory for the cinematic franchise. From a critical perspective, however, the film is far from the best installment in the DCEU (the crown still belongs to “Shazam!”, in my opinion), but thanks to its unique style and an enjoyable cast of characters, “Birds of Prey” shows that it’s good to be bad. The visual style for the film is best described as DC’s answer to Marvel’s “Deadpool”. You got the visual gags, the adult humor, and a charismatic narration from Harley Quinn herself. Everything it needed to match the psychotic persona of the title character is right on the screen, and for the most part, they were hilariously attractive. Sadly, it didn’t come close to challenging “Deadpool” for the anti-superhero comedy crown. While I did have a good time with the film’s insane vision, I still think that “Deadpool” handled this type of style better, but that’s just me. I really appreciated the film for being its own thing while having itself set in the same universe as “Suicide Squad” when it comes to the story. The film does feature another superhero team-up scenario that introduces more characters from the DC Comics lore, such as Huntress and Black Canary, but the main focus of the story is Harley Quinn, who attempts to be more than just an assistant. Like the past DCEU installments, the story in “Birds of Prey” wasn’t able to match the level of storytelling from certain installments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe like "The Avengers", but it made up for it by delivering a solidly entertaining, yet uneven, plot that honors the title character’s twisted personality while adding a bit of sympathy into her in the process. Margot Robbie was once again fantastic in her role as Harley Quinn. Similar to Ryan Reynolds with Deadpool, Robbie’s commitment to Harley was undeniably noticeable. She owns the role like it was a part of her. The attitude, the sexy charm, her sick sense of humor. She nailed every one of those traits. If you need a reason why I still think Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the best Harley Quinn, this film has you covered. Ewan McGregor was also a delight to watch as Sionis, an amusing antagonist who doesn’t mess around with others. I can immediately tell that McGregor was having a blast playing this type of character just by his over-the-top performance alone. At first, I thought he was an odd choice to play someone like Sionis, but after seeing him onscreen, I’m happy to say that he was able to prove me wrong. As for the rest of the cast like Winstead as Helena and Perez as Montoya, they were good enough to share the spotlight with Quinn. In addition to its flawed storytelling, the other thing that kept it from being perfect was that some of the film’s violence was a bit tame despite its R rating. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the action in “Birds of Prey” was delightful and nicely shot. It’s just the fact that aside from the filthy language, the film didn’t have enough “shock value” in its violence to earn its adult rating. I guess that’s what happens when I start comparing it to “Deadpool”.
Overall, “Birds of Prey” kicks off the new decade of superhero cinema with a fantabulous piece of entertainment that combines eye candy with mayhem. The story and the violence were far from memorable, but the film’s unique perspective and its sense of fun were enough to offer a brand new start for the clown princess of anarchy in terms of film. It’s not the best film I’ve seen from the DC Extended Universe, but I had a good time watching it regardless. If you’re a fan of Robbie’s take on Harley Quinn from “Suicide Squad”, this film will make you like her even more. It also works well as a “Ladies Night” movie, in case you’re wondering.