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Film Review

‘Birds Of Prey’

3/4/2020

Bolstered by cast chemistry, striking and energetic direction and gorgeous visuals, it’s enormously entertaining.

“Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn”
R | 109 minutes | Director: Cathy Yan
Stars: Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

After an animated backstory of Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s journey to becoming Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), she breaks up with the Joker as only Harley can: BOOM! goes Ace Chemicals. Unaware of the impact of her unique announcement, Harley finds she has no shortage of scumbags gunning for her who were only held at bay by her connection with Mr. J.

Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) tops that list. Gotham City’s most nefariously narcissistic crime lord, known for his ego, paranoia and penchant for peeling faces off (and not just the men, but the women and children, too), is after an invaluable diamond that’ll help him seize control of the city. It eventually winds up in the hands (or rather, the stomach) of pickpocketer Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Sionis, and his zealous right-hand, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), put a target on the young girl, and the city is turned upside down looking for her.

Also in the mix are Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a singer from Sionis’ nightclub, and neighbor to Cass; Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), an alcoholic cop; and a vigilante known as the Crossbow Killer/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Margot Robbie’s performance completely embodies the chaotic nature of Harley Quinn. It’s one of those performances where you can just tell the actor loves playing the role, and that feeling is infectious to the audience watching her. She just brings so much energy and a real sense of fun to the film, switching between a range of emotions, letting loose with her character’s various quirks (her continued mission to enjoy an ever-elusive egg sandwich), taking delight in beating up bad guys (though resorting to non-lethal beanbag guns and glitter bombs when it comes to certain people) and adopting a pet hyena she calls Bruce (named after, according to Harley, “that hunky Wayne guy”).

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Rosie Perez, all serve as fierce, independent characters who can mix it with the scum of Gotham. Winstead and Smollett-Bell are definitely two I’d like to see more of in future films. Ewan McGregor plays the main villain of the piece, and he’s clearly having a ball, too, bringing out both the flamboyant and psychotic nature of the character very well. “Birds Of Prey” is more than just the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn but a well-rounded ensemble throughout. I didn’t miss Batman or the Joker one bit.

Director Cathy Yan deserves kudos as well. The film is often beautiful and balanced between the comic-bookie and the grounded, but she manages to capture these women so well. We look upon them with a kind of fresh look; they’re powerful and sexy — made even more so by not being shown through male gaze.

Admittedly, there are a couple of occasions when the film gets muddled between introductions of all its characters. It doesn’t all gel perfectly as a consistent narrative, but each side story is filled with fun. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, which is something you’ll either be fine with or it will make you feel the film is all over the place or confusing. Could the story have been told more simply? Probably — but it’s not difficult if you pay attention. The hair tie moment and others were breaths of fresh air. There’s also a fair amount of respect given to Harley Quinn’s lore — her psychiatry background is referenced plenty, and her madness is explored through internal monologue.

From its quirky, almost underdog-style action and humor to its cocaine-fueled energy, and with a kaleidoscopic color palette that pops off the screen, “Birds of Prey” flies along at rapid pace over the course of a short runtime and packs a comedic punch, charismatic performances and a self-aware sense of humor. It’s an enormous step in the right direction for DC and feels light years away from the drab mess of “Suicide Squad.” ♦

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